Sunday, November 3, 2013

Universal Hunks

David L. Chapman and Douglas Brown's Universal Hunks: A Pictorial History of Muscular Men Around the World, 1895-1975 (Arsenal Press, 2013) chronicles the modern era of physical culture. Like its predecessor, 2009's American Hunks, Universal Hunks is both a picture book and a cultural history of the meanings of male muscle in advertising, sport, entertainment, and political propaganda. The 300-page book includes photographs and drawings from posters, stamps, magazines, cigar box lids, comic books, and more, outside the USA. In five sections representing five continents, the book both illustrates and analyzes varying ideals of male beauty, noting, for instance, that European bodybuilders have traditionally been less concerned with mass than their North American counterparts, focusing more on aesthetic concerns, such as symmetry. Also, the heavy bulk we associate with Japanese sumo wrestling is a development of the later twentieth century, the earlier competitors being less sumptuously upholstered. It includes a trove of apparently rare physique shots--including posing photos of novelist/actor Yukio Mishima and actor Sean Connery (both bodybuilders) that I have never seen on the Internet. 

I have not yet read the entire book, but I have scanned it thoroughly enough to know that it comments on the importance of wrestling in defining masculinity, particularly in Japan, Mexico, India, Mongolia, Turkey, and various parts of the African continent. We are told. for instance, that Mongolians regard wrestling, along with horsemanship and archery, as one of the "Three Manly Skills." There are portraits of Glima (Icelandic wrestling) champion Hallgrimur Benediktsson, Senegalese and Gambian wrestlers, Indian wrestler Ghulam Muhammad, Japanese wrestler Matsada Sorakichi (pictured in the tenth picture above with US wrestler Ernst Roeber), Turkish Greco-Roman wrestler Ahmed Madrali, and, as I had hoped and expected, the great El Santo of Mexico. Also, spurred to a little online research, I confirmed a hunch that several of the bodybuilders pictured in the book later ventured into pro-wrestling rings, such as handsome Estonian George Hackenschmidt*, reputed inventor of the "bear hug." Fellow Estonian strongman Georg Lurich (pictured in the ninth photo above--and in the sixth in a wrestling pose with Czech wrestler Karl Pospeschil) was a Greco-Roman wrestler and trainer (of Hackenschmidt, among others).

This is a terrific looking book (it will stack nicely against two other Chapman-edited books in my library, American Hunks and Retro Stud--the latter about sword-and-sandal movies and their sexy, colorful posters). It offers cultural criticism without the pedantic jargon of academic journals, as well as pictures I can jerk off to.

* This book has piqued my interest in Hackenschmidt, astoundingly hot in his youth, speaker of seven languages, writer of several books on physical fitness, philosopher and frequent speaker on the subject of philosophy, instrumental in the popularization of wrestling in England, and personal friend of George Bernard Shaw and Harry Houdini. President Theodore Roosevelt once quipped, "If I wasn't President of the United States, I would like to be George Hackenschmidt."

Photos: (1) book cover photo of Bernardino Ouano of the Philippines, (2) 1959 cover of Belgian magazine Muscles, announcing that "a shirtless man is a happy man," (3) Chinese decathlete C.K Yang on the cover of a 1963 Sports Illustrated, (4) Prussian strongman Eugen Sandow as pictured in 1908's Bailliere's Popular Atlas of the Anatomy and Physiology of the Male Human Body, (5) 1961 Senegalese postage stamp designed by Albert Decaris, (6) Georg Lurich and Karl Pospeschil, (7) Paul Hawker's photo of British actor and physique model John Hamill, (8) K.V. Iyer of Bangalore, (9) Georg Lurich, (10) Matsada Sorakichi and Ernst Roeber, (11) actor Alain Delon on the poster for the film Plein Soleil aka Purple Noon, and (12) 1973 cover of French comic book Kronos

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