Thursday, July 20, 2006

Très physique!

With Gay Games stuff going on all over Chicago this week, I figured I should at least observe an actual competition before it was over, so my friends Stephen and Nate and I went to watch the physique competition last night.

I’d never been to a physique competition before. The whole process is interesting to watch and not at all what I expected, starting with the extreme efficiency in which people are brought on stage to execute a specific number of poses to a specific length of music and then sent on their way to make room for the next contestants. It brings a detached level of commoditization to what you’d assume to be a sport full of gray areas involving natural variations in the human body and the artistry of displaying musculature and the bias of carnal lust.

The audience last night was extremely involved, too, bringing an enthusiasm that ebbed and swelled with each contestant, offering ebullient cheers for its favorites and good-natured cheers for the contestants with no chance of winning, and even serving up hearty boos when its favorites didn’t even place at the end.

My friend Jeff was a competitor this year, but thanks to our sloppy reading of the schedule we didn’t realize he’d competed (and won!) the night before. So we didn’t get to cheer him on. Bad us.

A few observations:

• Bodybuilding is more than just working out and getting huge. It’s about symmetry and poise and confidence and presentation and maybe just a little tiny bit of sex appeal.

• Some contestants use skin bronzers that make them look like they’re covered with sparkly beige-gold spray paint. Some contestants use a colorant that turns their palms and the soles of their feet bright, noticeable-from-50-feet-away red. Either way, it’s distracting and it makes them look more silly than serious.

• In contrast, most contestants use tanning products that make them look nicely, evenly, normally tan. They all got our votes last night.

• A small handful of contestants spill coffee down their fronts and call it a day at the beach. Note to these contestants: The darker you look, the more defined you look. After what I saw last night, tanning doesn’t seem to be optional if you’re trying to impress the judges.

• I was amazed by some of the contestants’ creative theatricality. They picked interesting music (read: show tunes), they added interesting choreography to their poses, they shamelessly goaded the audience to cheer them on … I don’t know if any of this is standard practice in professional competitions, but I like to think it’s one more benefit of adding a gay sensibility to a traditionally hyper-macho sport.

• I was surprised by the nonbodybuilderness of some of the contestants. I know the Gay Games is an amateur competition with an overriding mission stating that anyone (who forks over a lot of dough) can participate, but let me ask you this: If you couldn’t swim, would you enter a triathlon? I know Dubya’s two-term presidency has given hope to millions of people unqualified to follow their dreams, but if you’re widely considered to be merely in decent shape for your age, do you really want to be prancing around in a bikini next to guys with powerhouse physiques and negative bodyfat, all for the purpose of being judged solely on what you look like? (Yes, there’s the argument that these guys are competing against themselves and their bodies’ own limitations—and I, who regularly finish 20,000th of 40,000 marathon runners, should appreciate that. But when you factor in bodybuilding judges’ subjective opinions vs. running’s hard numbers, it’s not quite the same.) I have to give these guys credit for putting themselves out there, though—I would rather make out with Karl Rove than plop all my flaws and insecurities and near nakedness on a stage so judges and audience members could pick them apart—but some of the contestants were so out of their element last night that they looked downright delusional.

• The venue wasn’t air-conditioned last night, and when we walked in we were hit by a wall of tropical-rainforest heat and humidity. It was bad enough that we were all handed little paper fans by the ushers when we entered. I assume this was on purpose, though; warm, moist air promotes thick, rubbery vascularity and prevents unsightly goosebumps. And nobody likes bumpy bodybuilders with withering veins.

• Note to self: Bodybuilding competitions attract bodybuilders. The audience can be a whole lot more fun to ogle observe than the competitors.

• One more note to self: Giant bodybuilder types swarm together in packs. Everyone else is invisible to them. But I assume that can be said about lots of other body types all the way down the men-as-meat food chain. So I’m not criticizing; I’m just noticing.

• The announcer kept saying Illinoise last night. We had him killed.

• In the pairs competition, one couple clearly had practiced maybe for 37 seconds before they got on stage. The chick kept looking over at the guy to see what he was doing and then she’d kind of copy him, totally undermining the idea of the pairs competition being an intricate ballet of muscle and sinew and synchronization. Unfortunately, they were the only contestants in their category, so they won. Which was really lame.

• In one of the women’s competitions, the second-place finisher VERY conspicuously refused to shake hands with the first-place finisher. Two words: oiled-up-lesbians-in-bikinis fight!

• Does a compound adjective count as one word?

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