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This story first appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
We’ve all heard, “you’re as young as you feel” many, many times. That’s sort of true, but in a way I think you’re as young, or old, as TV commercials tell you that you are. Sadly, what I’m seeing during the breaks as I watch CNBC’s Squawk Box, BBC World News America, 60 Minutes, anything about World War II on History or Smithsonian is pretty clear: I’ve passed my sell-by date.
Daily, I’m bombarded with messages telling me that I should be taking Viagra or Cialis as well as medications for low testosterone, or “low-T” as it’s called (also for something called COPD, but I don’t know what that is and am afraid to look it up).
The most resonant of these advertisements is a sort of combination testosterone/boner program called Cenegenics, which features images of shirtless men (usually physicians who run their own Cenegenics franchises) in their late 40s, 50s and even 70s who are incredibly muscular and defined, kind of like a senior version of The Thunder From Down Under. The men in the commercials give testimonials explaining how they not only look younger but also feel younger. They make clear how much more desire they now have for their wives, who are sitting next to them, beaming. Male viewers like me in their 50s and above find ourselves feeling inadequate and wondering if we should be gettin’ some of what they’re sellin’. In my case, so I can be more fit, not because I have trouble in the erection department … ’cause I don’t. Not at all. Not even a little. No, sir … or ma’am.
And what they’re selling, in addition to diet and exercise advice, is drugs. Specifically, testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH), and that shit is dangerous. HGH causes the body to produce IGF-1, increased levels of which in people 50 to 65 years old have been correlated to a 75 percent increase in mortality risk. Testosterone has been shown to accelerate the growth of prostate tumors. Advocates of such therapies believe the benefits outweigh the risks, but it takes a lot of benefit for me to risk cancer.
How did we get here? It used to be that success in business and having money was enough to attain status and an Asian Pilates/yoga-instructing second wife, but now it seems you are expected to also have visible abdominal muscles. Man, it’s hard out there for a pimp.
But we in the movie and TV business have ourselves to blame. Somehow, we allowed the definition of a real man, as evidenced in our culture-influencing products, to change. When I was young, Jack Nicholson or Michael Douglas would take their shirt off in movies and, while they were not fat, they didn’t look like they spent most of their time in a gym and ate all their meals out of a blender. Sean Connery and Roger Moore could get into bed with a woman and show no hint of muscular definition. Daniel Craig could never, and doesn’t, try to get away with that. All of the comic-bookish movies from The Avengers through 300 and on to The Fast and the Furious franchise obviously exhibit a lot of muscle, but so do pretty much every studio film and network TV show. It’s rare today that when a man takes off his shirt onscreen, he doesn’t look sculpted, unless he is the punchline of a joke. And, given how all of these actors look, it is probable that a significant percentage of them are taking drugs to alter their physiognomy, especially those over 40. Maybe Dwayne Johnson can be as massive as he was in Furious 7 and other movies without drugs, which he has maintained, but Sylvester Stallone at 69 still looking that way? I don’t think so (he was arrested in Australia in 2007 for possession of HGH).
Will any of this objectification of male hard bodies, and the attendant unhealthy methods of achieving them, change? I doubt it. The guys who go see action movies have embraced this ideal for their heroes, and the women who line up for Magic Mike, unsurprisingly, have come to expect that a Tatum look like a Tatum. And that is fair. After all, men for decades have promulgated an unrealistic standard for how thin, busty and youthful women are expected to look onscreen and off, and the result has been a lot of unhealthy dieting and plastic surgery. So men being pressured to, shall we say, take their medicine in order to fit a new cultural ideal just might be the appropriate payback.
Read more from The Hollywood Reporter‘s Top Doctors Issue:
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