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Instructions for Young Manhood

images by imp kerr

Going to the gym has always had a purpose

It will take  generations to breed a perfect human. Start now. Take your clothes off in the locker room of your gym. Most people are naked in three places in the city: their apartment, their lovers’ apartments, and here.TNI Vol. 22: Self-Help is out now. Subscribe now for $2 and get yours today.

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It takes generations, and you are imperfect because your parents were. You will have to be the first of a line.

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“No matter how much strength may be possessed,” wrote Bernarr MacFadden, the Physical Culturist, “one always desires more. It is like money. You can never secure enough.” This was 1901. Before Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, @GQElevator, the Big Black Book, Equinox, Esquire, Reebok, CrossFit. Before there was physical culture, there was MacFadden.

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A person naked in a bedroom is an animal. A person naked here is an undressed machine.

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If your gym has a pool, and it is summer, you will see firsthand how romantic the friendships between prepubescent boys can be. In the locker room at the YMCA on Bowery, you may overhear a chubby boy ask his skinny friend to “play the game where you say yes to everything,” and when the skinny kid says “Yes,” say, “Will you marry me?” And further you will hear his skinny friend say, “Yes.”

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MacFadden in the early part of the 20th century solved the problem of the urban person, which was the problem of not working on farms. Without labor, city men were soft and wet. But the city required celerity, regularity. It required machines, not animals: Shit, to Physical Culturists, was “digestive ash.”

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It will take generations, and you are not yet perfect, but the hope of our species is nothing less than the perfection of your future children.

The clothes you are wearing, though marketed as sweat-reducing, are in fact designed to make you look good while sweating.

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On the gym floor, you may see a man working out in street clothes. This is likeliest a sign that your gym is very cheap (Blink) or very expensive (Reebok). You will not see this phenomenon at a gym in the $80-120 range (Crunch, Equinox). It is deeply uncomfortable to see someone working out in trousers and a buttoned shirt. Many gyms prohibit it for safety reasons, which are aesthetic reasons.

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Men over 18 do not bring women with them to work out. Do not be the person teaching his girlfriend how to use a machine. Boys sometimes do this: They will bring girls with them to the gym. In such cases, the girls will be dressed sportily but won’t sweat.

On missed connections, you use colors to identify a man you met at the gym. Tell me what color my shirt was. Respond with the color of my tattoo. You: red pants, green top. What was I wearing? What color car were you getting into, and what color was mine? What color is your yoga mat so I know it’s you. Or simplest:  Let me know what color your tank was that you put on so I know it’s you. Or most simple: You’re black, I’m white. (Straight men: You can try this on women, too.)

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MacFadden announced his intention to find and marry “the most perfect specimen of English womanhood.” He achieved this ambition on his terms, and he and Mary had nine children, eight of whose names began with B. “The most perfect specimen of English womanhood.” Replace English with German, and you have a reason that MacFadden’s name vanished after World War II.

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“Remember,” he said, “that your child will inherit in part from your wife its chest capacity, the muscles of its back, legs, and arms.”

In the summer of 1930 MacFadden sailed to Italy to take a meeting with Mussolini. They both agreed that physical exercise had turned them into machines. “I am a great believer in raw fruits,” the dictator added.

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MacFadden was fascist in another sense: he loved men’s bodies while hating men who loved men’s bodies. His magazines, however, full of photos of perfect humans, were gay porn. When MacFadden learned this, he was scandalized. He advocated beatings.

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“The training of a child should in reality begin several generations before birth,” he said. In 1903, he opened Physical Culture City in a New Jersey suburb. Residents devoted themselves completely to being healthy. They didn’t smoke or drink. They wanted never to detach from the physical. In other words, never leave the gym. But even utopias need money, and this one collapsed in two years from mismanagement. The lesson: Gyms needed to be urban.

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 MacFadden brought 50 Italian students to the US, to make them into machines. Most of his instructions began, “Stand erect,” and he took before-and-afters. There is no denying that the Italians were improved.

Today in Rome there is an anti-fascist boxing gym called ANTIFA. It makes sense, as boxing does not require machines, the following of instructions, or reps. But an antifascist Equinox?

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“Are we to become a nation of sissies?” asked MacFadden in the pages of Liberty, a magazine that published interviews with, among other celebrities, Hitler.

If you are in the steam room, or the sauna, and you ask another man whether you can turn the temperature higher, he will say— because the gym’s that kind of game–Yes.TNI Vol. 22: Self-Help is out now. Subscribe now for $2 and get yours today.

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MacFadden promoted the juice cleanse, and the starvation diet, and when at 86 years old he experienced indigestion, he took his own advice and stopped eating, accidentally starving himself to death.

“The science of eugenics is yet in its infancy,” said MacFadden, disappointedly. “We are just approaching a time when this prudery-besmirched world will allow study, thought and discussion on a subject that has always been classed as indecent.” It was his tragedy to die in 1956, too long before the Equinox missed connection even to predict it.

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