After watching the Netflix documentary Arnold (2023), I looked into the state of body building, and what I found was quite remarkable. You could make a good argument this sport actually peaked before Schwarzenegger and that Frank Zane represents the pinnacle. With Schwarzenegger, body building perhaps jumped the shark. I don’t doubt that Schwarzenegger worked really hard in the gym, but he was also roiding it up. There are some pictures floating around online that show him off-cycle when he was in the peak years of his career, and looking at them it stretches credulity that this is what Mr. Olympia looked like when he was not preparing for a competition.
What happened in the decades after Schwarzenegger’s domination of the bodybuilding circuit is quite hard to believe. Instead of a focus on symmetry and aesthetics, men (and some women) wanted to be as big as possible, ending up with physiques that do not really appeal to people. I have a hunch that body building got its inspiration from idealized Greek and Roman statues. In the 20th century, some men looked at those and thought they wanted to look like buff Zeus. While you can achieve an impressive physique by working out, you can obviously pack on even more muscles with steroids, and that is what people have been doing. Today’s bodybuilders, striving for size, end up with “bodybuilder gut”. Perhaps amusingly, this condition, officially called palumboism, is named after the bodybuilder Palumbo. This is one way of becoming immortal, and surely it was not what this guy had in mind.
The classic docu-drama Pumping Iron (1977), which centers around Schwarzenegger and features some pretty bad acting, gives you a good insight into the scene back in the 1970s. There are also two less-well known documentaries, called Generation Iron (2013) and Generation Iron 2 (2017), which are quite tedious to watch. I think it is enough to look up the trailers. The people the latter two documentaries feature seem outright deranged. Some appear quite stupid, to be completely frank. Most importantly, and this leads to the issue I have been wondering about, those people invest an incredible amount of time and money to turn themselves into absolute freaks. People don’t marvel at them because of their physiques. Instead, they come across as walking car-wrecks, if you excuse the metaphor.
I would have to look up the people who are involved in modern body building, but you could be forgiven for putting on your schizo hat and believing that this scene has been deliberately destroyed, such as art, architecture, music, literature, and any other expression of genius has been wrecked. It fits in the pattern of modernity not offering any outlet for beauty at all. No longer is the goal of body building to sculpt the ideal body, turning yourself into a living Greek statue. Instead, plenty of people who get into it acquire a completely twisted sense of beauty and turn themselves into the kind of creature you would blast to smithereens in a game like Doom. But, hey, beauty is totally subjective, so I am surely complaining about nothing at all. It is all just a giant coincidence.