Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: "Sweat Equity" by Jason Kelly (2016)

A Bloomberg business writer confirms what we've all suspected for quite some time now: the whole "active living" fad is the ultimate embodiment of white privilege. 

By: Jimbo X

"The community aspects of running and cycling clubs are in some cases replacing the shared purposes once found in the pews of a church."

- Jason Kelly, Sweat Equity (2016)

"When food is scarce, it's beautiful to be fat. The more obesity is a signal of being lower class, the more aggressively people will try to be thin." 

Lisa WadeSweat Equity (2016)

Throughout history, snobby elitists have sought to represent the exact opposite traits of the proletariat classes. For example, back in the Victorian days when having a tan meant you were a day-laborin' pauper, it was fashionable for all those ritzy, rich broads to look as pale as possible. And in the Gilded Age, when the downtrodden were literally starving emaciated scarecrow-people, the wealthy turned being a fatass into a signifier of high social status. 

The average working class man or woman these days is usually a pudgy, beer-and-soda-bellied lardo, due to the trifecta of high sugar diets, sedentary lifestyles and the biggy, not having any damn time to get up off their fat duffs to exercise because they're too busy paying bills and taking care of their kids and trying to not get fired and lose their house and become homeless. They either can't afford gym memberships or can't find the free time to use their equipment. You know all of the gluten-free totally organic super-duper health food at Trader Joe's? Well, it's either out of their price range or what do you know, the only food sources within a 20-mile radius are either Burger Kings or convenience stores that sell expired Raisin Bran for two dollars more than you'd get at your local Kroger. And by golly, they'd all love to go kayaking and run three miles every day, but unfortunately they live in a concrete abyss devoid of any organic life forms other than mice and huge-assed pigeons. Oh, and they'd probably get knifed to death jogging two blocks from where they live ... sorry, but losing maybe 100 or so calories during a 30-minute workout probably ain't worth getting shanked to death by some guy named Tweezy or El Diablo Sanchez.

I've long suspected that this whole "health and wellness" upper-middle-class suburban-WASP craze was little more than some passive aggressive slight against the common soil folks - indeed, I've already deduced that the millennial "bicycling" fad is inherently racist - but it wasn't until I combed through Jason Kelly's tome Sweat Equity that I understood the full extent of this ethnocentric exercising epidemic

Long story short; rich white people are all about being "in shape" and engaging in "physically active recreation" because it's their furtive way of saying "ha-ha, fuck all your poor ass white hicks and coloreds." 

It's pretty obvious, when you tune out the background noise and really focus on the issue. What is "exercise" but the total narcissistic absorption into one's self? I don't buy for a minute that all those Lululemon clad, Flywheel class attendin' health nuts in the 'burbs genuinely give half a hoot about their own physiological well-being. Rather, they just want to be as thin and wiry as possible so they can show off to all of their chunkier pals and coworkers as some sort of unstated "power distance" display.

It's not about being healthy, it's about looking fit. These neo-yuppies aren't the kinds of folks that'll waltz on into a hole-in-the-wall gym where the smallest weight next to the bench press machines is 200 pounds. They're not about developing muscle or strength, they're all a bunch of cardio-obsessed dweebs who think riding a mountain bike that cost more than a brand new Hyundai around a two mile loop 40 times over the course of one Sunday afternoon makes them some kind of ubermensch. These are precisely the kind of puds you see with all of those 13.1 and 26.2 stickers all over the back windshields of their Nissan Leafs, those irritating souls who bitch and moan about the lack of whole grain, fair trade wheat shakes available on the menus at steakhouses. They don't go to three marathon races every weekend and spend $20,000 on R.E.I. equipment each month because they care about their own health, they invest so much time, effort and moolah into the business of being fit because it allows them to flaunt themselves as supposedly superior beings. Why else do you think these douches wear neon green shoes and bright pink CrossFit shirts to the grocery store at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday?

