I recently was subjected to a YouTube ad in which a muscly 24-year-old describes his scientifically backed workout regiment via voice-over while meandering around a Hampton-style mansion and driving a Lamborghini to a luxury gym. Needless to say, the man appears shirtless throughout.
I would compare the ad's flashy medium to the opening scene from “American Psycho,” in which a young, exorbitantly wealthy and narcissistic stockbroker details his morning routine, but it seems the beefy entrepreneur has beaten me to the punch. Indeed, he deliberately styles the ad for his body-building program off this very same scene, going so far as to repeat the opening lines nearly word for word, substituting his name and age for those of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman:
“My name is Gregory O'Gallagher, and I'm 24 years old. I believe in taking care of myself and maintaining a lean and powerful body and striving each day for self improvement.”
That might sound fine and good, but bear in mind that this youthful titan is consciously comparing himself to a fictional character who chops off (or imagines himself to be chopping off) the heads of prostitutes, humiliates homeless people by pretending to offer them dollar bills, and above all, brandishes an unrelenting arrogance of the highest caliber.
Is O'Gallagher not aware of this connection? Does he not think his viewers aren't? Since "Batman" music is playing throughout, does he just think that all the characters played by Christian Bale are interchangeable? Is a city-saving hero equivalent to an egomaniacal psycho so long as they have the same glamorous, chiseled body?
With the exception of the second question, I'm fairly certain that the answer is no. One has to remember that this is an ad, and the only logic that ads feel the need to obey is the logic of grabbing attention.
What's troubling about this ad is not so much the glitzy portrayal of sports cars and summer homes which O'Gallagher assuredly does not own — he talks about renting the Lambo in another video. Rather, it's the industry of superficial self-improvement which the ad embodies — in the six-pack chest of its creator — that is worrisome.
Now, I understand that body-building can be a route to confidence, physical well-being and other less-tangible modes of self-betterment for many folks along the spectrum of dissatisfaction. I know people for whom this has been the case, and even suspect that this is the case for O'Gallagher. However, lingering beneath all of this is the suspicion that, for some individuals, having highly visible abs and glory muscles is understood to be a kind of panacea, which all of sudden will set their life on course, if they merely follow someone's preset workout routine, or as O'Gallagher claims, simply fast for the first eight hours of their day and exercise intensely thrice a week.
We've all seen the commercials for instant ab workouts, the miracle body-shaping pills and fitness routines. It all sounds very nice. But that's it. It sounds too nice. It's the definition of specious. I like to call it Muscles, Inc.
The fatal flaw of Muscles, Inc. is the same flaw apparent in the Youtube ad. It promises holistic happiness through the simplicity of physical mimicry. So long as you follow my workout or purchase my product, self-improvement — and gorgeous romantic partners — will descend upon you like sweat to the brow of a body builder in mid lift. It doesn't matter that these programs often contradict each other, as one emphasizes pre-workout fasting while another demands carbo-loading before exercise. It doesn't matter that having a six-pack might only give the appearance of healthiness. What matters is that you will become a better person simply by becoming a leaner, stronger body.
Perhaps it is a truism that having a so-called “perfect” body does not make one a perfect person. Yet, the American media seems to worship bodies of a certain sort. Bodily health, assuredly, contributes to overall well-being, and in part, to happiness. But the people hitting the weight room every evening, whether with their protein powder or their intermittent fasting, might want to double-check their motivations. Muscles, Inc. cannot secure our health for us, anymore than a six-pack can secure our happiness. Patrick Bateman, with his enduring ennui and rock hard chest, at least knows that much.
Charlie Ducey waxes poetic without warrant, but who needs a warrant to write poetry? He studies English and German and is in his final year at Notre Dame. Please direct fan art and gripes to email@example.com.