Six Pack Abjection: A Muscle God In RetrogradeBy Shawn Baker / Friday, January 15th, 2010
To be a bankable Hollywood action star, you have to have some requisite aces up your sleeve if you hope to achieve success.
You have to sleep with the right people. You need to symbolically connect as straight men’s dream projections of their own idealized selves, while simultaneously embodying a fantasy mate for women and gays — one capable of merciless defense and slaughter, usually while shirtless. You need a PR machine at your back that will propel you up the ladder. You must marry a blonde woman, likely younger than you and willing to accept a prenup so you can trade her in for a less mature model when she hits her early 30s.
Most vitally, you must possess a hyper-masculine physique that you can adapt at will should you opt to branch out into different roles, Oscar-bait, or be taken seriously as a human being. That entails having a team of handlers including personal trainers, nutritionists, agents, and physicians to provide you with the necessary hypertrophic boost, and if you’re a squeamish pussy, maybe even stick the needle into your granite-hard ass cheek.
It used to be mainly starlets who were the “creations” in Tinseltown — pretty girls carved, toned, and bleached into post-op knock-outs — but now it’s male stars, and in particular, male action stars who are prefab products of studio engineering of a different kind. The chemical kind. And like the ladies with their dark roots and telltale surgery scars, the men now have their own pre-fame incarnations that can break the movie gods’ spell if they step off the beauty treadmill for too long.
In 1981′s Cult Movies, Danny Peary shrewdly opines that Oz’s Emerald City is the over-the-rainbow version of our own Hollywood, with the dreamers lucky enough to make it there and be allowed in through the gates receiving the sort of treatment everyone wants from the Movie Factory, namely, an all-hands-on-deck fully body make-over where our imperfections are buffed away, our hair and eyes are glossed and lightened, and our tatty straw gets replaced with top-line excelsior or glittery tinsel.
The Wizard is nothing if not an adept illusionist, and any sleight of hand’s effectiveness is contingent upon the beholder’s willingness to believe and the star’s commitment to give the lie. If we hate Hollywood, it’s because deep down we know that its glamor is rooted in finite fakery that will dissipate into the ether if the veil is allowed to slip.
How else to explain the jaw-dropping image recently snapped of Gerard Butler
(opening image) — he who along with a cast of Titan-ready men-at-arms sported abs so mythically-chiseled in 300 that they could cut glass — looking not bronze-fleshed, meta-pec’d, and battle-ready, but sallow-skinned, jowly, deflated, and cravenly paunchy?
Was his onscreen teeth-gritting berserker just a product of the digital backlot, no different than a computer-generated backdrop? When it’s your waistline that puts you on the map, how can you tempt the wrath of the execs by going to seed? This is more than just too much booze and too little time on the Bowflex — this is a studio-built star’s glimpse into the broken mirror, and our peer at the fragile, tightrope-thin equilibrium he walks at his own peril.
It’s inhumanely-tapered, vaccuum-fit abs that are now the benchmark in achieving the Olympian male physique in La La Land, which correspondingly makes them the mirage ideal for us mere mortals. All those men’s mags — the shallow, content-free counterpart to women’s rags full of ads and perfume samples — only have four or five articles to rewrite endlessly, and even cover copy-wise, “Get Six-Pack Abs!” is the most overused of buzz lines in an industry out to market fad diets, miracle supplements, and life-changing exercise equipment to us.
But Men’s Health can’t be a journalistic cipher! No — it has 1,583 New Health, Sex, Fitness & Nutrition Tips! It’ll even learn you How To Build New Wealth Fast!, Land Your Dream Job!, and Burn Fat Fast — With Chilli!
Sure, it all comes down to random variables like your natural body fat content, muscle placement, the width of your rib cage, and height which you have no control over, but if it works for genetically-gifted bastards like Jason Statham, Josh Duhamel, and Taylor Lautner (at the haggard age of seventeen) who were supposedly total hogs just nine days ago, shouldn’t it work for you?
Like the beauty industry targeting women that employs teenage girls, makes them up to look twenty-eight, and takes credit for their youth, the first pitch from the men’s fitness industry is to convince guys that their bodies are like so much malleable clay that can be resculpted to perfection. The second selling pitch is to omit even oblique references to the anabolic fairy visiting macho marquee names on a regular basis. If a male star isn’t born up to snuff, he can be remodeled, and such is the case with Butler and a new wave of foreign imports being groomed for stateside success.
Hollywood turning to semi-established or even unknown foreign performers in the hopes of creating new stars whose talents it can squander in assembly line big studio efforts (remember how Antonio Banderas left Almodovar behind only to see his American career lurch to a halt in awful video game adaptions and kiddie movies, or how casting directors just never could figure out how to use stunning, ice-eyed Rutger Hauer as much more than a series of blond weirdos?) is nothing new, but the resources at its disposal are. Butler, who pre-300 was a passably good-looking Scot before he morphed into a muscle megalith and resident L.A. manslut at 37, is one of several current heart throbs whose American tenures came with some startling touch-ups and bulk-ups.
Christian Bale ditched his Brit-boy body at the curb once big ticket action movies came calling, Daniel Craig packed on the muscle to be Bond-ready, and already fit Hugh Jackman became impossibly Marvel-bodied for Wolverine duty. Local boys Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, and Ryan Reynolds — the most jacked-up domestic model on the market — all pulled-off amazing transformations they either kept up thanks to continued regimens or let fade to black as projects end.
As with liquid and other such crash diets, a miracle fitness program can produce results under the most rigorous and monitored of circumstances, but the human body can’t sustain them long-term and they’re undone as soon as you veer from their restrictive parameters.
In the compulsory interviews in magazines and TV, we get to hear how eating chicken breast, using natural supplements, and doing thousands of ab reps a day did the trick — just like in baseball, pro wrestling, and gay porn wherein everyone is born with a high metabolism and (my favorite catch-all dodge)… great genetics and dedication. Everyone knows that all actresses like Brittany Murphy have hummingbird constitutions, can’t even stand to take Advil, and eat like horses when the cameras aren’t around. With all that on your side, who the hell needs a team of doctors and trainers crafting an efficient cycle of growth hormones and steroids to get you there?
So Butler’s dedication just ebbed for the weekend. Seriously ebbed. But fear not! He can just turn to his own Men’s Health 2008 post-300 profile for all the answers he needs to rebound. In Just 8 Days! he’ll be Spartan again, a romantic comedy in which he plays a lady-killing lout about to fall hard for a neurotic career gal will go into production, and we’ll learn to fall in love with the power of Rock Hard Abs!: The 45-Minute Sixpack Promise and The Easy Way To Hard Abs! all over again.
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