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

Woolley, Dawn ORCID logoORCID: and Luger, Jason ORCID logoORCID: (2023) The Deviant Leisure of Gym Bodies, Militarized Branding and Fascistic Creeps. In: Deviant Leisure and Events of Deviance: A Transgressive Compendium. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 143-172. ISBN 9783031177927


This chapter explores the rapid acceleration and viral dissemination of masculine fitness culture as a deviant leisure activity (Becker, 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, 2020; Chow, 2021, Luger, 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, 2021). Secondly, 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., 2011; Olou, 2020). Thirdly, 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., 2011; Chow, 2021). Substantively, we suggest that periodic crises (or ‘backloops’, Wakefield, 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.

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