Notes on Baudrillard and the Fitness Club

From Baudrillard (America, 1989:37):

[The jogger] is the brother in mortification of those who conscientiously exhaust themselves in the body-building studios on complicated machines with chrome pulleys and on terrifying medical contraptions. There is a direct line that runs from the medieval instruments of torture, via the industrial movements of production-line work, to the techniques of schooling the body by using mechanical apparatuses. Like dieting, body-building, and so many other things, jogging is a new form of voluntary servitude (it is also a new form of adultery).

It is with this seemingly throw-away clause at the end of the paragraph that Baudrillard tips his hand as to his departure from Foucault's technologies of the self — it is also a new form of adultery. For at the end of the day, what the fitness club is selling is not so much the ability to create an optimized body, but rather a simulacrum of readily available sex. What is the product that the fitness club sells? It cannot simply be the temporary lease of fitness equipment, for plyometrics and home fitness solutions such as Bowflex offer cheaper or perhaps more convenient solutions, if personal fitness is the only goal. No, the primary differential advantage that the fitness club offers is a roomful of relatively healthy individuals all working out at the same time, sweating, grunting, straining — not unlike how they would during sex. The desired effect is to seduce or perhaps titillate the consumer in simulating a sexualized space.

Baudrillard elaborates upon this in Forget Foucault (1988:20):

The production channel leads from work to sex, but only by switching tracks; as we move from political to 'libidinal' economy … we change from a violent and archaic model of socialization (work) to a more subtle and fluid model which is at once more 'psychic' and more in touch with the body (the sexual and the libidinal).

As Baudrillard would have it, then, working out at the fitness club produces a simulacrum of sex, with its signs everywhere apparent: the athlete sweating, exerting, straining muscles and panting heavily in intercourse with some mechanical exercise apparatus. Absent in this arena, he would suggest, is seduction. Instead, all sexuality in this space is produced.

This compulsion toward liquidity, flow, and an accelerated circulation of what is psychic, sexual, or pertaining to the body is the exact replica of the force which rules market value: capital must circulate; gravity and an fixed point must disappear; the chain of investments and reinvestments must never stop; value must radiate endlessly and in every direction (FF: 25).

It is this sentiment that we find reflected in the fitness club: from the bank of televisions that face the aerobic exercise equipment, to the advertising around the club, to the clothing worn by the athletes that functions as both consumer good and promotional item, everywhere the signs of capital circulate in accord with bodies, both ideal and non-ideal, as disembodied parts or as produced wholes. Capital invests in the body, while the body reciprocates by reproducing capital.

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