Holmlund__1989__Flex_Appeal_Pumpin_Iron_Films

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Unformatted text preview: R" r u ' ' mtala. J. and S. Birrell. 1984. Fair treatment for the"active female: 21 content " anal sis of Y . ‘ v- - 23} :50. 01mg Athlete magazme. Socrotogy of Sport Journat. 1(3): Thebérge, N. 198-5. ‘.‘Sport and feminism in North America." West Georgia allege Studies in the Social Sciences. XXIV:41—53. Ellrilliman. G. £978. Making the News. New York: Free Press, I lad}! 1982. Women in sport in ideology.” Pp. 117—135 in J. Hargreaves J. Sport. Culture and ideology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Chapter 19 Visible Ditterence and Flex Appeal: The Body, Sex, Sexuality, and Race in the Pumping Iron Films Christine Anne immune University of Tennessee, Knoxville Pumping Iron (George Butler and Robert Flore: 1977) and Pumping Iron H: The Women (George Butler: 1984). two documentaries about bodybuilding contests.~ provide an ideal opportunity to look at the relationships operating between body. desire. and pewer in the United States today. Taken as a pair. these fitms are a veritable melting pot of sex. sexuality. race. and sales. Intentionaity and un- intentionally. they reveal how the visible differences of sex (to have or have not) and race (to be or not to be) mein with idcotogy and economy in contemporary American society. and within film fictions. In both films sextsatity is adroitly linde with sex and race at the expense of any reference to history or class. The body is marketed as a commodity in its own right. not gust as the silent support {or the sate ototner commodities. An analysis of the way popular f ihn reflects and shapes the categories of body. sex, sexuality. and race remains an urgent project for film theory. Despite the incorporation otcritiques made by the women‘s. black. and gay mm'ements of the 1960s. l9‘105, and l9SOs—indeed. in some ways because of these critiques—mute continue to see and speak about the body as the last bastion of nature. While the sexual and civil rights movements make it clear that inequalities predicated From "Visible Difference and Flex Appeat: The Body. Sex. Sexuality. and Race in the Pumping tron Films" by CA. Holmlund. 1989. Cinema Journal. 28 (Summer). pp. 38-5E. Copyright 3989 Board of Trustees of the University ol‘ Ellinois. Reprinted by permission. 299 3!"! Women. Sport, and Culture on sex, race or sexual preference are socially established and maintained, the strategies they employ are nonetheless often based on an idea of the body as unified and unique.‘ Difference is either Haunted (black power and cultural feminism, black and women’s separatism) or elided (the “we‘re just like you" policy of the National Gay Task Force since I973), but the body remains the support of and rationale for political praxis. Even within theoretical discourses the biological status of the body lingers on, masking and motivating a series of power relations. (One has only to think of the multitude of feminist critiques of Lacan‘s penis/phailus confusion.) Everyone has difficulty acknowledging the extent to which the body is a social construction and an ideological support because, to invoice Freud, the body {our own and the Other‘s) is the object and the origin of our earliest fears and desires. The associations established between the body anti power are particularly hard to acknowledge when, as is often the case. several kinds of visible difference or its correlates are intermingled: when sex is added to race, or when gentler is COtlflach with sortuality. The original ambivalent attitudes we hold toward the body are then multiplied many times ever. The rush to ignore and deny sexual, racial, and gender differences so that there will be more money for straight white men—initiated and/or encouraged by the Reagan government and other right wing forceswfurlher obscures the roles assigned to the body today. More than in the sixties and seventies, we forget that the ways we look at and speak about the body are historically variable. Knowledge and power of and over the body function within what Foucault calls an “apparatus.” Since we live in and create this apparatus, it is hard for us to realize that it is “a formation which has as its major function at a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need.”2 The reliance of Western society on images of the body to sell products and promote fictions compounds our confusion. Mass media and advertising see to it that we consume visible difference daily. Foucault notes that starting in the 1960s, “industrial societies could content themselves with a much looser form of power over the body.”3Thejoint success ofthe civil rights and sexual liberation m0vernents, in perverse combination with the post-World War ll advertising and mass media boom, has affected “the kind of body the current society needs.“ The question for media analysts is to define warn kind of body, or what kinds of bodies, are needed and/or tolerated by current societies, and to describe how the apparatus of body and power functions in popular culture today. The Pumping Iron films furnish a wealth of material for such an analysis. Since they deal with bodybuilding. it would seem apparent from the very start that the bodies we see are not natural. After all, they are clearly the products of individual obsession, created with great effort in the gym, through dieting and even drugs. Moreover, the contestants clearly try to “sell” their bodies, first to the contest judges, then to a burgeoning group of bodybuilding entrepreneurs who promote a vast array of products. Yet though the contestants“ bodies are obviously and necessarily constructions, up for comparison and sale, there is an overwhelming need on the part of the judges, the audiences and even many of the contestants to see bodies Visible Difference and Flex Appeal 39} as representative of “Body” with a capital [3, a natural and God—given essence1 segregated and defined. as the films and contests themselves are, according to sex and gender roles.