ostensibly a film about steroids in america, the film is just as much about the filmmaker’s family and american culture as anything else. it takes both a personal and macro view of the issue and does so with refreshing clarity and impartiality. bell’s main arguments are: 1) steroids are used by a lot of people, professional athletes among the least. 2) steroids have legitimate uses and, when used in moderation, aren’t any more harmful than many other drugs whose use isn’t ostracized (anti-depressants, alcohol, tobacco, etc.). 3) other performers are allowed to use performance enhancers without congressional intervention and stigma (beta blockers to reduce anxiety for musicians, aderol for students who can’t focus, lasik eye surgery for tiger woods [something i’ve brought up before], etc.). 4) steroids are an extension of a culture that values winning as a primary pursuit.
bell does a good job of cutting through a lot of the crap and media noise associated with this topic. in the end you’re left with the inevitable feeling that steroids aren’t as bad as the media make them out to be and aren’t all that different from a lot of the other crap that we put in our bodies. you can’t even really make the argument that allowing them disadvantages poorer competitors (in the olympics for example) because there are so many inequalities there already: state of the art equipment and training facilities, not to mention designer steroids that fool the tests. once again technology has led us down a perilous path where we have to more or less change our fundamental definitions. in this case countries like the u.s., china, germany, etc. are vastly more capable of producing humans with inhuman strength through genetic engineering, lasik-type surgeries, hgh, steroids, not to mention the already existing inequities of high tech training methods, tools, and facilities. gone are the days of pure competition, and yes, i do believe it once (not so long ago) existed.
bell paints a fairly dark picture of the culture that supports steroid use/abuse. unfortunately i think he’s mostly right: we live in a world where getting your own is most important. bell and his brothers have failed to understand that creating your own terms for success is what leads to long-term happiness. by adopting the terms laid out by bogus role models (hulk hogan, arnold, sly, etc.) such as being buff and powerful, as well as those laid out by society in general (winning is more important than effort), they have doomed themselves to personal failure. instead they should have followed john wooden’s pyramid of success which values effort, character, and industriousness over final outcomes such as a blue ribbon or a bmw. these faults of theirs, though, aren’t uncommon – they’re entirely human, sad as that may be. i don’t think our culture will ever change drastically enough to make the point of steroids (gaining a competitive edge) moot. instead we’re destined to keep marching down the road of technological “progress” which will include augmenting our bodies with the ligaments and muscles of gorillas, cheetahs, etc. as well as a cocktail of drugs and possibly computer chips and electrodes that perform better than our natural systems. that’s the world we live in and fighting it is futile, but necessary.Watched in theater