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Gyms: Temples of Neoliberal Atomization

Gyms: Temples of Neoliberal Atomization January 3, 2022

Exercising at a gym is the supreme expression of the atomized neoliberal self.

In pre-modern cultures, conditioning the body was tied to virtuous ends that transcended the self, whether for the sake of discipline, or honoring the dignity of the body as gift, or strengthening the body for the sake of service to others. Further, the experience of exercising was tied to the real—to activities that were already integrated into one’s daily life (i.e. farming, building, childcare, walking) or was done apart from, but in preparation for, carrying out these affairs.

Today, exercising is more often than not done to further one’s health for its own sake, or for the sake of vanity, or pure leisure. Usually done in gyms—businesses in it for the profit—using machines manufactured to specialize on particular body parts, the process of exercising manifests and cements the liberal notion of selfhood. Removed from ties to ideals, social bonds, and experiences that transcend the self, the exerciser is an atomized entity that moves through the gym without a purpose or meaning…at least not one that lasts.

He focuses on a different part of his disintegrated body each day, which is a projection of his already disintegrated life, moving from machine to machine, as he moves from relationship, to job, to mind numbing distraction, without any sense of direction—in a similar manner to an assembly line, making himself one with the process of mass manufacturing with which the exercise machines were made.

The treadmill is the archetypal symbol of our times, running toward nothingness, vainly pursuing a goal that is too artificial to ever be reached. He repeatedly lifts weights up above his head, throws himself down to the ground, heaving and grunting, as if emulating a rhythmic act of religious devotion, offering sacrifices to the god of himself—that is, of his nothingness.


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