Joe Weider, a man who created a vast media empire out of the idea of bodybuilding, was basically a better P.T. Barnum than Barnum himself. Few men have tricked and bamboozled the American public into believing something that was untrue quite as well as this one businessman did.
Weider not only created a vast system of muscle culture mythology, but sold it at a premium to the tune of making a fortune. But more importantly is the fact that people believed what he created. His work created loyalists who still believe and insist that the community of megamuscle Weider showed us was not only real, but could even be duplicated. To this day, people really, really want to believe that what he was showing us was, well, real.
It wasn't. It was all made up. All a fake. A lot of fun and certainly inspiring in many ways, but still: a grand work of very profitable fiction.
Now, of course the humans were real, and certainly the cultural and historic relevance was utterly and profoundly true. But what he fed the masses – the imagery and and the community and the ideas – was all a very savvy social media construct produced decades before people even realized what "social media" was. He had us all believing that the stories and imagery was of real moments in real lives.
And today we bungled across one image that really kinds of pulls the curtain back on the Great Oz of the Land Of Muscle. At first, it looks like any other picture of the guys from the "Golden Era of Bodybuilding (a named time period which is, itself, also a Weider construct). Just a bunch of big name big boys smiling happily, as if they were all buddies bonded in the pursuit of muscle.
Until you look . . . closer.
Check out the mirror in back of Joe Gold (center), and you see Schwarzenegger's hand pulling a mischievous maneuver: the classic bunny ears. Yet, you can't see his fingers in the foreground where they are supposed to be!
Now this image was for an ad for World Gym (a brand very integral to Weider's fictional locations), so you can understand why they would not want an image deriding the big names of the sport at the time. Because, obviously, if the public knew it was generally a constructed hoax, sales would drop. No; Weider needed to keep the idea of a stable and non-satirical community. Arnold's pictures had to go.
Now, we live in the era of Photoshop, making these commands from the Marketing Department easy to execute. But this photo was edited at a time prior to digital manipulation – which means someone had to put a LOT more effort (and money) into altering it. Which sort of indicates just how intensely the Weider Mafia was ensuring the myths they were selling remained pure in the eye of the consumers.
Now, seeing the cracks in the mighty artifice of a myth maker is not always easy to do. Most people still see the "world of bodybuilding" as a real thing, and not just what it is: a persistent societal meme with a degree of iconic transaction, and not an actual "real thing." Yet Weider's hard work (and greed) did an amazing job at establishing it as, indeed, it's own subculture, even if it is one with an inauthentic and contrived history.
And here is a tiny bit of proof that it was, indeed, entirely contrived.