Granted, Sweat Equity ain't really a sociocultural examination of the inherently prejudicial and classist "health and wellness" fad. Rather, it's a fairly straightforward examination of just how lucrative stuck-up, wealthy white motherfucker baiting exercise and fitness programs are these days. Indeed, per this Kelly guy's research the whole "health privilege" complex - your Flywheels and your Pure Barres and your SoulCycles and your Physique 5s and all that other shit that's practically Latin to the American commoner - generates about $3.4 trillion a year - a sum that eclipses the annual revenue of the global private equity market by a good four billion dollars

Unsurprisingly, Kelly lets us know it's a trend mostly being driven by Millennial women. Nine times as many women are participating in organized races (hmm ... races ... think about it) since 1990, with female runners finishing more races than male runners in 2003 by a good 30 percent margin. With a year-over-year 3 percent market increase, fitness clubs in the U.S. now generate about $27 billion a year. And, naturally, the explosive growth in popularity has surprisingly little to do with actual exercising. 

"The gym became a new kind of urban or suburban country club," states Shelly McKenzie in Sweat Equity. "Friendships and social connections were enabled because members believed that their fellow exercisers shared common interests and were likely to have a similar economic status and lifestyle."

The gargantuan financial success of "athleisure" empires like Tyr, SlowTwitch, Runner's World and Under Armour gives more indication that the neo-fitness craze is about wealth as opposed to health. "You can't be too rich or too thin," the author remarks, noting that the global sports nutrition market - even without the sales of Gatorade and its competitors factored into the equation - were $4.6 billion in 2009. Hell, almond milk sales alone are estimated to be around $700 million in 2014. 

But you see, this whole fit privilege thing just ain't about looking skinny and showing off how goddamn rich you are. Kelly notes that this cult of wellbeing seems to have taken on ... well, literal status as a cult. "Fitness has also crept into a personal and social space once occupied by organized religion, and it's not just yoga studios and meditation clubs," he writes. "It's got a lot to do with the Millennial crowd, which is abandoning or never even showing up to churches and temples in unprecedented numbers." 

So we have an entire generation of egotists who derive a sense of community by excluding themselves from any kind of voluntary interaction with poor and out-of-shape people, whose Sunday worship services are jogging around the town square wearing Kit + Ace apparel that costs more than most American workers' weekly paychecks and whose eucharist are overpriced "energy gels." Yep, there's nothing troubling whatsoever about a bunch of superficial, upscale consumerism-obsessed classists walling themselves off from the peons for stratified empowerment circle jerks, is there? 

Kelly spends an entire chapter mulling how rich white people are turning to biking, jogging and expensive douchey fitness programs as sort of an antidote to their own lack of meaning (imagine that ... materialist assholes without any financial problems whatsoever can't find contentment with how great everything is going in their lives.) He quotes some nutsack named Sakyong Mipham as saying the always-on-the-go, always-online nature of modern existence "gives life a superficial feeling; we never experience anything fully," which Mipham insists is what makes active rich white motherfucker group activities so satisfying for the jaded upper classes. But surely, the fact that the average income of the NYC Marathon runner is a paltry $130,000 a year DOESN'T mean these fucks just like to hang out with other fucks like them, though. Get real. 

From there, Kelly name checks a couple of C-level fitness nuts like Strauss Zelnick and Mike Zafirovski and documents their insane exercise regimens. Interestingly, all of that Iron Man triathlon shit they are into is exclusively cardio, and nowhere in the book does Kelly even drop the word "anaerobic." Which begs the question - why aren't any of those scrawny, kale-eating joggers and pedal-philes doing any weight lifting or chopping wood or flipping over huge-assed tires like Rocky was doing to prepare for battle against Ivan Drago? Oh, that's right, because muscle-building exercises look too much like manual labor, and it'll be a cold day in hell before any of them dare think of going anywhere near one of those germy metal hand weights that some scary black man probably touched.

From there, there's a lot of stuff about the economic impact of marathons ($181 million alone for the one in Boston), all those goofy-ass Ninja Warrior wannabe urban-gimmick races like "Warrior Dash" and "Tough Mudder," the rise and fall of those hideous "five finger shoes" and "social media-driven wellness programs," in part inspired by the rise of consumer-grade apparatuses like FitBit and Nike's FuelBands. "Technology, especially in the form of social media," the author writes, "is a megaphone to spread the gospel and validate their fellow congregants with positive reinforcement splashed across the Internet." Huh - people online demanding complete and utter affirmation from perfect strangers to assuage their eggshell thin egos ... I am shocked shitless

Sweat Equity wraps up with a quote from Harvey Spevak, the mastermind behind the upscale Equinox fitness clubs. "For millennials, it's more culturally social and about community," he said. "They are fitness-focused, making it a fundamental priority, not an option. It's about eating right and staying active for long-term happiness."

