My Film-Studies Term Paper on the Anti-Gym Commercials

Joel Warner ENG294-Gender and Sexuality in American Cinema November 29, 2007

The Anti-Gym Commercials: Shock Chauvinism or Subversive Feminist Call to Arms?

It would be easy to write off recent commercials by the Anti-Gym, the Denver-based health and vanity lifestyle boutique, as grotesque, chauvinistic and infantile shock publicity. This particular establishment is known for its radical media-manipulation techniques, from hiring faux “protesters” to launching a nationwide child obesity campaign of questionable authenticity. Historical precedent for such extremist public relations campaigns is long established, dating back to Bartolomé de las Casas’ 1552 publication, Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias. But upon closer inspection, these advertisements hold much deeper meaning: A subversive post-modern reversal of expectations that calls into question the very ideals upon which the Anti-Gym – and modern society’s pathological body-image obsessions – are ostensibly founded.

Take, for example, the Anti-Gym commercial simplistically titled “Hottie":

The brief television spot opens on a woman of attractive Rubenesque proportions, clearly the “Hottie” referred to in the work’s title. Hottie is in a comfortable emotional space, leisurely relaxing upon a plush couch and dining upon a delectable piece of chocolate cake. But instantly the tranquility is shattered by an element of Lynchian surrealism: The camera cuts to a television showing an "Afternoon movie.” A woman is about commit suicide by leaping from a bridge – but, impossibly, this woman is Hottie, who at this very moment is also watching the television! Clearly, this TV is in Hottie’s head; she is imagining what society’s denunciation of her anti-establishment dimensions may lead people of her ilk to do.

The "movie" then shows a woman of superficial beauty looking concerned about the impending suicide, but apparently for erroneous reasons. “Oh my God, she’s going to cause a tidal wave!” exclaims this woman. As evidenced by her ridiculously blithe reaction to the alarming circumstances around her, this woman must be Hottie’s internal embodiment of shallow self-hatred – the cruel, unthinking symbol of crude feminine sexuality celebrated by modern civilization. Thankfully, Hottie’s emotional suicide never comes – instead we hear the swelling strains of Vivaldi’s “La Primavera” (spring) – a celebration of rebirth and renewal. As its sonnet notes,

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven, Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

The song foreshadows that which is to come. A man arrives at Hottie’s door; by his “Honey, I’m home,” we are meant to take him for her husband. But he embraces not Hottie, but the superficially beautiful woman, who has mysteriously appeared in her home. Now his true identity is clear: He is the personification of bigoted masculine demands upon women, little more than a walking phallus – demonstrated by the way he callously gropes the superficially beautiful woman’s behind. The shallow woman and bigoted man promptly leave – and this is a good thing. Hottie, it appears, has finally evicted petty self-hatred and chauvinistic pressures from her emotional home. To underscore that point, the eviction scene is repeated, but this time it is a dog that leaves – an animal that has long symbolized feminine unattractiveness. In other words, all ugliness is gone. To paraphrase the Baha Men’s 2000 single: Who let the dogs out? Self respect let the dogs out.

Next, Michael Karolchyk, the founder and inflammatory mascot of Anti-Gym, appears on the scene – but in a highly unusual manner. Hottie’s refrigerator literally transforms into Karolchyk. We are meant to understand that Karolchyk has the emotional depth of a household appliance: shiny and hard on the outside, but cold and utilitarian on the inside. Karolchyk snaps a phallic rod over his knee, symbolically denying his own masculinity. He then berates Hottie, but it is clear he is really mocking himself. His oversized muscles, his fully progressed male-pattern baldness, the ridiculous way he utters “Moo! Moo!” He is the cow here, a sad little clown-cow.

Karolchyk tells Hottie, “Forsake the cake,” but he indicates the exact opposite, pushing her cake into her chest, making her one with that which she most desires. This makes sense; after all, Karolchyk is the clown of this tale. Like the comic figure Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, we learn from Karolchyk’s mistakes; we must do the opposite of all that he says.

The commercial ends with a shot of the Anti-Gym’s logo and its slogan, “Don’t be a chubby.” A disembodied Karolchyk demands, “No chubbies!” But the viewer now grasps the paradox of Karolchyk, and his words take on a new meaning: Don’t be a chubby by being a chubby. Succumb to your passions – evict insecurity and peer pressure and become one with your piece of cake. By doing so, society will eradicate the term by over-saturation, making “Chubby” a badge of honor, not a source of derision. Then the true outsider, the one on the ledge, will be Karolchyk – a cold, castrated clown-cow. No wonder the commercial was made by Anti-Gym; it truly is anti gym.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner