A while back I caught a story via Feministing about a truly awful gym. Well, I got an email from one Keely Spencer (Marketing Manager at 5280) suggesting I head on over to check out an article. He thought I’d be interested. He was right (5280):
“Can…can I just smash her right now?”
“No, Michael, not now.”
“But, I really want to.”
“Not yet, Michael.”
It was a late-summer afternoon and Michael Karolchyk, a chocolate pie in one hand, stood in the family room of a LoDo penthouse loft, in front of an overweight actress smiling wearily from a faded floral-print couch. Karolchyk—already notorious for yelling into a bullhorn and throwing cupcakes at clients—was filming the latest commercial for his unorthodox, vulgar, and suddenly booming Anti-Gym business, but the script still wasn’t outrageous enough.
Starting to get a kind of sick feeling in the pit of your stomach?
He was giddy at the thought of slamming a pie into her face.
“Leave the pie out for now, Michael. I know you’re dying,” the director called, sensing the uneasiness swell. “God, we’re so far off the script right now.”
Karolchyk silently scanned the faces looking back at him. He had paid these people, and dammit, they were going to listen to him.
“I want to push her into the couch.”
If you read the rest of the article, it gets really easy to see this guy as buying into the very worst of the destructive memes he’s using to sell his business. He’s reinforcing the idea of women as sex objects, and violence as a means of expressing male sexuality. He’s the super buff alpha male here to show the loser woman her place in the world, and offer her the only salvation, the next and final rung on the ladder: sex object:
To leverage and promote his brand, he’s created a spin-off modeling agency, Sexellence, to use as a launching point for a website that, for $3.99 per click, will include videos and photos of nude women, alone and together.
“How many of you have gone to college?” he asked. Several hands shot in the air. “Wow,” he said in mock surprise, “educated girls, fantastic. So, since you’re in school you know some things. Things like how to get to the next level.” He paced in front the room. “San Diego and Arizona, the girls are on fire. They all have big boobs already. They already have big lips. Nice loooong legs that go on all day. You can go to a restaurant and get six chicks like that,” he said. “Now you guys, if you work hard enough, you can be the Midwest Queen.” He paused for effect. “You all are hot as shit for Denver. But that’s like saying you’re hot as shit for South Dakota.” The women nodded in agreement.
Let us suspend our disbelief for a moment, and take a magical journey into a land where Michael’s motivations are as pure as snow. He wants to help more women become fit, and believes the only way to do so is the take the worst stereotypes and expectations throws at women and use those to manipulate women into a healthier lifestyle. Even if this was somehow the case, the manner in which Michael is promoting his business is actively hurting women. It is fueling the fires of misogyny, self hate, and violence against women.
Even if he was just cynically exploiting the fears society drills into women, he isn’t even aiming them at fitness. “They all have big boobs already. They already have big lips.”. And do they get those by working out at the Anti-Gym? How many pushups equals a silicone implant?
But beneath it all, there is an unmistakable whiff of something more than a little off:
Daylight was fading in the loft. Karolchyk was getting restless.
“I just want to slam this fucking pie into her head!”
Whatever pretenses Michael makes, he is not a healthy man:
She says her family witnessed the transformation after her son moved to Colorado. His explanation for the rift with his mother is a radio interview Karolchyk says he gave in 2007 in which he called her fat; she heard it and was deeply hurt. This is news to Pat Karolchyk, who says she has never heard her son on the radio. “Why does he lie?” she says. “What does he have to gain from hurting his parents? What is he trying to do to his family?”
Healthy? His effect on people is anything but:
During one filming at his Cherry Creek gym, Karolchyk harangued about a dozen women, all of them in their early 20s, some with children, most with stories of drunken sexual escapades. They were easy targets, vulnerable to his criticism. Their breasts were too small, he told them. Their asses were too big. He wanted them to kiss each other and dance nude in his hot tub. One woman, a tiny, 20-year-old wannabe model named Samantha, told him her C-cup breasts “were a good size” and said she kept fit by jogging regularly. Karolchyk seized the opportunity, asking her to turn slowly, take off her top, and jog in a circle. She complied with each request, kicking her legs like a horse, her breasts flipping while a half-dozen cameras preserved the moment. “Niiiice,” Karolchyk said.
A few days later I called her.
“I told my boyfriend what I did, and he said it didn’t sound like me,” Samantha said. “My mom would be disappointed.” She said she found herself getting embarrassed for the other women at the audition. “I thought, ‘That poor girl,’ but that’s probably what the other girls were thinking about me. I mean, I’m so not even like that.”
She went quiet for a few seconds before whispering, “That’s not who I am. I’m disappointed in myself.”
I felt sorry for her, an impressionable young woman who craved acceptance so badly that she’d compromised herself in a roomful of strangers. But I had been just as susceptible to his influence. A few weeks earlier, as we walked along 16th Street downtown, Karolchyk announced that he needed a tan, even though his skin was its typical warm honey color. A few blocks from the salon, he stopped. “You know, why don’t you get a tan, too?” he said. “My treat.”
I told him I’d never sought a tan, solar or otherwise.
“No, really,” he said, deadpan. “You’re whiter than shit.”
He kept insisting; I kept declining. Finally, in the drawn-out voice of a schoolyard bully, he said, “You…are…whiter…than…shit.”
Minutes later I was filling out a form acknowledging that tanning can cause skin cancer.
Read the part about Samantha again. Now try and tell yourself there’s nothing wrong with that. Differentiate it from the sleaze of Girls Gone Wild. Now read the part where a staff writer falls under the same spell. The article goes on to talk about how the image this man projects is so effective, and how it pulls people into it the power of its narrative.
One of the things I try and point out here is how various strains of extremism keep slipping into mainstream culture. Generally when I write about this topic it centers around racism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, homophobia, and eliminationist rhetoric. However a strident and nasty strain of anti-feminism is taking giant strides where violent racism and anti-semitism are limping. When you stop and consider the incredible scale of hate aimed squarely at women it is enough to completely overload one’s ability to even consider it. And its growing.
So when some jackass liar decides the best way to market his gym is to appeal to this growing tide of fear and hate, we ought to pay attention. Not to him, but to the trends around him that are pulling this into the culture we all live in, and to the effects of that negative energy.
That we may effectively counter it.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Eliminationism, Feminism, Gym, Michael Karolchyk, Misogyny, Politics, Rhetoric, Violence | 2 Comments »