By Samir | February 29, 2012
Rarely do all my interests intersect so obviously as they did when I fell upon the film Bigger, Faster, Stronger, a 2008 documentary on use of performance enhancing drugs in the Iron Game. Power-lifting fan or not, this is a movie for everyone. Chris Bell, the film-maker, has interviews across the map - renowned strength coach Louie Simmons, his own brothers who use steroids, doctors, academics. He even interviews musicians on their use of adrenaline-blockers in order to be more focused for an audition.
Obviously, his exposition of the American hypocrisy in supporting sports full of steroids (football, for one), while condemning their use, is on-point. His review of the double standard used to judge other performance enhancers, whose risks are just as murky steroids (adrenaline-blockers, EPO, Adderall, etc.) is particularly scathing. He even makes the point that within the steroid field itself, some steroids (cortisol) are “OK” while others aren’t.
Along the way, he re-exposes Carl Lewis as a cheater and a hypocrite for condemning Ben Johnson while himself having failed a dope test before the Olympics. He exposes the hypocrisy of musicians for saying “beta blockers are OK” while steroids aren’t, under the guise of music not being competitive. “What about at an audition?” is his question. It’s clear that Chris Bell’s bulging biceps aren’t his biggest muscle - the film is an intellectually challenging one and he is blessed with a fantastic, rapid-fire interview style and an ability to think on his feet that really allows the film to blossom.
In the film, it’s the steroid users who come off somewhat as the moral antiheros. Unlike the EPO-chugging cyclist, or the Adderall-abusing student, these guys aren’t lying to themselves about the possible adverse effects of steroids. They’re also the only ones who basically come out and say it : All sport is doped, all of our heroes are fake because the hypocrisy of the judging public forces them to be fake.
From that point of view, it’s an excellent film.
Of course, there’s an entire second under-current to the whole movie, that most people will miss. Throughout the film, Bell, the only brother who doesn’t use steroids in the family, follows the lives of his two brothers who do use. One of his brothers, older brother Mike, is the saddest case of all.
Mike is completely unable to accept himself, and at 36 years old, is still using and trying to get noticed in California or get signed by WWE. What’s clearly evident in the movie is that Mike is afraid of this idea of being an “average Joe”, despite having a supportive family in Poughkeepsie, a stable job he seems to be good at, and a beautiful young family.
Mike’s mother, who is in complete denial about steroids in the family until Chris tells her that two of her sons got their first doses from her own brother, tries to convince Mike to be happy with what he has, stating he is made exactly in the way God intended. Among “consciousness” circles, this is commonly expresses as “his creation was an intention of life”. That said, he clearly isn’t average but it’s in ways that are a bit more subtle : he’s funny, articulate, entertaining, blessed with a loving wife who is loyal and supports him regardless (consider that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and a good chunk of those that don’t aren’t great, even among the California elite).
It’s never enough for Mike, which I guess is the real point of the movie. Steroids are for those who never really have enough. Of course we can bash them and whatnot, but the real point is that most people who take them won’t make any money by doing so. So what’s the point of assuming all those risks? To be the guy who stands out.
This is pure egoic thinking at its finest. If followed in a purely identified way, it usually leads to disaster. As luck would have it, you can read about what Mike Bell’s fate is here. Just remember, a big part of happiness is learning to appreciate the ordinary - whether it’s an ordinary musculature or an ordinary life.
Samir Syed is a lifetime drug-free lifter who does not condone the use of anabolic steroids.
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