In the classic Moby Dick Herman Melville writes, “For be a man’s intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base.” Substitute “physical” for “intellectual” and you have a perfect description of a bodybuilder circa late 1990s-early 2000s. The paltry and base aids that bodybuilders call upon, however, have a specific noble purpose unlike those Melville references. At the turn of the 21st century, bodybuilder mentors used paltry and base external arts as a filter to weed out men who were weak in discipline and drive–to cull the heard as it were. As a matter of course, the student later becomes the teacher and the entire group ends up with its own way of communicating.
Quite unlike intellectual superiority, measuring physical superiority is easy. Whether in size or strength or body fat, the human body is quantifiable. Nonetheless, bodybuilders, these giants of our time, still create their own discourse communities. Join me as we enter the once secret world of bodybuilding.
Immediately, we recognize the man walking toward the gym’s receptionist as a bodybuilder due to his sheer size. He is a giant. Giant also is the duffle bag he has over his shoulder. It is oversized–as is everything in it. A 5lb container of protein power, the sturdiest weight belt on the market, wrist wraps and straps, medium sized notebook and pen, and a Tupperware container of chalk fill the bag. This bag wasn’t always packed this way. Initially, it likely had a change of clothes, or a towel. Over the years, one-by-one each item made its way, as if called, into the bag. Today, this bag softly whispers to the uninitiated, “You and I are very different. Do not expect to understand. That you stare only proves my point.”
Blushing, the young lady receptionist takes his flirtatious greeting to heart. If she is allowed any leniency with requiring members to sign in, this man gets the pass. “Have a good workout!” she adds, displaying a little too much interest as he turns towards the locker room.
Once in the locker room, he becomes king. Locker use is doubtful (who would dare touch his gear?), so he drops his bag wherever he pleases and heads to the restroom. Next, he returns to the designated sitting area and settles into his seat with an air of gravity. He hasn’t yet conversed with any other men in the locker room. Using their silence as a currency, the other members pay their respects. One last glimpse around the room ensuring he hasn’t missed anyone important, he bends over to tie his shoes properly. These shoes being a very unique, almost wrestler looking boot. Sturdy and serious, these shoes and the manner in which he ties them tell us he isn’t here for fun.