Looking for a Modern Hercules: The Strongman Figure in American and Global Culture
Dr. Simon J. Bronner
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
4:30 to 6:00 pm
Room 4.36, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus HKU
The strongman has been a popular culture icon in America since the late nineteenth century when circus and theater performances of feats of strength captured the public imagination. The modern Hercules or Samsons as they were called responded to a crisis of masculinity brought on by fears of industrialism’s consequences. During the twentieth century, health and fitness crazes, sparked by more mythological references such as Charles Atlas who preached a gospel of strength, took hold in America. After the 1970s, in the wake of the women’s movement and Cold War, American media sponsored strongman contests, often with international contestants from Russia, intended to showcase American bodily, and political, power. Against this historical background, twenty-first century contests have globalized further with Asian participants, still poised against American standards of strength. In 2013, for example, the World’s Strongest Man contest was held for the first time in Sanya, China. In this presentation, I analyze the meanings of these contests as symbolic texts in relation to what is perceived in a new crisis of masculinity as a feminized, enervating world.
Prof. Bronner is the founding director of Penn State Harrisburg’s American Studies Doctoral Program and distinguished professor of American studies and folklore. He became editor of the Encyclopedia of American Studies in 2011 and has edited the journals Material Culture and Folklore Historian. He is an award winning teacher and researcher and the author of many books, including Campus Traditions: Folklore from the Old-Time College to the Modern Mega-University (2012), Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture (2011), and Killing Tradition: Inside Hunting and Animal Rights Controversies (2008).