Visible Difference and Flex Appeal: the Body Sex Sexuality and Race in the "Pumping Iron" Films

Topics: Female bodybuilding, Gender, Bodybuilding Pages: 21 (7620 words) Published: January 11, 2012
University of Texas Press Society for Cinema & Media Studies

Visible Difference and Flex Appeal: The Body, Sex, Sexuality, and Race in the "Pumping Iron" Films Author(s): Christine Anne Holmlund Reviewed work(s): Source: Cinema Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer, 1989), pp. 38-51 Published by: University of Texas Press on behalf of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/11/2011 22:43 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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Visible Differenceand Flex Appeal: The Body, Sex, Sexuality,and Race in the PumpingIron Films by Christine Anne Holmlund

Pumping Iron (George Butler and Robert Flore: 1977) and Pumping Iron II: The Women (George Butler: 1984), two documentariesabout bodybuilding contests, provide an ideal opportunityto look at the relationshipsoperating between body, desire, and power in the United States today. Taken as a pair, these films are a veritable melting pot of sex, sexuality, race, and sales. Intentionally and unintentionally, they reveal how the visible differences of sex (to have or have not) and race (to be or not to be) mesh with ideology and economy in contemporaryAmericansociety,and within film fictions.In both films sexualityis adroitly linked with sex and race at the expense of any reference to history or class. The body is marketed as a commodity in its own right, not just as the silent support for the sale of other commodities. An analysis of the way popular film reflects and shapes the categories of body, sex, sexuality, and race remains an urgent project for film theory. Despite the incorporationof critiques made by the women's, black, and gay movements of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s - indeed, in some ways because of these critiques - we continue to see and speak about the body as the last bastion of nature. While the sexual and civil rights movements make it clear that inequalities predicated on sex, race or sexual preference are socially established and maintained, the strategies they employ are nonetheless often based on an idea of the body as unified and unique.' Difference is either flaunted (black power and cultural feminism, black and women's separatism)or elided (the "we're just like you" policy of the National Gay Task Force since 1973), but the body remains the supportof and rationalefor political praxis.Even within theoreticaldiscourses the biological status of the body lingers on, masking and motivating a series of power relations. (One has only to think of the multitude of feminist critiques of Lacan's penis/phallus confusion.) Everyone has difficulty acknowledging the extent to which the body is a social constructionand an ideological supportbecause, to invoke Freud, the body (our own and the Other's) is the object and the origin of our earliest fears and desires. The associationsestablishedbetween the body and power are particularly hard to acknowledge when, as is often the case, several kinds of visible difference or its correlates are intermingled: when sex is added to race, or when gender is Christine AnneHolmlund an assistant is of at professor Romance Languages the University of Tennessee. ?1989 Boardof Trusteesof the Universityof Illinois 38

Cinema Journal 28, No. 4, Summer 1989

conflated with sexuality. The original ambivalent attitudes we hold toward the body are then...
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