The Deviant Leisure of Gym Bodies, Militarized Branding and Fascistic Creeps

Dawn Woolley*, Jason Luger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the rapid acceleration and viral dissemination of masculine fitness culture as a deviant leisure activity (Becker, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. The Free Press, 1963). We historically situate the current virality of the digitally networked and gym-built male body, from the advent of physical cultures in the era of the Great Exhibition (1851), to the rapid mainstreaming and growth resulting from the 2008–2009 financial crisis and introduction of social media to the current triple crises of Covid-19, far-right authoritarianism and identity politics (Hakim, Work That Body: Male Bodies in Digital Culture, Rowman & Littlefield Int., 2020; Chow, Perform Res 20(5):30–41, 2021; Luger, Political Geography, 2022)). We argue that fitness supplements with militaristic, nationalist and violent rhetoric and imagery in their branding and marketing—such as ‘Merica Labz (US) and Grenade and Chemical Warfare (UK)—suggest that gym-built bodies are deviant.

In performing offline and online fitness and bodybuilding culture during Covid-19 lockdowns, deviancy is expressed through societal norms of what are deemed essential versus non-essential hobbies (Chow, Perform Res, 20(5):30–41, 2021). Second, these bodily performers and digital representations, along with the brand-scapes that target this lifestyle, allow for a deviant space of masculinity, juxtaposed against the mainstreaming of feminist, queer and non-white identities, perspectives and perceived power geometries: in other words, a safe space to perform white-nationalist-masculinity (Cornwall et al., Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities. Zed Books, pp. 85–97, 2011; Oluo, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male Power. Basic Books, 2020). Third, we present this space as a deviant space of class hybridity and fluidity, where the notion or trope of the working class, industrial, militaristic male body is mimetically adopted by users through the mainstreaming of fitness branding and offline/online gym and body culture (Cornwall et al., Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities. Zed Books, pp. 85–97, 2011; Chow, Perform Res 20(5):30–41, 2021). Substantively, we suggest that periodic crises (or ‘backloops’, (Wakefield, Anthropoecene Back Loop: Experimentation in Unsafe Operating Space. Open Humanities Press, 2020)) in neoliberal society, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the banality of fitness praxis, are helping to catalyse an authoritarian, extremist masculinity, both mirroring and mirrored in chauvinistic political figures on the far-right.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeviant Leisure and Events of Deviance
Subtitle of host publicationA Transgressive Compendium
EditorsIan R. Lamond, Rosie Garland
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9783031177934
ISBN (Print)9783031177927, 9783031177958
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2023

Publication series

NameLeisure Studies in a Global Era
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan

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