Modern Frankenstein: A Visual Analysis of Bodybuilding Advertisements found in Flex Magazine
In my final revision I worked on breaking up my paragraphs, which contained too much information, to help with the general flow of the paper. I worked on ‘stitching together’ the last few paragraphs to help emphasize my thesis. Finally I added a couple of sentences to the conclusion again to make reference to my thesis.
Data: Several advertisements from the current issue of FLEX magazine, contrasted against a vintage bodybuilding ad.
Theory: Modern ads visually interpreted through the works of Berger, Faigley and Goffman, are in conflict with Berger’s theory of publicity.
Contestable Claim: Berger’s theory states that publicity promises the consumer an increase in social status. Modern bodybuilding ads promise the consumer isolation and only self-envy.
Comparable instances: I show comic book images to show a direct link between comic books and FLEX magazine.
Context: I compare the audience of comic books and Flex magazine. I then question the social mechanisms, which might be responsible for the conflict with Berger’s theory.
For decades, bodybuilding product advertisements have relied on a general format, which serves as an excellent example of John Berger’s theory of publicity [advertising], as defined in his text Ways of Seeing.
The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his present way of life. Not with the way of life of society, but with his own within it. It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better. It offers him an improved alternative to what he is. (Berger p. 142)
onsider Charles Atlas’s iconic ad created in the 1940’s (Figure 1). It is a simple n arrative, which depicts a skinny young man, who loses his girlfriend to a muscular bully. After ordering Atlas’s Dynamic Tension, the young man is able to transform himself into a new, muscular man who defeats the bully while winning back the affection of his girlfriend and gains the envy of all those around him. This ad demonstrates the young man’s dissatisfaction with his skinny image, and Charles Atlas’s product offers him an improved alternative. While this ad clearly exemplifies John Berger’s theory, more importantly it reflects an important component of his line of reasoning – that of social transformation. Berger posits “Publicity principally addressed to the working class tends to promise a personal transformation through the function of the particular product it its selling (Cinderella)” (Berger p. 145). That is to say that the products promise to elevate the social status of the consumer.
In 1994, White and Gillett concurred with Berger’s sentiments with an analysis of advertisements found in Flex, a popular bodybuilding magazine. They found that ads in the magazine incorporated “the muscular body, built through discipline and consumption, as a sign of embodied masculine power and as a form of physical capital convertible into social power” (White and Gillett p. 32). This promise of social status whether through gaining the envy of all, or the promise of sexual mastery of women has long been a staple of