Education for the Bodybuilder or Alibi for the Publisher | Masturbation | Queer Theory

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EDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER? SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSE OF THE 1950s By Bryan E. Denham, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Communication and Mass Media Southwest Missouri State University 901 South National Avenue Springfield, MO 65804 (417) 836-4156 E-mail: [log in to unmask] Paper submitted to the Magazine Division, AEJMC National Conference, August 1999, New Orleans EDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER? SEXUAL MORES IN THE WE
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  EDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER?SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSEOF THE 1950sByBryan E. Denham, Ph.D.Assistant Professor of Communication and Mass MediaSouthwest Missouri State University901 South National AvenueSpringfield, MO 65804(417) 836-4156E-mail: [log in to unmask]  Paper submitted to the Magazine Division,AEJMC National Conference, August 1999, New OrleansEDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER?SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSEOF THE 1950sAbstractJoe Weider has been involved with bodybuilding since the late 1930s, andtodayhe operates a health and fitness empire in Woodland Hills, California. Hisorganization produces exercise equipment, nutrition supplements, books, andmagazines, such as Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Shape and Men's Fitness. Thisessaylooks back to the 1950s and examines the sexual mores he advanced in amail-order course designed for young men interested in weightlifting. Asdiscussed in the paper, substantial differences existed across the glossymagazines that he produced for gay men throughout the 1950s and hismainstreammail-order course, published late in that decade. The information in SexEducation for the Bodybuilder, the publication examined here, is linked onaconceptual level to contemporary queer theory, in that the normative anddeviantsexual activities discussed in it seem to reflect perfectly the socialconstructs and norms of the time, while differing markedly from those oftoday.EDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER?SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSEOF THE 1950sIn the late 1950s, Weider offered young men interested inweightlifting amail-order course on fundamental training techniques. As part of his MuscleBuilding Series, he produced a supplemental publication addressing humansexuality. This study explores the sexual mores advanced in his booklet Sex  Education for the Bodybuilder (1958). The study reveals the disparitybetweenthe glossy magazines he produced for gay men and the generic mail-ordercoursehe produced for young men interested in weightlifting. In the former, forinstance, editors searched for ways to make posing briefs cling to thegenitalia; in the latter, Weider advised that masturbating was notsomething ayoung man in pursuit of physical strength did. Thus, while gay men may havelooked to Weider's magazines for titillation, subscribers to the MuscleBuilding Series received advice that smacked of sexual repression, perhapstobe expected given that time period (Loughery, 1998; Chauncey, 1994).Theoretically, this paper is grounded in queer theory, which, inthe early1990s, grew out of scholarship addressing how normative and deviant sexualbehaviors are created through a socially constructed process (for example,Jagose, 1997).Klages (1997) provides an explanation of the theory and how itevolved:Queer theory emerges from gay/lesbian studies' attention to the socialconstructionof categories of normative and deviant sexual behavior . . . Queertheorylooks at, andstudies, and has a political critique of, anything that falls intonormative and deviantcategories, particularly sexual activities and identities. The word queer, as itappears in the dictionary, has a primary meaning of 'odd,' 'peculiar,''outof theordinary.' Queer theory concerns itself with any and all forms ofsexualitythat are queer in this sense-and then, by extension, with the normativebehaviorsand identitieswhich define what is queer (by being their binary opposites) . . .Queertheory insiststhat all sexual behaviors, all concepts linking sexual behaviors tosexualidentities,and all categories of normative and deviant sexualities, are socialconstructs, sets ofsignifiers which create certain types of social meaning . . . Forqueertheorists,sexuality is a complex array of social codes and forces, forms ofindividual activity andinstitutional power . . .