‘ Body, capital B, participates in myth, not history. References to the mythic status of these extra-muscular bodies appear throughout both films, reinforcing our perception of bodies as “Body.” Both men and women are associated with heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses. The contestants compete for the titles of Mr. and Miss Olympia, respectively. The theme song of Pumping Iron tells us, “Everybody [every body?) wants to be a hero ! Everybody wants to live forever.” Pumping Iron I] opens with shots of mountains and power lines, then shows Bev Francis, the lSO-pound Australian p0wer lifter turned bodybuilder, Seated next to and looking up at Statues of muscular goddesses. Similar shots of other women recur later, though then the emphasis is on femininity via statues of Venus. A sense of history is not absent from these films, bewever. On the contrary, because they are documentaries (albeit staged documentaries), the spectator knows that the contests have taken place, and that the. characters are real people. Moreover, because these characters are social actors: the spectator also assumes that the issues they discuss in Pumping from H (and ignore in Pumping Iron) are of contemporary concern. Paradoxically, though, the historical references inherent in the form of documentary hide the fact that the Pumping from films are films. with narrative and visual strategies. Like the bodies they chronicle, they too become part of nature.l5 In order to distinguish myth from history in these films, and in order to evaluate the representation of men and women bodybuilders in the broader context of the societal organization of body and power today, it is necessary to artificially separate the terms they entangle. Therefore, in what follows, i will look in turn at how sex/gender, sexuality, and race are perceived and constructed as visible, physical differences in the film narratives and images. My conclusion recombines the three categories and diSCLlSSCS how history is obfuscated by representation and sales: within the competitions, within the films, and within society at large. Because women are the subjects of Pumping iron I], the fact of visible differ- ence based on sex is inescapable. it displaces the competition as the central topic of the film narrative. in order to define which woman has the best and most well-defined body, the judges feel compelled to define “body” in relation to “woman.” The contestants, too, wonder about the relationship between gender (femininity or masculinity), sex (female or male bodies). and bodybuilding. The film makes their questions its own, marshalling images and sounds to ask: Is a woman still a woman if she looks like a man? Where is the vanishing point? in contrast, Pumping Iron simply chronicles the £976 Mr. Olympia contest. The reason why is obvious in retrospect: because men are the norm in patriarchal society, visible difference cannot be an issue. The association of muscularity with men poses no conflict between sex and gender: muscular men are seen as “natural.”7 As Richard Dyer says of male pin~ups: “Muscularity is a key term in appraising men‘s bodies. . . . Muscularity is the sign of powerw—natural, 3’92 Women, Sport, and Culture achieved, phallic."fl What then could be more natural, more familiar. mOre rigitt than men pumping iron? images ofmuscular women, on the other hand, are disconcerting, even threaten- ing. They disrupt the equation of men with strength and women with weakness that underpins gender roles and power relations, and that has by now come to seem familiar and comforting (though perhaps in differing ways) to both women and men. Because of this threat to established values, Pumping Iron [1 has an edge of excitement and danger missing from Pumping Iron. Yet Pumping Iron H is not wholeheartedly in favor of muscular women; on the contrary, it is both ambiguous and ambivalent. Contradictions abound within the narrative and between the narrative and the images. On the surface of the narrative, Pumping Iron it seems to promote strong women and to treat women in the same way as men. As the sequel to Pumping iron, it has the same narrative structure: both films begin with interviews of the top contenders, interest with training scenes; both climax with the bodybuild- ing contest. On a deeper level, newever, Pumping iron I! treats women very differently than Pumping Iron treats men. Pumping iron does not need to ask “What is man?" while Pumping from I! cannot do anything else. When the question “What is woman?" is asked about women bodybuilders, it seems topical. even liberal. In actuality, however, it is centuries old, and standard Hollywood practice. Steve Neale could be describing the basic plots of the Pumping iron films when he writes: “While mainstream cinema, in its assumption ofa male norm, perspective and look, can constantly take women and the female image as the object of investigation, it has rarely investigated men and the male image in the satire kind of way: women are a problem, a source of anxiety, of obsessive inquiry; men are not. Where women are investigated, men are tested."" Of course, there are individual moments witltin the narrative that contradict both the deep and surface levels of the film. At these times the majority of Spectators‘in the contest audienCes and the film theater are aligned with the more muscular and articulate women. Although the conventionally prettier and sexier Rachel McLish has her ardent supporters, on the Whole, Bev Francis and Carla Dunlap appear more intelligent and more likeabie. Throughout the film, Bev and Carla come across as outspoken and independent, good sports and good sportswomen, while time and again, Rachel is characterized as a whining, chcatw ing, Biblevbelting brat. Similarly, the film does not encourage spectators to adopt the positions articu- lated by the universally white male international Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) officials: on the contrary, they look ridiculous. in a key pre~contest sequence, Ben Weider, chairman ofthe IFBB, intones: “What we‘re looking for is something that's right down the middle. A woman who has a certain amount of aesthetic femininity, but yet has that muscle tone to show that she is an athlete.” The retort of one of the younger male judges seems far more logical and far less patronizing: “That‘s like being told there is a certain point beyond which women can‘t go in this sport. What does that mean exactly? it’s as though Visible Difference and Flex Appeal 303 the LLS. Ski Federation told wornen skiers that they can only ski so fast." in the final contest scenes the officials’ competence as officials is thrown into question: even with the help of a calculator, they are unable to total the women‘s scores. Moments Such as these, where the audience is encouraged to identify with strung women and to reject “dolls” and patriarchs, are certainly victories for feminism. But they must be evaluated in the context of the entire film and especially in the context of the film images. The images of Pumping iron I] are more ambiguous titan the narrative because society defines h0w we look at women's bodies very narrowly indeed. When bodybuilding is understood just as a sport, the analogy between body» building and skiing made by the young judge and endorsed by a certain part of the film narrative is absolutely valid. The problem is that, unlike skiing, bodybuild— ing for women entails confronting and judging the near-naked female body. One has only to turn to Freud to appreciate why, for the male spectator especially, the female body is fraught with both danger and delight. in Freud’s analysis, men see women not lust as different, but also as castrated, as not men. The male subject simultaneously recognizes and denies difference: the woman is different, uniteimli‘ch even,” yet she is also the same, just missing a pan." At one and the same time he desires and dreads the woman‘s visible difference: it evokes his fears of the loss and/or inadequacy of the penis, while Simultaneously establishing male superiority based on possession of the penis. in the essay entitled “Fetisitism,” Freud maintains that men negotiate castration anxiety caused by “the terrifying shock of. . . the sight of the female genitals" in three different ways: “Some become homosexual in consequence of this ex pcriettce, others ward it off by creating a fetish, and the great majority Overcome it“ and choose women as their love objects.” in Pumping Iron if in particular, the problems posed by the images of female bodies provoke responses involving all three of Freud’s strategies: homosexuality. fetishism, and ltetcrosexuaiity. Male ambivalence toward women‘s bodies is omnipresent. A fear of visible difference and a fear of the abolition of visible difference paradoxically coexist, so tightly are body and power interconnected here. The images of the more muscular women inflame male anxiety because they threaten the abolition of visible difference. in an article on a made~for—TV movie about women bodybuilders, Laurie Scltulze comments: “The danger to male iteterosexuality lurks in the implication that any male sexual interest in the muscular female is not heterosexual at all, but homosexual: nut only is she ‘unnatural,’ but the female bodybuilder possesses the power to invert normal male sexuality.“‘3 Since Bev Francis looks and moves “like a man,“ homophobic patriarchal ideology whispers that men who find her attractive must be gay, and. f u rther, that women who find her attractive must be lesbians. Bev‘s muscles, dress, heavy facial features, and “unfeminine” body language evoke the stereotype of what a lesbian looks like: the butch, the lesbian who is immediately recognizable as such, visibly different. Women who find Bev attractive would, as a result, be 304 Women, Sport, and Culture defined as ferns, lesbians who, in loan Nestle‘s words, are “known by . . . their choices” while batches are “known by their appearances."" In each case, the stereotypes of what kind of bodies gay men and lesbians find attractive are constructed around the phallus: gay men are assumed to be wimps who worship he—men," while lesbians are assumed to be women who are “he-men“ or women who worship "lie/shamed" The film narrative attempts to circwnvent the threats of homosexuality Bev poses by having her repeatedly insist that she is a woman, not a man, and by repeatedly showing her accompanied by her trainerfboyfriend, Steve Weinberger. But these narrative strategies cannot be successful in allaying male castration anxieties and/or homophobia in general, especially since they are reinforced by a fear of loss of love. Where men are concerned, Freud mentions this fear only in passing:i5 for him women, far more than men, are concerned about the loss of love intendant on the abolition of visible difference. Indeed, in Freudian terms. loss of love, not castration, constitutes the most significant female anxiety.” Adrienne Rich, in contrast, argues that: “it seems more probable that men really fear . . . that women could be indifferent to them altogether" than that "the male need to control women‘s sexuality results from some primal male ‘fear of women.’ ”” ln Pumping Iron H, the association of muscularity, masculinity, and lesbianism invokes these fears of a loss of love for spectators of both sexes, though in different ways. if heterosexual men see Bev as a lesbian, she is threatening: lesbians incarnate sexual indifference to men. If heterosexual women see Bev as a lesbian they must reject her: to like her would mean admitting that they themselves might be lesbian, which would in turn entail the abnegation of tradi— tionally feminine powers and privileges. The overwhelming majority of the female characters in Pumping Iron H, from the bodybuilders themselves to the one female judge, fear that a redefinition of femininity will entail the loss of love, power, and privilege.” lt is fear of loss of love that motivates one of the women to say, rather inanely, but nonetheless quite sincerely and even persuasively. “I hope really that they stick with the feminine look. . . . i mean, really, a woman‘s a woman. That’s my philosophy. I think she should look like a woman. Anti l think that when you lose that, what's the point of being a woman?” Most of the images in Pumping iron ll espouse the same philosophy. in general, they function to defuse rather than provoke male and female spectators‘ anxieties about muscular women by fetishizing women‘s bodies and by making them the objects of heterosexual. desire. The differences between the two Pumping iron films illuminate how these strategies work. in four areas in pttrticularmrnise-en- scene, cosrume and props, development of secondary characters, and framing and camera movements—Sexuality is surreptitiously linked with sex and gentler in such a way as to support heterosexual and patriarchal ideologies. The settings of both films consist largely of gyms and competition stages. ln addition, the “stars” of each film are interviewed at home, in their hotel rooms, and backstage before the final, climactic contest. Pumping Iron H adds something Visible Difference and Flex Appeal 305 more, however. ln two sequences involving groups of women bodybuilders, the beauty of the female body is evoked via lyrical images. even as individual women debate the essence of femininity. The first of these is set in Gold‘s Gym in California. lt opens with a series of shots of women lifting weights. The camera then moves with the women through the door marked “Ladies Only” into the sliOwer room. There, through lather anti steam, naked female bodies are glimpsed. The scene is a l'etishist‘s delight: the camera pans and cuts from torsos to biceps to necks to breasts to heads. The second sequence again involves a group of women and is shot in a pool outside of Caesar’s Palace. The camera movements, editing, even the lighting, echo those of the Gold‘s Gym sequence, only here doubly frozen bodicsmthc female statucsmadd to the camera/spectator’s titilla~ tion and admiration of muscular but distinctly feminine women‘s bodies, por~ traycd as so many water nymphs. in each sequence, the images counteract the threat posed by muscular, active women by placing them in traditionally sexy, feminine environments (showers and pools) and by showing them in stereotypical ways (frozen, fragmented, or both). Needless to say, Bev Francis and Carla Dunlap are not present in either group: they represent alternative possibilities ol‘ femininity. " The costumes and props used in both films further align sexuality, nature, and the body. The most striking example of this process occurs in the photo sessioas for bodybuiiding magazines included in each film. Rachel McLish flexes for the camera, holding dumbbells and wearing feathers, chains, and a tiger suit; Arnold Schwarzenegger wades knee deep in women, then plays in the ocean and poses against the sky: Lou Ferrigno, Schwarzenegger’s chief competitor, crouches somewhat awkwardly next to a cheetah. White the shots of Rachel add a spice of sadism missing from the shots of the men, all testify to an imbrication of sexuality, sex, gender, and nature. Pumping Iron I! again differs from Pumping Iron, however, in its creation of a category of secondary characters, “boyfriends,” with no equivalent in the first film. Again and again not only Bev, but also Rachel and Lori Bowen are shown with their men. Lori’s fiance (a male go-go dancer-Aha object par excellence of a certain, classmlinked, heterosexual female desire) even proposes to her in from of the camera. Throughout, the film imperceptibly but inflexiny imposes what Adrienne Rich would call a “compulsory heterosexual orientation" on the female bodybuilders.$9 Only Carla is seen in an all-female environment, accompanied by her mother and sister and without a boyfriend or male trainer. in an interview, she described how she told George Butler she would be seen with her boyfriend, who was married, only if Butler were willing to pay for the divorce costs?" In Pumping Iron, on the other hand, only Arnold Schwarzenegger is conStantly surrounded by women, glorying in his super-masculinity. But these women are nameless and interchangeable bodies, not secondary characters of note. Finally, the way in which the two films are shot differs radically. As is obvious from the discussion above of the Gold‘s Gym and Caesar‘s Palace pool sequences, Ptmiplng Iron H positions women as fetishized objects of the camera’s and spectator‘s gaze far more than Pumping Iron does men. Except in the case of 306 Women, Sport. and Culture scenes involving Bev, the camera movements, editing strategies. framing and lighting, resembie those of soft-core pornographic films. it comes as a Surprise to learn that the cameraperson in Pumping iron H is a woman, Dyanna Taylor, best known for a documentary about the first women‘s team to climb Mount Annapurna. Although in interviews she has said that she wanted to capture the excitement of bodybuilding by using iightweight cameras and muitiple setups, this has very little impact on how the spectator, and the film, look at near-naked women. Though muscular, breasts and buttocks still appear as tits and ass. Marcia Pally graphically describes the voyeurism of the opening shots as l'oliows: Close to the woman’s skirt, the camera slides ttiong her nude body. It runs down a leg, around the soft, flat stomach, and over the hip bones like a steeplechaser barely acknowledging a shrub. lt sweeps across her back to the nape of her neck, and then to an arm more venous titan most. it circles a shapely thigh brushing her body with a modem that is part caress but more a search. it scans her surface and takes note; like the cop in any poiict‘er, it knows what to remember and what to reveal. The case under invesrigation is the nature of femininity; the female body lies here in evidence.“ The men’s bodies in Pumping Iron are not filmed in the same way: they are not panned or framed like this, nor is ii ghting used to the same effect. Because the tonic body in patriarchal societies is not acknowledged to be either mysterious or problematic, it is simply not displayed for the spectator’s investigation and consumption to the same extent as the fetnaie body. in actuality, however, it is intensely problematic: the threat of castration is everywhere present and every where hidden. Repressions of and allusions to the precarious status of the tonic body permeate the visual strategies of Pumping Iron. These male bodybuilders are freaks ju5t as 'Bev Francis is: they are (1!! too muscular. Lou Ferrigno‘s subsequent casting as the Hulk and Arnold Schwarzenegger's success as Conan the Barbarian and the 'l‘enninator are net coincidentai. Their excessive muscularity has made them oddities and has only increased inale anxiety and awareness that, to quote Richard Dyer again, “the penis is not a patch on the phallus.”22 This is why, unlike the emphasis on tits and ass in Pumping Iron 11, the camera never focuses on the bulge in Arnold’s or Lou‘s bikinis or pans their naked bodies in the shower: to look might reveal too much or too little, threatening the tenuous equation established between masculinity, muscularity, and men. The fear of visible difference joined with the fear of an abolition of visible difference thus make it exceedingly difficult to separate sexuality, sex, and gender in the Pumping Iron films and in society as a whole.23 Although Pumping Iron 1! relies for its dramatic tension on the possibitity of a separation between sex and sexuality, the contradictions between anti within narrative and image throughout reassure us of the continuation of the status quo: sex, gentler, and sexuality are one, indivisible. Visibie Difference and Flex Appeal 307 A simiiar politics of confiation operates in the films‘ representation of race. Yet there are significant differences between the way sex and sexuality, and race and sexuality are linked both in these films and in the society they portray and address. Visible difference based on sex must be determined according to secondary characteristics like muscularity due to the fact that the primary characteristic, ownership or tacit of a penis, is hidden. But visible difference based on race is right there on the surface, in the color of the skin. Although, or maybe paradoxically because it is there in plain sight, racial difference is not incessantly discussed and examined the way sexual difference is. lit America today, as opposed to in past or present coionial societies, race is ignored and overiooked, hidden by discourse the way sexual difference is hidden on the body.“ The majority of Antericans avoid acknowledging the continuing existence ofracial discrimination at home, preferring instead to export it safeiy overseas—to South Africa, for exatnpie. Where race is discussed, it is usually presented via stereotypes, as it wouid be in coloniai discourse.25 The Pumping iron films incorporate both strategies silencing and stereotyp- log—in the reiationships they establish among race, body, and power. Neither film is about racial difference but, again, especiain in Pumping iron if, race plays a significant rote. ln Pumping Iron race is not regarded as an issue, even though the Mr. Oiympia competition takes place in South Africa. Here blacks are simply minor characters of no real importance to either the narrative or the images. In Pumping iron H, however, race is constantly visible in the person of Carla Dunlap, one of the four major women characters and the winner of the Miss Olympia title. Yet the film narrative and images and Carla herselfdownplay her color, concentrating instead on the issues of sex, sexuality. and the body. Carla stands out iess because she is biack than because she spearheads the revoit against enforced femininity and because, as mentioned earlier, she is the oniy woman who is not involved with men.26 Her articulateness, her sensitivity toward and support of the other women athtetes, and her interactions with her mother and sister ntake her extremely appealing to both feminists and nonfetninists. What is inter-eating is that, despite her autonomy and despite the fact that she is more muscular than many of the other women, she never poses a threat of homosexuality the way Bev does, because, by comparison with Bev, she still looks and moves like a woman. Carla plainly knows how to apply makeup and how to dress seductively. Because images override narrative, the possibility that she might actually be a lesbian or that she might be the object of iesbian desire is passed over, silenced: only the most visible lesbians are recognized as such, in the fiint and in society as a whole. if anything, Pumping Iron 11' underlines Carla's grace and femininity: a sequence showing her practicing synchronized swimming~that rnost graceful of sports, one of the few Olympic events so far open only to womenmis inserted, not coincidentally. right after she challenges the judges‘ authority to define women‘s bodybuilding according to their ideas of what women should be. Accompanied by melodic, andante piano music she swims, slowly and sensuously, in an azure pool. The setting and the sounds could 3% Women, Sport. and Culture not be more romantic. The dual threat posed by her muscularity and her feminism is contained and displaced by an emphasis on her femininity and sexuality. The most ambivalent sequence involving race, sex, and sexuality is Carla‘s free-form posing routine, performed to Grace lones‘s song “Feel Up.” The song begins with jungle noises, moves on to a sexy, upbeat message of independence and strength, anti ends with jungle noises again. Caria‘s choreography comple ' ments the two moods of the song, passing from mystery and bewilderment to flashy self-confidence to mystery again. Although neither the song nor Carla‘s routine are racist, the jungle sounds and Carla's seductive posing routine might easily be reabsorbed within the framework of racist images and attitudes that permeate mass media representations of blacks. As Gloria Josephs says, “the very presence of black women shrouded in sexual suggestiveness is loaded in particulariy racist ways” because racists conceive of black women as “being intrinsically nothing but sexual?” The combination of exoticisin, blackness, femininity, and sexuality is aiso, as Sander L. Gihnan points out, reminiscent of Freud‘s equation of female sexuality and the dark continent.2k Given the tensions within the film and within society, the tittclges‘ choice of Carla as Miss Olympia can be seen, in Foucauldian terms, as a response by the power apparatus to an urgent need in society.29 Threatened by the specter of the abolition of visible difference (museular women), the male judges consciously and unconsciously affirm their need for visible difference by choosing a woman who still looks like a woman (different) and who is black (different). The judges‘ decision can be seen as a simultaneous recognition and disavowal of racial difference. This ambivalence, as Horni Bhabha provocatively argues in “The Other Question,” links the racial steremype with the sexual fetish: [F'Jetishism is always a “piay” or vacillation between the archaic affir- mation of wlioienessfsimiiarity—min Freud‘s terms: “All men have penises"; in ours “All men have the same skin/race/cuiturc"——and the anxiety associated with luck or difference—again, for Freud, “Some do not have penises"; for us “Some do not have the same skin/race! culture." . . . The fetish or stereotype gives access to an “identity” which is predicated as much on maStery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence. . . .3” Most important, however, the "identity" of the fetish or the stereotype masks history. it is synchronic, not diachronic. Edward Said offers another, potentially more historical, version of the ambivalence that characterizes how the racial other (in his analysis, the Oriental other) is seen: “The Orient at large vacillates between the West‘s contempt for what is familiar and its shivers of delight iii—or fear of———novelty.”-‘l Here, in the appeal to and the denial of history, is the itey to how and why Pumping Iran and Pumping Iran [I confront both the threat of sexual and racial difference and the threat of the abolition of sexual and racial difference. The muscular bodies we see, whether black or white, male or female, are all sold to Visible Difference and Flex Appeal 309 _ us as new and improved versions of an old product. Pumping Iron downplays visible difference in its search for the ultimate meaning of generic “man.” The film spectator and the audience at the Mr. Olympia competition take it for granted that Arnold Schwarzenegger should and will win the contest: after all, he is the most muscular, most articulate, most viriie, and most Aryan man around. Pumping iron H plays up the visible differences of sex and race in its search for the new woman who can stiil be admired and loved. The title song, sung by a woman and heard at the beginning and again at the end, betrays the fiim’s preference for a male-oriented, heterosexual er0ticism, especially because the start of the film combines the suggestiveiy seductive lyrics with slow pans of a woman’s naked body on a tanning bed: “i am the future / Beyond Your dreams I I got the muscles / Future sex i i got the motion / Future sex if i got the body ,1 Future sex lTouch this body I Feel this body.” From the start. therefore, it is ciear that women bodybuilders wiil be defined by their feminine sex appeal. The men who profit from the sport of bodybuilding, including director George Butler, know that the future of women‘s bodybuiiding depends on “how well it can be marketed to the general public—on how many women can be made to want to look like . . . Rachel McLislt, and, to a lesser degree, on how many men can be made to want to Sleep with litfilil."n The strategy behind Pumping Iron H is thus a marketing strategy. As a film, it wants to make, package, and sell history, not just watch it. Pumping [run I! aspires to be more than the chronicle of a contest, more than a sequel subtitled “The Women." in his eagerness to promote and sell women’s bodybuiiding, director George Butler staged not only the events leading up to the contest, but also the contest itself. He spent months booking Caesar‘s Palace and convincing Bev Francis to participate, confident that Caesar‘s was the last frontier and that Bev would inevitably cross it. As in television coverage of sports events, “the worlds ofsport anti show business meet upon the ground ofstardoan and competi~ tion" in both Ptm-ipfng Iron l‘iitns.33 Unique to these films, however, is the way the spectacle of the competition and the spectacle of the film are merged with the spectacle of the near-naked, and therefore supposedly natural, body. in the final analysis, because they emphasize and appeal to the body, the Pumping Iron films resemble advertising far more titan sports documentaries or show business dramas. As Marcia Pally says, watching Pumping Iron If is like watching one long Virginia Slims commercial: “You‘ve come a long way, baby?” The skillful combination of sex, gender, and sexuality, the silencing or stereotyping of race, and the complete bracketing of class, readily recall basic advertising principles. In both films slick images and hip music repetitively say the same thing: there is no history, there is no work, there