The Roid Age

It's a slow news week and I guess a Washington Post columnist's resentment of James Bond's amazing body is not exactly an important issue. But Richard Cohen regrets what he sees as the loss of real manhood:

Maybe the best example of the unmuscled hero is Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca.” Bogart was 15 years older than Ingrid Bergman and it did not matter at all. He had the experience, the confidence, the internal strength that can only come with age. As he did with Mary Astor in “The Maltese Falcon” — “I don’t care who loves who, I won’t play the sap for you” — he gives up the love of his life because age and wisdom have given him character. These older men seduce; they are not seduced. They make love. They do not score.

I'm not sure I agree – and not only because of that cringe-inducing boomer use of the term "make love". I know my knowledge of heterosexuality is, er, limited, but it always struck me as a function 145423538of sexism, not elegance, that older, physically over-the-hill guys routinely date much younger and far more attractive women in movies. It's only a milder version of men in straight porn: in general, apart from the size of their member, they look much more like a regular Joe than the fantasy, plastic porn-bots they penetrate. I don't see that as different in kind than Woody Allen casting himself as a love object for women a third of his age, only different in degree. And it's bullshit by and large – but bullshit that flatters most male viewers, including, it would appear, Richard Cohen.

But Cohen misses something important as well: surely many superman-like movie stars are on steroid cycles, as are many of the young guys and Jersey bros detailed in this recent NYT piece. The male body changed on screen because of steroids. Arnold started it all, essentially requiring men to be as physically ravishing in movies as women generally are. Advertizing took the baton, with Marky Mark leading the charge, followed by Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber filling the airwaves and magazine ad pages (remember them?) with physically enthralling super-men. Over three decades, the increasingly sophisticated results are everywhere. Not so long ago, you'd be able to point out the guys in the gym who were obviously on roids. Now, you're lucky to spot a body that hasn't been transformed by steroids. So when Cohen says

Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held.

He's not wrong. But he is over-estimating the amount of work and time needed in a gym to get a great bod if you eat right, rest well and use the right, responsible mix of steroids. I think this quiet revolution in the use of steroids explains a lot in our culture.

I think it has a huge amount to do with NFL concussion rates: go look at football teams from thirty years ago. None of them come close to the steroidal cattle NFL teams herd together today. Surely that sheer weight and heft makes collisions more damaging, even as technology prevents the skull actually breaking like an egg.

Hollywood is getting subtler, of course. Arnold is no longer the model. But all those dudes from their twenties to their fifties with ripped, lean bods? You think that's all diet and exercize and creatine? I worked out for years with mild but decent results and then got on HIV-related testosterone therapy and everything became so much easier, and I got a hell of a lot more buff with the same amount of effort. For me, it was a medical gain. For others, it need not require much medical cost, except smaller balls, and the danger of losing your own endocrine system through abuse.

But how are you going to stop vain and competitive and sexually driven young men from trying that out? Their movie stars are now all ripped muscle comic book characters. Why would they not want to preen more around their peers, get more attention from women, more street respect from men and far more sex? The phenomenon is global, huge in places like Afghanistan and Turkey, and buttressed by Hollywood's ancient desire to sell sex on screen.

The new male is here to stay. And that is largely because it's hotter. Get used to it.

(Photo: Getty)