Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Sunday, December 28, 2008
As children, Christopher Bell and his two brothers were a trio of misfits: either too chubby, too short, or not smart enough to fit in with their peers. That is until Hulk Hogan burst onto the wrestling scene. Suddenly, the three siblings had a hero they could believe in and a purpose to get up in the morning. With his mantra of eating your vitamins, saying your prayers, and believing in yourself, Chris and his brothers had a new lease on life. With the arrival of muscle-bound actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone who burst onto the scene around the same time, the Bell boys began to bulk up. Following the lead of their heroes, they originally did so naturally - working out in the gym, taking vitamins and, as Hogan told them, believing in themselves. However, it became obvious after only a short while that they were never going to achieve the big dreams and even bigger bodies that they wanted without a little help. Bigger, Stronger, Faster is Bell's examination of steroid use as a perfomance enhancer in American culture where winning, at any cost, is often more important than fair play.

Through interviews with various experts, pro athletes, bodybuilders, and his own family, Bell tries to find out once and for all if steroids are really that bad. The film, for me, can be broken down into three parts. The first revolves around the possible health benefits (part of treatment regimes for various diseases and disorders) and the "Bigger Stronger Faster" mentality versus the potential risks and long term effects. As expected, the answer isn't clear. Users claim that there are few side effects and the substance should be legal while medical professionals, for the most part, tell us that the risks far outweigh any possible benefits but without long term studies, the effects of prolonged use are unknown.

The second part of the film focuses on the use of steroids and other performance enhancers, supplements, and "vitamins" in professional sports. While doping occurs in just about every sport, BSF looks mainly at weightlifting, Olympic track and field, and pro baseball including the US Senate's inquiry into doping. Opinion is clearly divided and the use of performance enchancers far more widespread than expected - Bell introduces viewers to a group of classical musicians, seemingly all of whom use beta blockers to combat anxiety prior to performances and students who don't think twice about taking drugs to combat stress and raise their test scores. The film also airs interviews with both Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson discussing their race in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Interestingly enough, Carl Lewis received a letter disqualifying from competing in those games due to the presence of a number of banned substances but he claims that it was due to a cold medication he was taking. An exception was made for him by the American Olympic Committee (as well as for a number of other athletes) and he was allowed to compete anyway.

The final third of the film is a series of family interviews and personal vignettes. While Christopher Bell freely admits to having used steroids in the past (he claims to currently not use them), both of his brothers were introduced to them early on and have been using them for years. The eldest brother still harbors dreams of becoming a professional wrestler despite having those dreams dashed repeatedly and yet he won't give up. The youngest of the three is a professional weightlifter and high school football coach. Neither are willing to admit to their parents that they use drugs. The youngest, "Smelly", even goes so far as to tell his students/athletes that he doesn't use steroids and has most of them convinced he's all natural.

While an interesting look into steroid use and its prevalence (along with other performance enhancing drugs) in American culture, Bigger, Stronger, Faster, offers little in the way of examining the problem, its hazards, or the underlying causes. Go ahead and check it out but don't expect to walk away with any new insights. The best part of the documentary for me was Bell's conversations with his mother and father who seemed to offer better advice and guidance than any of the so called experts.

Recommended? Let's just say, I'm indifferent.


Wandering Coyote said...

Hm. This sounds like something my ex would have loved, being a body builder himself. Me? Um, I might have been more interested if you had been less indifferent, so I'll pass! But great review, though!

Gardenia said...

This is a subject that I often wonder about. Ok, I'm weird.

I have mixed feelings about anabolic steroids. Sometimes I wonder if it is similar to the drug industry wanting us to not have vitamins so they can get more money for prescriptions for diseases that could be prevented with correct supplementation. Any drug, steroid, or otherwise can be abused, so i don't think its fair to single out "anabolic steroids."

Where would one draw the line? For instance, HGH has been proven to accelerate healing - performance enhancing? You betcha - its much easier to walk when your nerves in your spine are not compressed. Testosterone - performance enhancing? You bet - some genetic abnormalities include nature's omitting this necessary little item for maturation of some children - performance enhancing? Yeh, a normal life for these kids. These are some of my mixed feelings - - -

What consistutes an athlete having an edge? Do we outlaw carbs? Athletes load on carbs before performance -

Sounds like the book addresses these without presenting answers or sounds like a really interesting book...

Just thoughts....and you are right - more research needs to be sounds like that at least the book invokes thought on the subject -

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