These days, as the author reminds us, there is almost nothing that doesn’t impinge on “fitness”. Everyone should be taking “supplements”, and even sleep has been app-ified so that the obedient worker in the age of the quantified self might maximise her productivity during the next workday. “In neoliberal times,” Martschukat writes, “preventive self-care is the task of each and every one of us.” But the combative or militarised tone of many modern fitness regimes (boxercise, boot camps, Tough Mudder) encourages their customers to think of them as actually heroic. “If the fitness aficionado strives for a higher good, as befits a true hero, then this good is their own success, raised to the status of social principle.”
One irony in all this is that the success of hypermuscular actors Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s helped create modern gym culture, and yet the torsos of Rocky or Conan the Barbarian are not exactly models of what we now desire as “fitness”: they are too extreme. Martschukat views them as ugly, even monstrous, but one might agree more with Arnie, who in the era of his pomp described himself as a sculptor: his body was a countercultural work of art, beautiful yet in some profound sense useless. In these times, just to slump back and eat crisps while watching Predator might, too, be a precious form of resistance.
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