Chapter 3: From 'Ideal Manhood' to 'Muscle for Muscle's Sake'
Shift of Paradigm in the Middle Period (1940s - 1970s)
This chapter explores developments in organized bodybuilding culture in what I term the middle period, from the 1940s to the 1970s. This is a period marked, first, by the emergence for the first time of national and international structures and governing bodies for bodybuilding competition: these were either purpose-built organizations - i.e., created precisely in order to govern competition bodybuilding such as the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) in the US, and the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) in the UK - or already existing sports bodies that undertook the governance of bodybuilding contests, such as the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in the USA; and second, by escalating competition and the development of different factions and interest within organized bodybuilding culture.
Although comparative references are made in the European context, the focus shifts onto the USA as it becomes during the course of these decades the focal point of bodybuilding culture with an increasingly global influence.
Debates about the 'proper' meaning of bodybuilding, typically inscribed in the various systems of aesthetic criteria and rules of competition, often involved in indirect or direct ways claims over institutional power in an expanding field of social and economic activity. In an attempt to illustrate the antagonisms characteristic of this time and the progressive consolidation of a shift in the dominant model of organized bodybuilding culture, I focus on two prominent contests and the organizations that promoted them: The Mr. America, sanctioned by the AAU, and the Mr. Olympia, sanctioned by the IFBB.
As I will demonstrate, these pivotal events functioned as flagships for the respective governing bodies, reflecting and (re-) producing the antagonistic models of physical culture and bodybuilding put forth by each. In researching them, I have greatly relied on the publications that were closely associated with them or represented similar viewpoints (Strength & Health and Iron Man magazines for the former, Muscle Builder magazine for the latter), and which I have used as sources of both factual information and dominant discourses that I attempt to analyze.
The Mr. America Contest: In Search of Ideal Manhood
The Mr. America has been one of the most widely recognizable and longstanding bodybuilding contests worldwide. [Evidence of the contest's prestige were the attempts of competing organizations to appropriate some of it by producing their own Mr. America contests. Unless otherwise specified, the Mr. America I discuss is the original one, sanctioned by and closely tied in all respects to the AAU.]
Like the popular Miss America in search of the perfect specimen of womanhood, the Mr. America contest's objective was to showcase an 'ideal representation of American manhood' in every respect: physically, morally, and mentally. As phrased in the following editorial of Iron Man magazine, a leading publication of its time, "WE ARE ALL AGREED THAT WE MUST EITHER HAVE A MR. AMERICA WHO WILL BE AN IDEAL AMERICAN IN EVERY WAY or change the name to something like 'Best Built Man' or some other less inclusive title" (Iron Man, September 1954: 42, emphasis in original). The overt emphasis placed on the grand ideological framework of the nation's youth, health, strength and moral uprightness is situated in a post-World War II climate where physical preparedness becomes a central concern and index of patriotism.
The criteria for evaluating the 'good' body seem, in certain ways, in line with the early holistic model explored in Chapter Two. [Building 'Perfect' Bodies: The Restorative Model of the Early Period 1880s - 1930s]. In his discussion of the second, 1940, Mr. America contest held at Madison Square Garden, John Fair (Come On! You should know this author by now.) points out that "more emphasis was placed on muscular development, as signified in points and in the separate recognition of a most muscular man, but symmetry, posing and general appearance were nearly as important as in Macfadden's early Physical Culture shows". Muscular development, an aesthetic attribute, was still considered a derivative of more fundamental qualities, such as strength and health. Given the framing of the contest as in search of the ideal representative of American manhood, a series of new criteria were added. Thus, the decision was made by the governing body in 1955 to "gradually adopt such criteria as character, education, career aspirations, and athletic ability in a 'rather informal way' through an interview process." Significantly, athletic ability was introduced in 1956 as a formal criterion for the overall title. In the seminal article "Judging a Physique Contest," Bob Hoffman, head of the AAU committee for weightlifting and bodybuilding, stipulated:
In selecting Mr. America, or any other Mr. Titlist, there should be an endeavor to select the best all-around man, a man who will be a credit to the title he bears, not just the most muscular, as too often has been done in some quarters. In selecting the title winner, whether Mr. America, Mr. Pennsylvania, Mr. New York City, or whatever the title being contested is called, the following system of scoring is employed:
5 points for Symmetry of Proportions
5 points for Muscular Development
5 points for General Appearance, Skin, Hair, Posture, etc.
5 points for Athletic Ability.
(Strength & Health, May 1957: 60)
In the detailed explication of each of the criteria of this judging system the link was consistently made to the overall ideal bodybuilding champions were expected to meet, that is a development of the whole person. With respect to athletic ability, the following case is made: