Fandom of the Opera

Published: 1 July 2015

A phenomenon that is both perplexing and intriguing is the fandom that has developed around a select few individuals. More surprisingly is the fact that many of these persons lack any of the credentials that would warrant such attention. Sure, Ronnie and Jay are widely revered, but their popularity is nil in comparison to that of Dana Linn Bailey, who is perhaps the most visible figure in fitness. Admittedly, DLB has achieved a fair level of success at the top of her division, but to a far lesser extent than the aforementioned. She is but just one of many who have managed to engage a prodigious audience. Rich Piana, CT Fletcher, Mike Rashid, and Kali Muscle are among a most revered group of sensational personalities. How they have achieved this level of recognition is far easier to explain than why. Aside from having freakish physiques in their own rights, they, and many like them, have become puppeteers of social media. Through various outlets, each of these “celebrities” have successfully marketed themselves to an audience tailor-made for their self-styled imagery. Undoubtedly, they have appeal, but why are they appealing? What is it about them that grants a following exceeding that of the monstrous Big Ramy or the beautifully built Cedric McMIllan? The answer lies in the psyche of the fans.

Naturally, those passionate about structural development share a commonality of mindset. That is, an inherent dissatisfaction with oneself; at least to some extent. Perhaps not every person is embarking on a quest of compensation for a lack of desirable qualities or traumatic occurrence, but the overwhelming need for improvement remains constant. Discontent forms a scenario in which the individual abandons themselves in favor of emulation of another. Why be you when you can be awesome like Zzyz? I cringe at my monitor as I type this. The hair. The abs. The girls. The cardiac failure resulting from recreational drug usage and a heart defect.  Save for that last portion, it does have a bit of charm about it. With social media portraying bodybuilding with a tone of flash it isn’t difficult to see how the impressionable majority disregards personal growth in favor of mimicry. Anyone who has truly been in the “game” understands that bodybuilding in its purest form couldn’t be further from glamorous. Even more, that each person is limited by their own genetic predisposition. That is not to discourage physical improvement and taking pride in doing so. You might only weigh a buck-fifty at a height of 5’10”, but that faint six-pack and half container of hair pomade you’re sporting grants instant membership with the “Aesthetics Crew.”

Of course, the term “improvement” is open to interpretation; especially in bodybuilding, which stands as a gross exaggeration of society’s ideal body. Most would admit that they do not desire to reach such proportions, or are unable to – unwilling is more likely. Interestingly, it is these same persons that latch onto outrageous characters who would otherwise be seen as displeasing to the eye.  As repugnant as my continual Piana references may be, he serves as an excellent example of fitness fandom. He exists as this oddity in which nobody wants to look like him, but everybody wants to be him – do not take my use of absolutes literally. The diehards will say they long to be big like Rich; however, if pressed further they’ll surely admit that they could do without the inflatable arms. Yet, his training routines and philosophies are widely regarded by many. This stands true of other popular personas in the same realm. Despite an awareness that these bodies are unattainable for most, the masses flock to catch any advice or words of inspiration. One could only surmise that the followers seek to attain a semblance of their respective demigod’s glory. 

A feasible task in the superficial sense, it is possible to loosely replicate the appearance, but certainly not the grandiose disposition, of the esteemed. The body is malleable; a figurative sculpture with the ability to be molded as desired. A disclaimer often disregarded is that without focusing efforts inwardly the end result will steer clear of anything produced by our Internet heroes. Bodybuilding is very much an individualized endeavor and should be treated as such. Similar outcomes are derived through contrasting means. While these sheep will never evolve into the lions they aspire to be, they will nonetheless don a faux mane and persistently pursue their facade. To those with an open mind I say, “Stay true to yourself, kids. That’s what’s really cool.”