(pp. 1-2).Scholars have used similar theories in studies of normative anddeviant sexualbehaviors and sexual identities among bodybuilders. For example, GillettandWhite (1992) employed a critical feminist perspective and concluded thathypermasculine physiques among bodybuilders represent attempts by men torestore  and maintain feelings of self-control and self-worth. The authors arguethat themuscular male physique is constructed by social relations etched in genderideology (see also, Messner & Sabo, 1990). An additional study by White andGillett (1994) examined photographs in Flex, a Weider bodybuilding magazine.They noted that the muscular male body was considered natural and desirable,theproduct of ideologies in gender difference. The authors concluded that theportrayal of the muscular body as ideal offered resistance to progressivechangeand alternative masculinities, something Klein (1989) had observed in along-term ethnographic study of the Southern California bodybuildingculture(see also, Klein, 1993).Klein (1989) studied the practice of hustling among malebodybuilders,concluding that while many bodybuilders offered sexual favors to gay men,theirbehavior in the gym was anything but indicative of homosexuality. In fact,Kleinconcluded that in order to maintain perceptions of heterosexuality,bodybuildersoften engaged in homophobic behavior.In a study on the rising popularity of bodybuilding during theearly 1980s,Klein (1987) observed that bodybuilders often related to members of theoutsideworld in an arrogant manner in order to conceal deep-rooted feelings ofinferiority. Klein has published other studies (1986, 1985a, 1995b) thatrevealmany contradictions in the way bodybuilders present themselves - namely,theirsexual identities and social behaviors-and the way things really work.The term contradiction, then, appears to be one that hascharacterized thebodybuilding subculture for decades. While bodybuilding has been linkedwithsexual fantasy for more than half a century, it has existed on disparatepublicand private levels, as Klein has observed. Muscle magazines play a majorrole inthis ongoing disparity.From helping to pioneer gay magazines to offering very conservativeadvice toyoung men interested in weightlifting, Joe Weider certainly played a roleinhelping to uphold, construct and solidify normative and deviant types ofsexualbehavior. As the information on the following pages demonstrates, Weiderran thegamut as a publisher. Perhaps he knew how to target different audiences. Or,perhaps he knew that, if necessary, the mainstream mail order course couldbewaved in the face of suspicious postal inspectors and local police officers,whowere under pressure from citizens to keep risque materials out of themailboxesof Middle America (Waugh, 1996; Hooven, 1995). He may have known that theparents of his teenage pupils would have little interest in explaining gayeroticism to their sons. More bluntly, the parents may have revoltedagainst a  fitness guru who they believed was targeting their offspring for deviantbehavior. As Hooven (1995) pointed out, it took great courage for gay mentopurchase magazines such as Physique Pictorial and American Manhood at localnewsstands; for such publications to show up at the average Americanhouseholdin the late 1950s may have exceeded the boundaries that mainstream, middleAmericans would accept.Weider sought expensive legal advice routinely, and under thealibis sports, art, and nature, he and other producers were able to keep authoritiesatbay.Waugh (1996) recalled a situation in Canada in which Weider'sattorney broughtinto court an image of Michelangelo, which, as an artistic alibi, clearedWeiderphotographer Jimmy Caruso of creating unlawful images. Rather than a legalsafeguard, Waugh noted, it seems likely that the artistic alibi was anunspoken protocol allowing producers, the U.S. Post Office, and localpolice anddealers to maintain the decorum of the open secret and a functional leveloftolerance between periods when the heat was on (p. 224).Chauncey (1994) provides an excellent discussion of the socialatmosphere inthe early decades of this century, the point at which Weider arose both asanindividual and as a publisher. Chauncey explains:Bernarr Macfadden, advocate of physical culture and publisher ofbodybuildingmagazines treasured by straight and gay men alike, could barelycontain hisloathing ofthe men who sexualized and perverted the male gaze at male bodies. [Heinsisted] that there could be no relationship between the healthy youngster's adorationof abarely cladexemplar of manly muscularity and the depraved sexual desires of adegenerate . . . Theovert sexual interest of the fairy in men made the possibility thatnormalmen'sadmiration of manly bodies might have a sexual component inescapable.Itrequired menwhose manliness was already suspect to assert their exclusive sexualinterest in women inorder to show they were not queer.The insistence on exclusive heterosexuality emerged in part, then, inresponse tothe crisis in middle-class masculinity precipitated by the manlycomportment ofworking-class men and the subversion of manly ideals and sexualizationofmale socialrelations by the fairy . . . Middle-class men increasingly conceivedoftheir
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