Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Film Review: Bigger, Stronger, Faster

In the film “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”, a documentary about performance-enhancing drugs and their history in America, director Christopher Bell exposes the different facets of this industry and it’s effects on American society. The movie starts off by introducing Bell’s family and their middle-class suburban life in Upstate New York, more specifically spotlighting his older and younger brothers, of whom both use steroids to excel in their individual professions (one is an aspiring pro-wrestler and the other a high school gym teacher). The movie then progresses by examining the origin of anabolic steroids; it’s direct influence on the U.S. government and legislation, and the various moral and social issues that surround it. It’s also seen from different viewpoints, from people who support and find no harm in its existence to advocates against its use who actively try to stop it’s spread. The movie was very interesting in style and it forced the viewer to view the drug outside of its normative topics and repercussions. It showed how the use/abuse of the drug has undermined public figures, affected the sports industry, and caused hypocrisy among its critics.

At the beginning of the movie, Bell analyzes the cultural figures behind a masculinity that defined America’s preoccupation with domination and competition. He attributes this through the popularity of figures like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, actors who glorified the idea of ultimate strength and power through oppression and violence. More specifically Bell analyzed Hulk Hogan’s “Hulkamania” and the hyper-masculinity it embodied. His model of being created an unhealthy image for young boys all over, who began to see power and physical strength as the highest form of respect and the only way to survive amongst the “bad guys”. Because of this, boys began to adopt this unrealistic mentality, and wanted to be like “The Hulk” in exchange for their mundane and seemingly weak ways of living. It’s this hunger that challenged the self-worth of young males, and the idea of worthlessness if they didn’t mimic their heroes on TV. This mentality is stated in the Bordo’s “The Male Body”, where she states that this kind of consumerism has changed the sexual politics for men, moving from the “Long John Silver”, to “Long Dong Silver”. Mentally these boys adopted the idea of being “incapable” unless they had the huge biceps, fearless attitude, and extreme patriotism that these characters in the media portrayed. The image of Hulk Hogan also symbolized masculinity in a political context by fighting against the “Iron Sheik”, an opponent that served as a metaphor for Iraq’s turbulent relationship with the U.S. at the time. The Sheik became the oppressed and Hulk the oppressor, and the dominance of Hulk’s masculinity over the Sheik’s was a form of success.

Another theme that was exposed was how the United States reinforced its superpower status by promoting the importance of success in the competitive field of sports. For example, Bell looked at the Olympics and focused on the U.S.’ obsession with excellence and power. He also looked at American baseball, and it’s blatant shift from “good-sportsmanship” to “extreme competition”. The rampant steroid use among players created a hostile environment, where drugs were abused and became a staple of the industry. As a result players became larger physically which reinforced that bigger is better among the males. This ideal image of men having to separate themselves from the “average” brings the masculine ideal of always fighting to be the best, no matter who’s “toes you step on”. It reminded me of “Tough Guise” and the harsh exterior men have to uphold in order to be a acceptable member within their peers.

Although the movie concentrated solely on steroid use, I related a lot of it towards the hyper-heterosexuality and unhealthy masculine stereotypes in America. It was interesting to see the specific male normative and how it affects young males is many aspects of their development.

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