This is the first installment of a three part series investigating our nation’s role models and their effects on the American male.
The year is 1980. Arnold Schwarzenegger has just won his seventh straight Mr. Olympia title, solidifying his position as the most revolutionary and dominant bodybuilder in the world. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, the legendary John Wayne has just passed away and the equally legendary Bruce Lee just released his last movie, despite having passed away seven years ago. The action film industry is wounded, and left with a huge void. Viewers are yearning for new stars to take center stage. Suddenly, Arnold’s phone rings. It is director John Milius, inviting him to play a role in his upcoming movie, Conan the Barbarian. Arnold, of course, jumps at the opportunity to enter the entertainment industry. Gone are the days of reasonable-looking American action film stars such as John Wayne. This is the era of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, the actors portrayed in the film industry serve as role models worldwide, and their influence should not be underestimated. The muscular physiques exhibited in action films are viewed by millions of young American males every year, and could have a strong influence on their lives.
Pre-1980′s Hollywood was a much simpler time. Leading actors in action films actually kept their shirts on for the duration of the film, and were able to dish out more than enough justice and excitement while remaining astonishingly average-looking. Before the 1960′s, action films were almost exclusively westerns and war movies. Cowboys like John Wayne fought with six-shooters in saloons while numerous patriotic war movies were released in the wake of WWII, all sporting standard physiques and attire. In 1971, Clint Eastwood starred in Dirty Harry, spelling the end of the western genre and proving that modern times had the same potential for exciting violence. The 1970′s also introduced America to martial-arts films, with Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon paving the way. He only weighed 135 pounds, yet became one of the most iconic action stars ever by supplying audiences with the adrenaline and charisma they so desire. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee would pass away only a year later at the young age of 32, before the genre could develop into anything more than a passing fad.
In the 1980′s, everything changed. Although the action itself was left untouched, the suppliers turned into veiny, Herculean freaks. Sylvester Stallone squared off against an emotionless Russian trained in a laboratory in Rocky IV, with heavy democracy vs. communism undertones. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Sylvester Stallone comprised a shirtless, brawny, one-man-army who frees American POW’s from Vietnamese troops. In the heart of the Cold War, these films took advantage of influential patriotic themes while illustrating huge, muscular, American heroes who were a far cry from the appearances of the classic movie stars whom America was accustomed to.
Modern day action films continue along much the same lines, but with comic book heroes becoming the focus. Of course, all of these superheroes share one thing in common: huge, chiseled, physiques. Being comic book heroes, a genre usually appealing to children, there is no doubt that a large part of their audience are impressionable young males. Developing influence and stirring the emotions of these viewers is just what Hollywood does; it is a part of what makes the action film genre so thrilling and it is ultimately how Hollywood makes money. The male role models of the action film industry are constantly sending the message to teenage males that they are not adequate until they develop muscular physiques.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out part 2 tomorrow, where we outline muscle dysmorphia, its causes, and its effects.