What I want to know is: Why is it important to have visible stomach muscles?
I grew up in an era (the Paleolithic) when people kept their stomach muscles discreetly out of sight. Most of us didn't even realize we had stomach muscles; the only people who ever actually saw them were courageous surgeons willing to cut through fat layers the thickness of the Cleveland White Pages.
I'm not saying we weren't in shape; I'm just saying we had a different concept of what the shape should be. For example, our idea of a stud-muffin prototype male was somebody along the lines of George Reeves, who starred in the black-and-white TV version of "Superman," playing the role of the mild-mannered newspaper reporter Clark Kent, whom nobody ever suspected of being Superman because he disguised himself by wearing glasses. (It is a known fact that if you put on glasses, even your closest friends will not recognize you. That's why, despite all the eerie similarities, nobody has ever figured out that Sally Jessy Raphael and Don King are actually the same person.)
The TV Superman, who was more powerful than a locomotive, did not have visible stomach muscles. In fact, he didn't have much muscle definition at all; he pretty much looked like a middle-aged guy at a Halloween party wearing a Superman costume made from pajamas, a guy who had definitely put in some time around the onion dip. From certain angles he looked as though he weighed more than a locomotive. But he got the job done. He was always flying to crime scenes faster than a speeding bullet in a horizontal position with his arms out in front of him.
Study question: Did he fly in this position because he had to? Or was it that the public would have been less impressed if he had flown in a sitting position, like an airline passenger, reading a magazine and eating honey-roasted peanuts?
When Superman arrived at the crime scene, he would knock down the door, played by a piece of balsa wood, and confront the criminals, who were usually suit-wearing men with harsh voices.
"Superman!" the criminals would say. This was the signal for Superman to put his hands on his hips so the criminals could shoot their revolvers at his chest, an effort that always caused Superman to adopt a bemused expression because, as a native of Krypton with special powers, he knew that the criminals were shooting blanks. Then Superman would turn the criminals over to the police and fly in a horizontal position back to his secret Fortress of Onion Dip.
The point is that, in my era, Superman did not have visible stomach muscles, and neither did Hercules or Tarzan, who needed steel-reinforced vines. But now, suddenly, everybody is supposed to have rippling abdominals. They are hot. If muscle groups were rock bands, the abdominals would be Hootie & the Blowfish.
Turn on your television, and if you do not see a commercial in which a leading economist such as Candice Bergen, Michael Jordan or Whoopi Goldberg explains which long-distance carrier best for your individual case (Answer: Whichever one is paying millions of dollars to Candice, Michael or Whoopi), you will see the Abdominals People -- and I do not wish to generalize here, but these people display the intelligence of sherbet -- selling abdominal devices, demonstrating abdominal exercises, and, of course, proudly showing off their abdominal muscles, which bulge and writhe beneath a thin sweaty layer of skin, so that the people look as though they're smuggling pythons down there.
What I want to know is, why is this considered attractive? And how important, really, are abdominal muscles? I mean, I'm sure they serve some medical function, such as keeping your intestines from falling into your lap, but do they have to be huge? Do these people who spend 17 hours a day building up their abdominals ever actually use them for any practical purpose? If so, what? Moving furniture? ("OK, Thad, you push your awesome stomach muscles against that end of the bureau, and I'll push mine against this end, and we'll just ... Huh! It's not moving!")
What I also want to know is: What's next? I mean, when the Abdominals People -- formerly the Biceps People, formerly the Thighs People, formerly the Buns People -- have made all the money they can from our stomachs, where will they go? Are they going to work their way through all of our muscles? Will there come a time, say 10 years from now, when they're going to announce that we all need to build up, say, our eyelid muscles? Will we turn on the TV and see commercials for the Lid-A-Cizer, featuring enthusiastic men and women with form-fitting workout outfits and bulging eyelids the size of golf balls? Are we going to fall for that, too? Or are we going to draw the line somewhere? Think about it!
And while you're thinking, pass the dip.
Pub Date: 6/30/96