Today’s fascists are embedded in online youth and alternative cultures, where their richly conceived and executed multimodal mediatized texts compete for digital and real-world influence. A significant and growing node of this “alternative influence network” (Lewis, 2018) has formed around the “characterological figure” (Agha, 2005) of the weightlifter. White, rippling with muscle, and (nearly) naked, multi-channel textual constructions of this idealized “new man” mirror the figures of masculine hardness, athleticism, orderliness, and readiness for combat that were central to the twentieth century fascist imaginary (Gottlieb, 2011; Theweleit, 1989). But the enregisterment of scopophilic representations of white virility in a latter-day far-right political discourse leaves an unruly erotic remainder, which must be suppressed in explicit defenses of a heterosexual norm.
This paper explores the beautiful man as the semiotic lynchpin of a far-right register, which serves to align social actors around a desired figure of heterosexual personhood. We do this through analyzing the right-wing men’s health and fitness digital magazine, Man’s World. We observe that male beauty is constructed as inherent in specific behaviors and practices for which (pseudo)scientific rationalizations are offered. In elaborating a metapragmatics of hot heroism, far-right ideological entrepreneurs graft (Gal, 2018) authoritative, academic registers from anthropology, medicine, economics, and classical philosophy onto a politics of aggression and resentment in order create desirable and heroic figures of personhood. These personae are composed of indexical signs that are rhematized and corporealized in the perfect white male body, which becomes an icon of heroism, homosocial friendship, imperial conquest, health, hierarchy, and reproductive futurity.
We show how the future longed for by the hot, hard man is grounded in retrotopias (Bauman, 2017) imagined as various “golden ages” of masculinity, from bronze age bands, to suave classic film stars. In this context, male beauty is the result of adherence to “time-honored” regimens of diet, exercise, and bodily control. Self-abnegation is constructed as necessary to future hedonic rewards, and as a defense against the degenerations of modernity, which are associated with soft, femininized bodies and thus with weak men. The beauty of a white man’s body is proof of his place at the apex of a natural, hierarchical order. Ripped right-wing bodies are thus not merely normalizing of extremism, but an important constitutive element of contemporary far-right ideology.
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Gal, S. (2018). Registers in Circulation: The Social Organization of Interdiscursivity. Signs and Society, 6(1), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1086/694551
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