"Bodybuilding is a sport which employs the rationales of science to support the motivation of mythology."
Few figures in contemporary America can be said to have shaped mythologies; Joe Weider is one of them. He created a media machine that has shaped the dreams of young men for decades, even while polluting their self-perception. He created a window to a world that will never exist; a land where youth is frozen in time, and might not only makes right but makes wonderful. Joe Weider literally invented the comical, self-satirizing and perpetually-lusted world of bodybuilding, and spread his vision across our nation with the deft and swiftness of Mercury.
And today, March 23, 2013, the Homer of Bodybuilding has passed away of heart failure at the age of 93.
He had no "Dr." salutation; no accolade letters trailing after his name. He was just Joe Weider – and to most simply referred as "Weider." His name represented both a brand and a bard; both an idea and an ideologue at the same time. His magazines clarified men's heroic fantasies into crystalline, high-contrast imagery while simultaneously clouding men's self-images into a quagmire of self-loathing doubt. This power of his was a testimony not only to his vision as a salesman, but also a testimony to the very power behind the American marriage of media with capitalism.
Weider invented the Mr. Olympia and the extremist organization of steroid-exulting monster-men, the IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders). The fact that he treated a company like a federation is a testimony to the capitalist power he wielded over the American cultural landscape. His great company was, indeed, like a sovereign nation unto itself; a grand and powerful feudal kingdom nestled in the mountains of the American pop culture continent. What the Weider corporation set out to do it did, and paid no heed to the trail of bodies in it's wake. While some mourn the loss of clear self-perception, others thrill at the great view the warped lens of Weider offers those who dared to dream.
And like all gods of capitalism, Weider sired a demigod son: the great Austrian Oak himself, Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Weider focused his great financial resources upon this charismatic man with lousy English and created a living legend with little more than a pair of gigantic pecs and a whole lot of photographs. Through Arnold, Weider gave us a real version what so many young middle-class Americans fantasize about: a self-made success story where charm out-maneuvers grit and being "discovered" is about how well you can be seen.
We all know Arnold's tale, yet without Weider this New American Legend would not have ever existed. And yet legends were easy for Weider to produce; in many ways the magnate was more storyteller than story maker, and his characters were all demigods on earth.
And now one of our grand storytellers is gone. Some will breathe a sigh of relief that yet another great American huckster is no longer selling snake-oil by the barrel while others will sulk over losing a grand fountain of masculine American mythological tales. Yet either way, we can not enter a gym, take a CrossFit class, or even tan on the beach without some small nugget of Weider's legacy of legends and myths influencing our take on things.
Mythology is what inspire our goals and guides our efforts, even if science and logic determine the practical reality of our visions . Weider blurred the two practices, confounding the certainty of some, but certainly expanding the dreams of millions.