Discipline and Fun
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While gym-goers subject themselves to relatively demanding bodywork, time spent in the gym is typically coded as “leisure”. Many sociologists have thus interpreted their role as the de-mystification of the leisure, freetime, cheerful quality attributed to fitness (Glassner, 1992; Le Breton, 1990; Maguire and Mansfield, 1998; O’Neill, 1985, Ewen, 1988). In such views, fitness is the example of an allegedly body loving era which is in fact obsessed with the body to the point that inactivity is not an option and work enters the sphere of leisure by the commercialisation of self-discipline. The ultimate objective of many such diagnoses is to maintain that the commercialisation of discipline is itself a consumption generation device: while mere “resting” costs nothing, exercise and bodywork need a paraphernalia of commodities to be carried out. On similar premises, Jennifer Smith Maguire (2007, p. 193) concludes her book on the US fitness industry considering that “the personal trainer resolution of the tension between work and leisure through a vocational disposition is instructive for field participants more widely: to regard working out as a good use of leisure time fulfils the tenets of responsible self-production”. She draws on Baudrillard’s (1998) well-known The Consumer Society to suggest that fitness is essentially inspired by an “ethic of discipline”. Whatever “aesthetic ethic of indulgence” may be articulated in relation to fitness, it is just an ideological move: “exercise manuals and health clubs construct fitness as a leisure activity… However there is a particularly narrow vision of pleasure on offer in the fitness field… Exercise is instrumentally rationalized as a means to other ends: reduced health risks, improved appearance, or both” (Smith Maguire, 2007, p. 196).
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