Austere diets are also common, and after winning his final title and announcing his retirement from bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger celebrates with a meal of 'real food' for the first time in many months. The ascetic as well as aesthetic nature of the sport is also underlined in the way that Butler's subjects, Schwarzenegger in particular, also embody femininity, however unconsciously in their physical obsessions and movements. Schwarzenegger even takes ballet lessons to improve his movement and posing, in addition to pursuing a sparse and protein-heavy diet to enhance his body. Ballet, a stereotypical pursuit of gay men and women adds a catlike grace to his movements.
Schwarzenegger's emphasis on grace and beauty also raises the question: is bodybuilding art or sport? It is not about achieving a goal, a personal best or a 'time.' Rather bodybuilding, like modeling is about posing and being gazed at: it is a nonverbal, wordless art form. The female body as a sculpture is not idea that is particular to cinema, but as old as the view of Galatea and Pygmalion -- the female is created, the male body simply is taken for granted. Schwarzenegger describes bodybuilding not as the pursuit of a physical achievement (like running a mile in record time or being a great hitter) or even the pursuit of health (the ostensible reason for working out at the gym) but of purely physical attributes: "You look in the mirror and see you need a little more deltoids to make symmetry. So you exercise and put more deltoid on. A sculptor will slap stuff on" (Eder 1977). One could add that a woman 'slaps stuff' on to her face, just like a sculptor adds more to a beautiful statue of a woman.
Schwarzenegger views his body in a cold, almost impersonal manner at the same time he glories in his 'creation' of beauty. However, unlike a model or a woman who adorns herself with cosmetics, the male bodybuilder clearly functions as a manufacturer of his own aesthetic: he creates his body from the inside as well as the outside, with his own sweat and tears, almost giving birth to a new body like an act of feminine birth -- although even he, in the end is rendered vulnerable as a woman to being judged on his appearance. During the Mr. Universe competition, one of the losers actually cries after he learns he has not secured the victory after many attempts. His act of self-creation has failed, he has been judged unworthy -- in the eyes of the male-focused gaze.
Pumping Iron lovingly stares at men in various stages of undress, but it also suggests that their competitive beauty is also dangerous, as is manifest in Schwarzenegger's psychological as well as physical annihilation of his competitors. He is a master of intimidation, as much as any 'mean' high school girl and even proclaims that through psychological intimidation he can 'talk' his competition into losing. Again, unlike athletics with quantifiable wins and losses, bodybuilding is as much about attitude as ballet: Schwarzenegger's sense of theatricality is so intense he even uses women to practice his 'art' as barbells, rather than actual implements. He trains at the infamous Muscle Beach, in the outdoors where he can be gawked at by spectators in a manner that eggs him on, and at Gold's Gym in California, another famous venue. Although the male gaze can be damaging in its harsh and eroticizing judgment, it also has a positive potential to celebrate and validate the subject's ego through its approval. Schwarzenegger seems to love the attention of the camera: "Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention... The act of photographing is more than passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging what is going on to keep on happening' (Sontag, cited by Chandler, "Eye," 2000).
Like an athlete -- or an aspiring Hollywood starlet -- Schwarzenegger plays fast and loose with ethics, even giving his rivals false advice about training. He is both charming and bullying at the same time. He clearly views the competition as a way of catapulting himself to celebrity, not as of merely achieving an 'Olympic' best or gold metal where his sporting achievement is the be-all...
Bodybuilding is a celebration of the self, and the culture of competitive bodybuilding seems rooted in narcissism, an act of self-voyeurism and delight at one's physical beauty and prowess.
Schwarzenegger describes bodybuilding as a runner's high and a sexual, orgasmic high: "When you have driven your body past the barrier and then you relax, all the blood comes rushing, pounding back into your muscles. You feel like you're swelling up, like your skin is about to explode. That's the pump," he says when he describes what it means to be 'pumped up.' The feeling is orgasmic, but it is a self-induced orgasm that celebrates the body beautiful of the subject. And the beauty is also selfish given the approval for such a physique is only given by bodybuilding culture and judges. The supposed beauty of the male bodies is laden with an element of the grotesque, much like overly large breasts, but only when viewed from outside of the culture: "The startlingly overdeveloped musculature of professional body-builders is apt to seem more of a deformity than an achievement to outsiders" (Eder 1977).
The desperate neediness of validation from other men, from the judges and the bodybuilding world suggests a hint of desperation to the men's psychological development, given that almost all of the bodybuilders describe themselves as 'weaklings' in their youth. "Mike Katz was a replica of the 98-pound weakling. Once shy and afraid of girls, he is shown as a warm and confident man flexing biceps with his two toddlers. In a revealing scene, he acknowledges, without self-pity, his early feelings of aloneness and how bodybuilding was his key to a sense of personal worth and public recognition" (Hause 1977). The men are also dominated by their trainers, which often renders them childlike: "The innocent giant of bodybuilding, Lou Ferrigno, is relentlessly driven toward the Olympia by his ex-policeman father, a stage father without parallel" remarked one reviewer (Hause 1977). Validation from others is necessary because it is only known if it the builder has 'enough' and has achieved perfection and symmetry if the trainer or judge states that this is the case. Fragility of the male ego, based upon appearance, is rife within the sub-culture, just as mass media continually makes women uncertain if they are beautiful/thin/selfless enough by striving to sell them commercial products.
Even the uber-confident Schwarzenegger wrestles with a father complex, as he describes himself as too preoccupied with competing to even attend his father's funeral "By all accounts, Mr. Schwarzenegger's drive to succeed was not merely an immigrant's classic up-by-the-bootstraps obsession. It was a calculated effort to turn himself into an invulnerable and powerful (physical and otherwise) figure. He was also a far cry from the skinny Austrian boy whose father, Gustav, a policeman and a one-time member of the Nazi Party, intimidated and sometimes beat him, favoring his other son, Menhard, according to published accounts of Mr. Schwarzenegger's life" (Weintraub & LeDuff 2003, p.1).
Schwarzenegger used bodybuilding and Pumping Iron as a springboard for a competitive acting and later a political career. Both careers are careers of personality, of spectacle and gazing equivalent to body-building itself: "Is bodybuilding a sport?...they [the bodybuilders] simply show up and hope for the best…because scoring in bodybuilding contests, like scoring in beauty competitions, is somewhat subjective" (Denham 2008, p.241). Cattiness and underhandedness are rife -- just as in any beauty pageant as well. Underneath the musculature, the same attributes which often garner women criticism within the mainstream culture, such as too much focus on appearance, are rife. Bodybuilding as a subculture rewards the narcissism creates a fragile sense of self which is the result of a life focused upon one's physique -- for both men and women.
Chandler, Daniel. "The eye of the camera." Notes on the Gaze. April 10, 2000.
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Chandler, Daniel. "Laura Mulvey on film spectatorship." Notes on the Gaze. April 10, 2000.
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Denham, Mark. "Masculinities in hardcore bodybuilding." Men and Masculinities. 11.2: 234-
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Eder, Richard. Pumping Iron. Review. The New York Times. January 19, 1977. June 7, 2010.
Hause, Irene L. Pumping Iron. Review. Muscle Digest, 1(7). May 1977. June 7, 2010.
Pumping Iron. Directed by George Butler. 1976.
Weintraub, Bernard & Charlie LeDuff. "Schwarzenegger's Next Goal on Dogged, Ambitious
Path." The New York Times. August 17, 2003. June 7, 2010.
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