Universal Hunks

Universal Hunks – A Pictorial History of Muscular Men Around the World, 1895-1975 – David L. Chapman with Douglas Brown – Arsenal Pulp Press. A couple of the photos in this surfaced on a ‘vintage men’ twitter I follow, with a link to the book, which I ordered & have as paperback. Ebook was available but this is one I needed to turn pages.

It is an excellent study on the nature of masculinity around the world – masculinity seen as muscular strength. It also has a sharp subtext on colonization, race & male nudity. I recall in high school some of my male classmates were alway eager to go through the National Geographic Magazines in the school library to find bare breasted women. One guy got suspended for cutting those pictures out, (or maybe it was bra ads in Miss Chatelaine.) I was usually disappointed in how few tribal men got the same tender photographic attention.

Strength & masculinity & violence have been a standard of defining  what makes a man a man. The books reminded of the old Charles Atlas ads that appeared in comic books & men’s magazine where skinny guy on beach get sand kicked in his face by the muscular bully – skinny guy buys the Atlas muscle building course & tosses that bully aside – the message being bullies deserved to be beaten – violence is the way to making oneself respected a man.Of course today if that happened in the USA one of them would merely pull a gun & kill the other in self-defence.

Universal Hunks takes us around the world outside of North America with a series of excellent photos of muscle men. Some became brand names for health products – eat these biscuits & you too can unbend horseshoes. Many enlarged their fame with postcard pictures doing stunts or merely posing in very tight garments or even bare chested. 

The photos gave admirers the opportunity to look as long as they wanted. Many posed for sculptors & painters as well & some shots of those studio moments are included. Many of the photos are amazingly ageless & could have been taken of men last week. None of them deliberately eroticize their subjects, that is up to the viewer, in this case me 🙂

Suffocating

me face down flat on the floor

me: fifteen

the floor: high school gym

pine slats and the smell of socks

lift from the waist

me lifting sweating

I could do this much of the class

I felt safe in one spot

not facing anything   anyone

<>

now roll over

this was a little worse

I could see the other guys in my class

but I’m still safe

in one spot on the floor

I dreaded it all so much

I’d arrive at school in my gym clothes 

to avoid the change room

okay on your feet boys and boys

we groaned up

jumping jacks

<>

I was still safe in one spot

I could keep up with this

it was basketball that did me in

where I could never remember left from right

never could manage a lay up

traveling with the ball – whatever that was

I would pass whenever I could

sometimes I’d fall to get out of the way

<>

but that fear was merely prelude 

to what I dreaded the most

the showers

I’d yank my glasses off right away

soft focus everyone

into naked fuzzy forms

I would slink in as small as I could

rinse down

dart back to my locker

keep my eyes to the floor – to faces

but there was always someone too close

someone I couldn’t keep from focusing on

when I was trying not to look

at hair everywhere on some of them

asses backs around their balls

<>

I would dress barely dried off 

rush up the stairs and outside

to breath

to keep from drowning 

in the damp desires

that were suffocating me

<>

……

Check out my blog about this poem: 

Suffocating  http://wp.me/p1RtxU-1dQ  

Hey! You can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee
sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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