Bodybuilding holds a speckled esteem. Some earmark it with vanity, others, a caricaturesque manifestation of gender norms. Despite their motivations, few can deride a bodybuilder’s dedication to their dream. At Muscle Beach in Venice, CA one can observe the possessors of these robust yet supple forms as they exercise total control of themselves and the bars from which they twist, swing and balance upon.
From the 1890s onwards, Venice Beach materialised the dream of Abbot Kinney, the cigarette mogul who sought to transform a patch of deteriorating marshland west of Los Angeles. Kinney wanted to build a Coney Island on the Pacific. More ambitiously again, in doing so he wanted to emulate the singular romance and spectacle of the namesake Italian city. With replica gondolas and canals and wannabe-Venetian facades, the town’s strange shades of tastelessness and charm are matched only by the oddity of it’s conception.
By trying to recapture an ancient grandeur, many would consider Kinney as having precluded himself from meaningful success. Authenticity is the antithesis of plastic remake. Regardless of modern evaluations on aesthetic however, Kinney, has to be admired for his ambition. It may not a dream we’d share, but objectively, the execution of Venice, CA can be appreciated.
When I first came to Venice Beach I was struck by the number of spectators who gathered to watch. Their faces shared expressions of wonder at what they witnessed in the sandbox: Sculpted men and women swinging from ring to ring, suspending themselves upside down using only the power of their biceps.
The wonder of onlookers validated what those on show had realised: A dream. Rafa and David had dreamed how their bodies could look and move. They wanted to use their bodies in ways most other humans could not, and form them into a mould they desired.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow garnered fame for his ‘hierarchy of needs’, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in a consecutive order. He constructed these in a pyramid, with the most fundamental need, Physiological sustenance, at it’s base. Rising through the tiers, people’s needs become increasingly complex: Safety; Love & Belonging; Esteem. At the apex is Self-Actualisation. One must climb through the lower layers to reach this point. Maslow defines self-actualization to be “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for the individual to become actualized in what he is potentially.”
Rafa and David sought a physical perfection. They had preened themselves, their lean muscle grafted through thousands of hours of work. They are seemingly self-actualised, enabled by their dedication in pursuit of a dream.
I don’t know if the boys worked their way through Maslow’s checklist. Whether they always had enough to eat, a supportive familial structure, respect from peers and teachers are all unknowns. And now, superficially, irrelevant. Regardless of past needs unmet, they have potential and they endeavour every day to realise that.
Some come to the beach to walk the boardwalk and escape their own needs and desires for a while. Others come to work. Just like the founding father of the beach itself, the denizens of Venice have a dream. Whether you’d share in it or not, the merit of their pursuit cannot be denied.