It sounds like a part of a Kanye West song, but it isn’t. On May 30, in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, you will have a chance to watch Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The Side Effects of Being American (click here for play dates and theaters). It is documentary about how a family of 3 children, all with their individual problems (one was fat, one was small, and one had a learning disability), went from being the kids picked on in class to the beefed up power lifters. But it was not just any random family being documented; director Christopher Bell created a film about himself and his own brothers. Growing up in a 1980s culture that admired Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, was there really any other option for these troubled children? They were taking steroids, and so were their followers…including one of Bell’s brothers.
Magnolia pictures sent me the Sundance version of the movie and in the included press release, told me that it was a funny yet emotional documentary about performance enhancing drugs that unflinchingly explores our win-at-all-cost culture. After watching the film, I would agree that it was emotional and include some new adjectives: interesting and informative. The humor; however, was not really there. In fact, I found it rather sad how obsessed some of America is with success that the ramifications of taking steroids is not even a thought in their minds.
When Christopher Bell thinks of baseball, he does not think about The Babe or Hammerin’ Hank, but Canseco, Palmeiro, and steroids. What do you think today’s children are thinking when they read Jose Canseco’s books and then watch the players he discusses continue to smash homers in lieu of the corruption occurring in the MLB? Bell’s movie makes it more understandable for a child growing up in this steroid-infused and accepted culture to create his own habit of abusing the drug.
In America, we define ourselves in the superlative: we are the biggest, strongest, fastest country in the world. We reward speed, size and above all else: winning – at sport, at business and at war. Metaphorically we are a nation on steroids. Is it any wonder that so many of our heroes are on performance enhancing drugs? When you discover that your heroes have all broken the rules, do you follow the rules, or do you follow your heroes? The Bell family followed their heroes, but they are not alone.
After watching the movie, I am left to wonder whether other countries categorize Americans as either Bigger, Stronger, Faster iron men or Super Size Me McDonald’s lovers. But not everyone in the movie looks at our steroid obsessed culture as being such a bad thing. In fact, many believe that there have not been enough studies performed to prove that there are bad longterm effects from anabolic steroid use. Children have died from using anabolic steroids, though…why are they necessary or even preferred over natural weight/muscle gain? Do steroids really have to be as American as apple pie? I am usually not a big fan of documentaries, but this was definitely an interesting one, and should be a good view for readers of this site. See the trailer below: