School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Research Publications

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    Muscles, hybrids and new bad futures
    Since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone made their respective debuts onto the cinematic screen the muscle phenomenon has become a dominant factor in the cinema of the 1980s and 1990s. Muscle, in all its hard and sweaty glory, has found a market especially in the big budget extravaganzas whose narratives centre around the spectacle of the built bodies of male stars such as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Lundgren, Van Damme, Snipes and Seagal, and the more padded forms of actors such as Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. This new brand of cinema whilst harking back in part to an American tradition of genre cinema (the Western, Detective films, War Films etc.) appears to owe more to genres that emerged outside America: the Italian `gladiator' pictures of the 1950s and 1960s which retold the adventures of Hercules and other mythic heroes via the forms of bodybuilding stars such as Steve Reeves and Reg Park; and the martial arts action films popularized by Hong Kong Cinema and which found a very profitable market in the West ‐ and which also saw the migration of the genre into American cinema starring a series of martial arts experts including Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee and Jean‐Claude van Damme. Both genres revealed an unabashed display of the spectacle of action and the spectacle of the male body in action. The camera found any excuse to unapolegetically caress the bodies of the stars with pans, tracks and close‐ups of various fragmented body parts in ways that always denoted strength, agility and power.
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    Muscle, excess and rupture: female bodybuilding and gender construction
    NDALIANIS, ANGELA ( 1995-02)
    In recent years bodybuilding culture has provided the backdrop to a series of debates centering around issues surrounding representations of gender and in particular the potential inherent in bodybuilding bodies to rupture preconceived notions regarding 'norms' of masculinity and femininity; for the meticulously controlled, predetermined construction and definition of mass and muscle on the bodybuilding figure has shifted the body from an arena dominated by assumptions centering around the natural to a sphere which exposes the body itself - and with it the power structures that impose meaning onto it - as informed by culture. The bodybuilding physique reveals the body as a socially determined construct, or to cite Kuhn, with the willed construction of bodies in bodybuilding, 'nature becomes culture'. (Kuhn 1988, 5) The question of marketability has, over the years, emerged as a key concern in bodybuilding. Of all sports, due to its tendency towards things excessive, bodybuilding tends to stand outside the mainstream appealing primarily to a select, cult following. There have been some exceptions of bodybuilders who successfully escaped the margins and entered mainstream culture, the most successful being Arnold Schwarzenegger (seven time Mr. Olympia) who opened the doors to big-time muscle in action cinema. More recently, female muscle has also started to make itself felt in the popular sphere, with Cory Everson (six time winner of the Ms. Olympia) appearing in films such as Double Impact alongside Jean Claude van Damme, and professional bodybuilders Raye Hollitt, Shelley Beattie and Tonya Knight starring in the successful U.S. television show American Gladiators. Despite breaking through to mainstream culture, however, these bodybuilders have served as examples of 'freaks' in a world of 'norms'; they signal a moment of excess allowed to seep through into the dominant, but these moments are always about controlled forms of excess - they, in a sense, constitute an orderly disruption.