Should America Inject Awesome Manliness?

America is awesome. Remember in Independence Day when it turned out the president was an ex-fighter pilot? Or in Armageddon when we discovered that most of our problems can be solved by huge men with rippling muscles? We used to live in the era of the superlative, when people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone seemed to be the embodiment of the American dream.

Bigger Stronger Faster is a film about an identity crisis in America. Instead of fighting aliens, President Bush recently had to go beg Middle East dictators to give us a break at the pump. It also turns out there isn’t anything natural about Schwarzenegger or Hogan; both pumped up with steroids, not sheer manliness. There isn’t even anything American about Stallone; he imported his supplements. When our idols have to cheat to win (even our president), are there consequences?

Through his exhaustive exploration of steroid use, filmmaker Chris Bell finds our collective pulse. Growing up near Gold’s Gym, where Arnold used to train, Chris and his brothers Mark and Mike followed in the footsteps of their idols by submerging themselves in "gym rat" culture. Pursuing football, lifting, and pro-wrestling, his brothers succumbed to the pressure to get bigger, and as a result started using anabolic steroids.

Are steroids bad? It turns out to be a complicated question, and the film surprised me both in content and in even handed analysis. "Roid" rage? Questionable. Suicide? Doubtful. Side effects? Almost completely reversible. It seemed to me that as far as drugs go, you could do quite a bit worse. The film suggests that the demonization of steroids has far more to do about cheating in sports and political pandering than actual fact. But then what is cheating? In the muddy, multi-billion dollar, and almost completely unregulated arena of sports supplements, it’s clear that sportsmanship can be pretty darn flexible.

As it should, the film doesn’t offer any simple answers. In sports, as in politics, we feel far more comfortable clinging to something that makes us feel better, even though it doesn’t have to be reality. We no longer live in the era of the superlative, but if we open a realistic dialog we won’t have to live in an era of consequences. Were Schwarzenegger, Hogan, and Stallone wrong? Who knows. Is this film worth your time? Absolutely.

Opens June 6th at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema.