Take one look at a male biker, bodybuilder, or surfer and see if you can’t avoid at least some feeling of intimidation. Most people, men in particular, cannot overcome this challenge. The majority of men, despite what they may say, can’t help but to develop a sense of discomfort when put in the presence of these distinct figures. But what gives these iconic men such an intimidation factor? Is it a physical characteristic such as huge biceps or an abundance of tattoos? Or could it be an inner quality like the carefree, rebellious mindset shared by these men? Perhaps the source lies beyond internal and external traits. Maybe we shouldn’t be so interested in these people, but rather the surrounding components that define them as bikers, bodybuilders, and surfers. These can be identified as the motorcycles, surfboards, dumbbells, and accessories that make these men who they are. It is through these machines that an overwhelming amount of masculinity can be depicted as the result of superhuman performances and accomplishments caught on camera, leaving other men questioning their manliness and inspiring a desire to achieve such a level of masculinity.
The W170 Bodies in Motion: Surfers, Bikers, and Bodybuilders Photo Archive contains numerous pictures that give a closer look at these groups. One of these photos features a group of about eighteen bikers standing around their motorcycles, unaware of the picture being taken. By including their bikes in this picture, the entire image is shifted. The motorcycles instantly classify these people as “bikers” and the distance separating the viewer from the actual group labels them as a private motorcycle club or “gang”. This along with the common association between biker gangs and deviant activities cause many assumptions to be made by the viewer. This relates to Judith Halberstam’s “James Bond” theory in her book, Female Masculinity. Halberstam explains how it isn’t Bond’s character that comes off as masculine and heroic, but rather his seemingly endless supply of gadgets used throughout the movie (Halberstam 4). In other words if you take away James Bond’s gadgets, he’s just a man in a suit. Well if you take away the motorcycles from this picture, it’s just a group of people standing in front of a café. However, because the motorcycles are included in the photo, a different message is conveyed. In the eyes of the viewer these men become seen as mischievous thugs, the café is looked at as more of a bar, and the woman being kissed goes from being identified as a wife or girlfriend to a motorcycle gang groupie. It’s amazing how a few bikes and camera angles can unconsciously alter the viewer’s entire perception.
We have identified the main source of masculinity within these three groups, but what exactly gives motorcycles, surfboards, and weight sets their masculine appeal? It can’t simply be the objects themselves that produce this manly-man persona for their owners. If it were that easy, any self-conscious man could go out and essentially “purchase” masculinity. However, the meaning associated with these machines has more to do with the ways in which they are used by these groups. Take bodybuilders for example. They lift weights every day in an attempt to sculpt and chisel their bodies. A bodybuilder’s entire life revolves around building the perfect body and obtaining a super-human physique. It is this perfectionist lifestyle that becomes associated with the set of weights. Although the weights are just the bodybuilder’s tool, they are seen as a symbol of strength and countless hours of hard work in the gym. This is what causes weights and dumbbells to be seen as a source of masculinity, rather than just piles of heavy scrap metal.
Surfboards are also thought of as masculine because of how they are used by surfers. This can be exemplified by another photo in the archive. At first glance it seems to be an ordinary photo of several...