“Was nothing real?”
“You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch.”
If you’ve ever seen The Truman Show, you likely remember the film’s final scene, when Truman and Christof, the creator of the counterfeit world in which Truman lives, finally meet, partaking in the exchange above.
The film is part social commentary and part absurd apologue, all centered on the story of an everyday man whose life, unbeknownst to him, is actually a popular TV show. As evidenced by sporadic cuts to images of various friend groups watching from their couches, the outside world loved the show and tuned in because it felt so genuine: Truman’s experiences and reactions were all real.
Truman didn’t know he was on TV, which was the film’s most important narrative conceit. In my own life, however, I’ve encountered a breed of individuals who seem to wholeheartedly believe that they, like Truman, live their lives under the attentive eye of the population at large. They assume the TV cameras aren’t far away, so they make sure to pose consistently and draw as much attention to themselves as possible, lest viewers ever forget who the real star of the show is.
These folks all seem to congregate in one area. They go where they thrive, where they can assert their dominance and be seen by the wannabes and the ordinaries. They go to the gym.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no regular at the Helen Newman hardo-hub. But as a former gym employee back home and a person who has at least set foot in more than one of Cornell’s workout facilities, I’ve gotten a good idea of the types of characters who lurk amidst the thicket of weight machines and treadmills.
The bench bums who think they’re on TV come in many forms. Some are the fitness fashionistas (and fashionistos) who wear the most stylish get-up on the workout market. Many of them don’t play any sports and only workout on occasion, but to them, it doesn’t matter. It is of paramount importance that they are doused in swooshes and limited edition Adidas gear all five of the times they come out to lift.
When these people arrive, they don’t go straight for any particular machine or section; they instead look around. Do they know anybody exercising here? Who will they make sure to walk near so they can wave? It’s all about showing face and one day being able to start a conversation with “Hey I think I’ve seen you before at the gym!”
Another staple of the Bowflex Brigade is the prototypical grunter. The grunter is always male, and although far rarer than the fashionista, displays even more extreme attention-seeking behavior. He knows he’s put too much weight in his hands, but he can’t help himself. He tells himself that the grunts are an embarrassing habit, but deep down he enjoys every second of them. At least it reminds the other gym regulars that he too is often inclined to hang around the weight room.
The final, and frankly most annoying, type of gym fiends are the folks who are unassuming in the weight-room, yet loudmouthed about their regimen once they leave. They don’t talk or grunt or wave in Helen Newman or Noyes, likely because they are deep in thought, imagining how they will work their lift schedule into casual conversation in the outside world.
They know both “leg day” and “gainz” are now only trite utterances, but they still say them on a regular basis. Some try to make it sound ironic or lighthearted whenever they talk about calisthenics, but the thought of abandoning even mildly sarcastic mentions of the gym from their vocabulary shakes them to their well-toned cores.
As much as I love to make fun of narcissistic meatheads, I understand where they’re coming from. Some of them have fulfilled their New Year’s resolutions and others have proven to themselves that they have discipline. To a certain extent, we all want the world to know that we’re reliable and trustworthy and unlikely to be plump and saggy when middle age rolls around. If talking about exercise accomplishes those goals, it makes a lot of sense.
But here’s my word of advice: don’t go overboard. You aren’t on TV, and even if you were, the protein-filled, boastful, always-performing version of yourself wouldn’t be what they’d tune in to see. I have a feeling they’d want something a bit more real.