But did you catch the inherent logical fallacy of that statement? In the first sentence, he says the well-to-do asshole millennial fascination with neo-fitness is a social status thing, while in the follow-up sentence, he says it's about keeping one's body in tip-top shape as some sort of secret weapon for personal contentment. Well, as evident by the explosion in popularity of bicycling clubs and rich white bitch-only yoga classes and all the local "hey, let's jog around the block every Saturday morning around 7 in a big cluster of white privilege" meetups, the true appeal of the so-called "health and wellness" industry is in its snobby, exclusionary social dynamics. They've turned running and being vegan and biking into displays of virtue signalling, where the intent isn't to lower their heart rates or tone their bodies but show off to the lesser peoples. They're not running around town or holding up traffic in their bikes or yammering on and on about CrossFit because they're proud of their personal dedication to self, they do it because - quite frankly - it's their secretive way of saying "eat my privileged shit, you low-income fucks, especially the browner ones." They're all various shades of RINO classists, with perhaps a few irritating sprinkles of privileged liberalism and/or libertarianism throw in to keep you from immediately thinking they're your dime a dozen rich, white, money-grubbing conservative assholes. Every. Last. One. Of. Them

None of these puds and pricks are content simply exercising at home and eating gluten-frey whey burgers in the privacy of their own homes. They simply HAVE to export their lite-fascist, egotistical tao everywhere they go - and the greater numbers they have, the better. It's a public political demonstration, in every sense of the word - only those neon-hued bikers and joggers aren't protesting anything, they're trying to flaunt their perceived "betterness" in front of anyone who makes less money than they do. Forget athletics or leisure - their real intent, no matter the recreational activity, is to form some kind of highly visible mobile country club, and the endgame is to make sure as many underlings as possible are aware of their perceived "wellness" - which, by now, we all know is just a codeword for "affluence."

One thing I noticed in Sweat Equity is that throughout all of the recreational events and activities Kelly mentioned, pretty much all of them were based on fleeing. Biking, running, swimming ... all cardio-exercises designed, from a biological standpoint, to help you move faster from whatever imminent dangers are in the immediate area. In that, the obsession with personal speed and mobility (social or physical, really) suggests that these classist health nuts are, perhaps subconsciously, terrified of something. What are they peddling and kayaking and jogging away from, exactly? Their own personal discontent and dissatisfaction, or is it the rest of the American proletariat population

Whenever I see someone with a 13.1 or 26.2 sticker on their car, I'm not impressed. All that lets me know is that if shit got real, they'd be able to Fred Flintstone it like a pussy for a really long time. Only the truly weak of the species, as we all know, have to run for their lives. 

That's why you'll NEVER see a hard-as-nails blue collar brawler or a two-dollar-steak-tough inner-city scrapper driving around with a fuckin' marathon bumper sticker on their vehicles. That's because all of these wealth-oriented health and fitness fads are anchored around the very opposite of their core survival instincts. When trouble arises, genetically, they aren't predisposed to hop in a $10,000 bicycle and pedal away from danger a'la Pee Wee Herman. Nor are they going to grab a canoe and paddle their way to safety, or slip on their $500 running shoes and speed walk out of harm's way.

No siree Bob, only the biologically and socially weak - a.k.a, the kind of people who attend Flywheel and Orangetheory classes - engage in such cowardly behaviors. The healthy and the wealthy have to haul ass, because they know that in a one-on-one slugfest, all the kale sandwiches and Jawbone Up downloads and Hoka One One shoes in the world wouldn't help them last a second longer in the ULTIMATE display of physical and athletic ability, human combat.

So gimme any of the C-level fit-nuts Kelly describes in the book and all of their social status conferring extracurricular activities and gimme just one 300 pound ex-high school football player now in his early '40s with two bad knees and a gimpy arm named Clem or Deezbo. Now, if we made 'em square off in a no-holds-barred, old-school Ultimate Fighting Championship contest - and your life depended on picking the winner - who would you place your money on? 

Yeah, I wouldn't count on the wellbeing of the one who's always going on and on about his wellbeing neither ... which, really, tells you ALL you need to know about the real driving force of the upscale fitness industry as a whole.


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