is only leisure and sex. Both films repress the history of bodybuilding and the largeiy working-Class affiliation of its contestants and audiences, choosing instead to emphasize the body as art, sculpture, and timeless specutcie.” Only a few sepia stills of nineteenthtcentury strong men, glimpsed at the beginning and end of Pumping Iron, testify to the popular and fairground origins of the sport. No mentiou is made in Pumping from ll of early strong women like Mme Minerva. Mme t 310 Women. Sport. and Cuitttre Montagna. the Great Vulcana. or Katie Sandwina. the Lady Hercules. While it is obvious in Pumping tron If that the Miss Olympia competition in many ways resembles strip tease shows and beauty contests, no mention is made of the very recent (19703) history of female bodybuilding contests. witere models and strippers posed only to titillate the largely male audiences of the men‘s compe- titions. .. . Today female bodybuilding has moved closer to being a sport. NonetlteleSS the nagging suspicion remains that the "long way” traveled by the women of Pumping Iron H dead-ends in the chance to be treated. once again. as advertising objects. Now attractive white female as well as male bodybuilders motivate spectators to buy protein and vitamin supplements. to use certain bodybuilding machines. to join heaith clubs. and to consume magazines. books and. of course, movies.“ As always, sales are more important thatt sports. and much more important than social commentary. Far front abolishing stereotypes based on visible difference, Pumping tron H. anti Pumping [run as well, visually position the body as spectacle, then sell it as big business. ln both films. the threat of visibie difference and the threat of the abolition of visible difference are contained anti marketed—as flex appeai. NOTES 1. in the case of the women‘s movement, organizing around the issues ol' abortion. rape. physical abuse of women, and pornography is often based as much on the idea that the body should not be violated as on the idea that women have a right to cltoose for tltetnsetves. Unt'ortuttnteiy. organizing predicated on the inviolability of the body frequently overtaps in highly probiematic ways with New Right interests. 2. Michel Foucault. “The Confession of the Flesh," in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon Books. 1980). 195. Michel Foucault. "Body/l”ower." in Power/Knowledge, 58. Ibid. 5. No doubt because the Pumping Iron i'iltns seeit to legitimate bodybuilding as “naturai” and “healthy,” neither filttt tnentimts steroids, though mate bodybuilders in particular often use them, At one point in Pumping Iron Lou Ferrigno takes handfuls of pills, but they are probably vitamins. Except for art obliqnemand catty—suggestion by Rachel McLish that Bev Francis may have used steroids (“the question is not how she did it {i.e. how site got so big], but where she’s at right now") Pumping Iron it: The Women also shies away from the question of drugs. Alteration of the female body through costume (Rachel‘s bikini top is judged iilegal because padded) and breast implants (an issue the judges say they ignore because implants are too hard to detect) are the only artificial interventions the film acknowledges. Pi” H). il. i2. Visible Difference and Flex Appeal 3H . 'l‘he effacement of production is typical of documentary film and classic narrative cinema. Following Edward Buscombe and Roy Peters, Garry Whattttel describes how these cinematic conventions have been adapted to television sports coverage in order to “minitnilzel audience awareness of the mediating effect of television.“ The visual style of television sports coverage has in turn influenced the Pumping iron films as sports docamen- taries. See Garry Whannei, “Fields in Vision: Sport and Representation," Screen 25. no. 3 (May-June 1984): 101. See also Edward Buscorrtbe. ed.. Football on Television (British Film institute Television Monograph. London. 1974); attd Roy Peters. Television Coverage of Sport (Stenciied paper. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Birmingham. l976). . As Kate Millet points out. however, “the heavier muscuiature of the male. a secondary sexuai characteristic and cottttrton among mammals. is biological in origin but is also culturally encouraged through breeding. diet and exer- cise.“ Met'eover. physical strength has iittle to do with gender roles and power. On the contrary: “At present, as in the past. physical exertion is very generally a class factor. those at the bottom performing the most strenuous tasks, whether they be strong or not." Kate Millet. Santa] Politics (Garden City. N.Y.: Doubleday. £970). 27. Richard Dyer, “Don‘t Look Now.“ Screen 23, no. 3-4 (September-October E982): 67-68. . Steve Neale, “Masculinity as Spectacle." Screen 24, no. 6 (November- Decctnber i983): 15-16. Sigmund Freud, "The ‘Uncanny.’ " in On Creativity and the Uncorrscious (New York: Harper and Row. l958). I22-61. Freud‘s analyses encorttpass both perspectives, but the second is the more basic. Susan Lorie critiques Freud‘s assumption that men and boys are the norm: “ln psychoanaiysis the meaning ol‘ woman is fixed not as difference, but as 'ttttttation’ in the context of a desired sameness." Susan Lurie. “The Construction of the ‘Castrated Womatt‘ in Psychoanalysis and Cinema.” Dr's‘cottrse. no. 4 (Winter l981~82}: 54. For similar critiques. see also Stephen Heath. “Difference,” Screen l9. no. 3 (Autumn 1978): 51-! 12. and Karen Horney. “The Dread of Weinan.” in Feminine Psychology (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967), 133n46. . The first ofthe titree choices Freud discusses is homosexuality. Homosexuals. he argues. openly acknowledge the primacy of the phailus: men are taken as sexual objects because they possess the penis, which the child imagines the mother he leved also had. Yet this solution is unacceptable to society. Fetishism is preferabie because “it endow[s} women with the attribute which makes them acceptable as sexual objects.