My first boyfriend was a juicer. Steroids were the drug of choice at my high school, having somehow washed into the Canadian suburbs in the early ’90s on the same raft as Dee-lite and crushed-velvet dresses. As described in Christopher Bell’s scrappy, remarkably expansive, crazily watchable documentary, Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, a similar phenomenon played out in his hometown of Poughkeepsie. Beginning with a Spurlockian account of his upbringing as the second of three sons who all loved the WWF, worshipped Rambo, and developed distorted body images, Bell spirals outward into the culture of outrageous expectations fostered through the ’80s and beyond, and the resultant generation of should-be-average Joes who believe that greatness is their birthright. For the Bell brothers, that meant transforming their genetically rotund physiques into bloated beefcake with steroids. Having avoided the havoc that the drugs wreaked on his brothers, Christopher sets out to interrogate the politics of “cheating” in sports (though the vast majority of users are not pro athletes), the disputed dangers of juicing (the pro-steroid testimonials are a marvel of rationalization, while the evidence of their side effects—including suicidal depression—is evidenced in a father’s heartbreak), and the grotesquerie of the supplements and pharmaceutical industry, which has sprung up to exploit not just male inadequacy, but the tragic, grasping, relentless dissatisfaction of an entire nation. Bell finds the epitome of that tragedy in his own family and, in his first film, digs unflinchingly at its roots. Like Bell, my high-school boyfriend became obsessed with body-building; like Bell, he wanted to be as big and strong as his older brother. Like Bell, he’d be 33 years old today, had he not taken his life at the age of 28.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2008