How Bodybuilding Changed Pop Culture

Bodybuilding Culture

The Evolution of our Sports has taken many Avenues

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Want to learn more about pop culture? Study bodybuilding. From the silent films featuring Eugene Sandow, to Steve Reeves in the '50s, and up to Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Rock today, bodybuilding has influenced sports, fashion, movies, the growing fitness industry and our ideas about health. When you think "pop culture" you think of Hollywood stars and action movies. Well, just look at bodybuilding's past and present and you will find many famous action-film stars among its ranks. Arnold once commented: "I became very good friends with Andy Warhol and used to hang out at the [Factory] Studio in the '70s because he was a big believer in bodybuilding and (like other hip celebrities) helped get bodybuilding out of the dungeon to make it a hip activity to do." Since then, Arnold was at the top of his game in Hollywood. Bodybuilding is at the top of its game in Hollywood in this new century. Franco Columbu starred in Ancient Warriors in 2001. Last year Lou Ferrigno appeared in From Heaven to Hell. Arnold starred in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines this year and will co-star in True Lies 2 in 2004. At the ripe old age of 55 he performed tough work prior to and during the filming of T3 a few years back. "I had a great time doing all the stunts. I had a great time doing all the physical things. And I was well prepared and I was well trained."

Today bodybuilding and fitness are often synonymous with modeling. Frank Sepe, one of the hottest bodybuilders at the moment, started modeling when he was 21. He appeared in the 25th anniversary issue of Playgirl magazine. Nowadays fitness models are seen everywhere in the pages of magazines and on TV shows. The movie that had the most profound impact leading to this cultural shift was the 1977 film Pumping Iron. That movie has since become a cult film as well as a classic of popular culture.

Today the culture of fame is what defines our society. So are all the various well-toned bodies mingling with one another. All of that mingling is nothing new. In Venice Beach some decades ago, Gold's Gym was already a magnet for celebrities. "The '80s made training with weights fashionable, and Gold's Gym became a very popular hangout for movie stars and athletes like Stallone, Van Damme, Carl Weathers, Gregory Hines, Lyle Alzado, Magic Johnson, Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and more. Muscles and action movies became very popular because of bodybuilding and our champions," explains Shawn Ray. To say that bodybuilding was clearly at its peak during one decade instead of another would be difficult, however. Was bodybuilding at its best in the '50s during the time of Steve Reeves, during the era of Pumping Iron, or today?

Bodybuilder Mike Francois observes: "Only in recent times (the last fifteen years or so) have I noticed more of the bodybuilding culture popping up in movies and in other sporting events. A good example would be when an American football player scores a touchdown - a lot of times he will hit a bodybuilding pose. I also see the same type of behavior in other sports after a big play. One didn't see this type of behavior much at all before the mid-1980s. Not that Pumping Iron didn't have a big impact, but only recently have I seen bodybuilding pervading all areas of pop culture."

If bodybuilders and fitness models seem to be more popular than ever, the fact remains only some of them will break the barrier between the sporting and entertainment worlds. In order to do so, the key word is charisma. Arnold once argued that after bodybuilding gained popularity in the '70s, it started to stagnate in the '80s only to experience a further decline through the '90s because the sport was not presented in a hip enough way. Well, I guess to be hip today more and more means being sexy.

Sex sells and nowadays sex is popular culture. Are these two facts important to I bodybuilding's popularity? What is certain is ' people surrounding Arnold knew the impact of sex when they promoted Pumping Iron. And the main star knew just what to say to promote the film. Many years later he told an interviewer, "It took a lot of thinking to sit down, compare [bodybuilding] with other sports and then really explain it properly and get them into the gym. That's where my comment came from: 'A pump is better than coming.' On talk shows when I said that, they'd say, 'Oh, it feels that good?' I'd say, 'Oh, even much better. You should try it.' So the next day they all stood there in line at the gym and tried it out."