“ Unlike homosexuality. fetishes are not prohibited by society; on the contrary, as Freud remarks. “they are easily obtainable and sexuai gratification by their means is thus very convenient." For these reasons, “the fetishist has no trouble in getting what other men have to woo and exert themselves to obtain." Sigmund Freud, ' 3L2 Women, Sport, and Culture i3. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. “Fetishisrn,” in Sexuality and the Psychology of Love {New York: Macmillan, 1963), 2l6. Laurie Jane Schuize. “Getting Physical: TextiContext/Reading and the Made-for-TV Movie,“ Cinema Journal 25, no. 2 (Winter 1986): 433. Joan Nestle. “The Fem Question,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1984). 233. Sigmund Freud, “Anxiety anti instinctual Life,” in New Introductory Lec- tures on Psychoanalysis {New York: W.W. Norton. 5965), 77-28. ibid., 7637. Karen Horney would agree, though as usual her evaluation of this phenomenon is critical both of the phenomenon and of Freud‘s position. See, for example, Karen Horney, “The Overvaluation of Leve,” in Feminine Psychology, l82—2 l3. and “The Neurotic Need for Love,” Feminine Psychol- ogy, 245—58. Adrienne Rich. “Compulsory Heterosexuality anti Lesbian Existence,“ Signs 5. no. 4 (Summer 1980): NW. No doubt Freud would argue that those women in the t'ilm (Bev, Carla) or in the audience (feminists. lesbians) who do not fear the loss of love by men do so only because they covet the phalluslpenis directly. They have not made the requisite substitution of baby l‘or penis. See Rich. “Compulsory i-letcroscxuality and Lesbian Existence," (fit-60. Marcia Pally. “Women of ‘1rou‘," Film Comment 21, no. 4 {July-august 1985): 62. ' told, 60. Dyer, “Don’t Look Now,” it. . The confusiou of these three categories, as Gayle Rubin convincingly argues, is ali the more easily accoinpiisited because in English "sex" refers both to gender and gender identity and to sexual activity. See Rubin, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radiottl Theory of the Politics 01‘ Sexuality,“ in Pleasure and Danger, 307. in sharp contrast to many l‘entinists, Rubin refuses to see women‘s experience of sexuality as engendering. For her “sexual oppression cuts across other modes of social inequality, sorting out individuals and groups according to its own intrinsic dynamics. it is not reducibie to, or understandable in terms of. class, race, ethnicity. or gender.“ lbid., 293. A notable exception is The Cosby Show. Writing in TV Guide, Mary Helen Washington describes the show‘s portrayal of race as follows: _”[Cosby] has chosen to handle the family’s blackness {as} simply a givenwneitlter ignored nor haunted but written into the show as though blackness were normal—nun: exotic, not stupid, not shameful, not polemical.” Mary Helen Washington, “l’lease, Mr. Cosby. Build on Your Success," TV Guide (22 March l986): 8. See Homi K. Bhabha. “The Other Question. . . . ," Screen 24, no. 6 (November—December 1983): 18-36. According to Nik Cohtt in Women oflron.‘ The World ofFemctle Bodybuilders (up: Wideview Books, 1981). 59. Carla‘s own experiences agree with the film’s privileging of sexual difference over racial difference. As an adult, 27. 28. 29. 30. 3i. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. Visible Difference and Flex Appeal 313 Carla has found sexual discrimination to pose more problems than racial discrimination. As a child. she was sheltered from racial prejudice by class privilege: Of all the top women bodybuilders, she was the only black. A lot of brothers and sisters had asked her if that was a dilemma. She always told them No. and that was the truth. She had never been taught that color was a iimitation. Those were not the kind of roots she‘d grown l‘ront. Her childhood had been wonderful. Her father was a chemist in Newark. and his children were provided with everything they needed. Carla itad foar sisters and a brother. They lived in a huge house. There were horses and boats, and lots of space to breathe in. A typical American middle class background, she called it. They summered on a yacht. Gloria 1. Joseph, “The Media and Blacks—Selling it Like it Isn't," Common Differences. ed.. Gloria 1. Joseph and iill Lewis (Garden City, NY: Double- day, 1981), 163. Sander L. Gilman. "Black Bodies, White Bodies.” Critical Inquiry 12. no. t (Autumn 1985): 238. See Foucault, "The Confession oi‘tlte Flesh," in Power/Knowledge, i9ti-95. Bhabha, “The Other Question." 27. Bltabha goes on to suggest that blacks themselves participate in the creation and perpetuation of the stereotype, much as women desire to be seen as different and consent to be letisitized out of a fear of loss of love. Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routicdge and Kegan Paul. 1978),58~59. Charles Gaines. Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding (New York: Simon and Scitttster, 1981), 22022. Wltannel, "Fields in Vision," 99. Pally, “Women of ‘lron’,” 60. While in the history of Western art men have traditionally been portrayed as muscuiar. "the shape to which the female body tends to return . . . is one which emphasizes its biological functions . . . most often suggested by a softly curved cello shape. . . .” Charles Gaines. Pumping iron H: The Unprecedented Woman (New York: Simon and Scituster. 1984), 20. There is a ciear racial as well as a sexist bias in the advertising business surrounding women‘s bodybuilding. Gloria Steinem writes: “Though she has great beauty and the speech skills of a first-class actress. Carla Dunlap has been offered no television commercials. Even the dozens of bodybuilding magazines have declined to put this first black woman champion on the cover.” Gloria Steinem, “Coming Up: The Unprecedented Women," Ms. 14, no. i {July 1985): l09. ...
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