Men’s fitness as a performance—from nineteenth-century theatrical exhibitions to health and wellness practices today
This book recounts the story of fitness culture from its beginnings as spectacles of strongmen, weightlifters, acrobats, and wrestlers to its legitimization in the twentieth-century in the form of competitive sports and health and wellness practices. Broderick D. V. Chow shows how these modes of display contribute to the construction and deconstruction of definitions of masculinity.
Attending to its theatrical origins, Chow argues for a more nuanced understanding of fitness culture, one informed by the legacies of self-described Strongest Man in the World Eugen Sandow and the history of fakery in strongman performance; the philosophy of weightlifter George Hackenschmidt and the performances of martial artist Bruce Lee; and the intersections of fatigue, resistance training, and whiteness. Muscle Works: Physical Culture and the Performance of Masculinity moves beyond the gym and across the archive, working out techniques, poses, and performances to consider how, as gendered subjects, we inhabit and make worlds through our bodies.
Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter 1. Hypertrophy: Men’s Bodybuilding and Theatricality Chapter 2. Transformation: The Dynamic Tensions of “Before and After” Chapter 3. Strength: Astonishing Feats with Willful Things Chapter 4. Failure and Recovery: The Cross-Contamination of Progressive Overload Chapter 5. Grappling: George Hackenschmidt’s Education in Wrestling Chapter 6. Mirror: Racial Impressibility and the Built Asian Male Body Coda. Muscle Beach, 1934-1958: Prelude, Pause, and Utopia Notes Index
BRODERICK D. V. CHOW is Reader and Director of Learning, Teaching and Inclusion at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. He is coeditor of the volumes Sports Plays (2022) and Performance and Professional Wrestling (2016), as well as a competitive Olympic weightlifter and British Weight Lifting qualified coach.
"Muscle Works is a theoretically sophisticated and historically rich study of the imbrication between fitness culture, performance, theatricality, and masculinity. Chow invites us to consider how fitness cultures reflect the (re)organization of the body within the orders of contemporary capital as he elaborates on a theory of the queer forms of corporeal being and being-with that emerges from within the fraught, overlapping ideological spaces of fitness and performance. Elegantly and compellingly written, this is an exciting and welcome new addition to the overlapping libraries of performance theory and queer theory.” —Joshua Chambers-Letson, Northwestern University
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