Talk bodybuilding and you will still find some debate as to if it should be considered an art form, a sport or both. "I consider body- building to be a performing art," says bodybuilding legend Frank Zane, adding that he considers the sport to have been at his peak in the late '70s when all the big networks were offering coverage of many bodybuilding contests. Model and bodybuilder Scott Klein agrees with Zane about bodybuilding's artistic aspect. Klein declares, "Bodybuilding is art just like music is; it's a form of expression."

Offering his opinion on the debate, Mike Francois submits, "I personally look at bodybuilding as an aesthetic competition; however, aesthetics is a component of that competition. The actual performance is obviously a form of art comprised of beauty, aesthetics and gracefulness; however, there are also components both tangible and intangible that are just as important. Certain aspects of the sport are mainly witnessed in the gym. These components are strength, endurance and determination."

In the mid-'80s, Bob Paris fondly used to say: "I look at my body as a piece of art, a sculpture in progress, something apart from myself. It's a kind of obsession because, unlike other athletes, people in this sport need mirrors to measure their progress." Many other bodybuilders would certainly agree with his statement. "Bodybuilding is an art form of expression through weights and training and nutrition - body sculpting to be put on display," adds bodybuilding great Shawn Ray.

Obviously the above views could be said about female bodybuilding. "I definitely consider bodybuilding to be an art form," says former competitive bodybuilder Nicki Matsiozis, a model recently featured in American Curves. "The human body is made of so I many muscles, and to change their definition and have the symmetry and perfect form to me is art."

If bodybuilders are big in Hollywood, remember that we can see the evolution of this trend through Arnold. "When Arnold came into the picture, his success just raised the bar another notch," says fitness model Tony Catanzaro. "He was so big yet so symmetrical. And Hollywood again was able to go past what was once not acceptable, that is, bodybuilding, to every actor in Hollywood wanting to pump up. So I would say Holly-wood had a lot to do with bringing the bodybuilding and fitness world to what it is today."

Pumping Iron was certainly very good for Arnold's career as was the film Conan the Barbarian for that matter. But for him The Terminator marked a new trend. Arnold has said "I think The Terminator made people think, 'Yes, let's get Arnold to be a regular action hero - with clothes.' It was understood that I had the body, but I didn't have to show it to make a point."

Year after year bodybuilding is increasingly associating and I being associated with fitness and modeling. What is the future of the sport? "Bodybuilding is becoming more noticed through magazines, the Internet, exposure, and more shows. Our sport keeps getting bigger and ' stronger like the athletes. Hopefully it will get the same recognition and i respect it deserves," says I rising bodybuilding star Derek Anthony.

Where lies the future of bodybuilding is actually a tricky question since more offshoots are developing year after year, e.g., the natural bodybuilding competition, fitness modeling and women's figure contests. "I believe bodybuilding can be an art form -only when the emphasis is off who is the biggest and put back into perspective, that is, who has the most pleasing physique coupled with the best stage presence," says Scot Dickerson, NANBF president. As for Arnold Classic 2003 winner Jay Cutler, he sees the whole situation in somewhat similar terms: "I think bodybuilding has grown more extreme and has taken the mainstream's interest away. I still consider the muscles a work of art though."

One fact about bodybuilding is certain. With its many branches, fitness consciousness, training, exercising, beauty contests, personal trainers, Hollywood actors and TV soap babes and hunks, bodybuilding culture is now fully part of the pop culture at large. Carla Dunlap, former Ms. Olympia winner who was also featured in Pumping Iron 2: The Women, had this interesting point to make regarding the influence strong women have on pop culture: "In my mind Linda Hamilton's physique in Terminator 2: Judgment Day may have had more overall impact than all the years of Rachel [McLish], Cory [Everson] or myself. Follow that with Xena, Buffy and other pop TV icons of strong if not overly muscular women (not to mention the Olympics), and you have the making of a true influence.

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