Clive Martin, writer of the article this piece is challenging, with some of Britain's young sad douchebags. (Photo by Kieran Cudlip)
I don’t know what you have planned for today, but I bet it's fucking pathetic. I bet you’ve spent the past ten years getting progressively more unfit, the past six months avoiding mirrors and the past week pretending to write a CV as you've flipped between Reddit, Facebook and various porn sites. But who knows, maybe today will be different. Maybe it'll be the day you finally realise that you can't let the internet, bad food and academia shrivel you into the kind of guy who can barely get the lid off the Hellman's, let alone deliver a handshake firm enough to convince anyone you’re worth knowing. Maybe you’ll realise that the only way to break the cycle of cans and comedowns is to do something about it – something like getting a gym membership and reminding your body that it doesn’t always have to be limp, tired and grey.
When you finally stroll into your Virgin Active induction, keep your eyes peeled for the type of guy this site recently labelled a “douchebag”. You’ll probably find him in the weights room, blasting his bis and tris in a Hollister T-shirt that looks like it’s about to burst open at the seams. You’ll assume that there are purely superficial motives behind this douche’s decision to buy a year’s membership upfront. That he wants all the lads to ask him for lifting tips and all the girls to dive, clunge-first, at his cock. And you will convince yourself that he probably uses phrases like “clunge-first” all the time and mentally chide him for never having read a single Robin Thicke thinkpiece.
And perhaps this is the crux: Douchebags don't live on the internet like you do. Their lives aren't subject to the same constant, screaming moralism. While you're at home worrying about the politics of female armpit hair on Saturday night, the modern British douchebag will be at the club, where the bouncers will spot the veins in his flexed forearm and say, “B&Q called – they want their hosepipes back.” Then they’ll let him in for free and say he should be on the door. He's your worst enemy, but unlike the boys who stole your iPhone at the skate park, or the conductor who fined you for misplacing your YP card, he doesn’t even really notice you, because all he’s thinking about is getting hench and getting laid. Or at least this is what you'll assume.
Photo by istolethetv
I have to say, when the barbell first beckoned me as a youngster, those thoughts did briefly swirl around in my own mind. But after three months of ineffective training I decided it would be better to focus on actually getting fit, rather than just beefing my neck up to the point where I couldn’t move it independently from the rest of my body. So I researched effective routines on forums, ran every morning, lifted in the afternoon and kept a diary of my progress. Before I trained legs or back I’d bomb a load of ephedrine, turning my workout space into a hotbox of amphetamines and vomit. The other meatheads would high-five me every time I threw up. I was doing it right, and all the bros had my back and would point it out if I were getting something wrong.
Four months later, I had dropped 45 pounds and was stronger than ever. This wasn’t what I was most proud of, though. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I’d mastered something; I’d become an authority on a subject and my qualification wasn’t a degree, but the new muscle on my body and the mass of fat no longer hanging around my belly. I’m sure my fellow douchebags have experienced the same evolution – from an early desire to grow guns and get girls, to a realisation that working out is just as satisfying when it’s about refining your knowledge and new physical accomplishments. There's value in becoming an expert on yourself and fuck you if you think that's narcissistic. When was the last time you took a selfie?
I like to think I’m fairly self-aware, so I know that lifting weights isn’t exactly complex. For the most part, it’s just heavy. And while it may require dedication, it doesn’t require talent. That’s what this whole “douchebag” thing is really about – swathes of young men who, like me, have a decent enough education but basically lack any real skills, so turn to building mass as an alternative to having zero purpose in life. Plus, there’s a tough job market to contend with, and – if you want to stand out – you need to throw something on your CV’s “interests” section. "Lifting bits of metal" might not sound like much, but it's possibly more effective than putting "wanking", "dirty pints" and "FIFA". In modern Britain, fitness has become the extracurricular weapon of choice for the mediocre male.
By and large, hobbies seem to slowly be exiting our lives. Blame the internet – or the fact that people have no time to achieve anything outside of work, other than safely making it home after sinking five Stellas – but the fact is fewer people nowadays are defined by whatever it is that interests them. It's not as easy as it once was to bond with people via playing cricket, collecting stamps, stealing cars or pressing leaves. We're too busy making ends meet. So what better way is there to get people's attention than building your body so much you have to turn sideways to fit through a door?
(Photo by Jamie Taete)
Like it or not, we are the new normal, a roaming mass of men pursuing aesthetic perfection because it’s the only activity our limited talents permit us to draw reward from. Sure, maybe we’re trying to compensate for our own shortcomings – a neutered generation lacking in role models, limping from the shadows of predecessors who defined themselves by the wars they fought, the things they made and the fields they tilled. But, quite frankly, I’m pretty happy that whey protein and gym memberships have replaced rationing and national service. My mate served four tours in Iraq and he said it was fucking rubbish. He also lifts weights a lot, and because he spent the better part of his twenties killing people, the gym is the only place where he can talk about something other than “shooting terries from the hip”.
This is why I’m speaking up to defend these douches, because they’re the regular people who are present in every culture, class and orientation. No matter where you’re from, work is often shit and friends are usually tolerable, and exercise can be relied upon to give you a nice little endorphin rush at the end of another crappy day. These so-called "douchebags" are punctuating life’s mundanity with a recreational goal, even if that goal is to resemble a ribbed condom filled with rugby balls.
They don’t have strong opinions about society or politics, and they don’t give their jobs much thought, besides maintaining an awareness that it’s their pay cheque that allows them to remain groomed and drunk. Some might view them as unremarkable, but that’s probably how they view themselves – and they know that there’s no shame in that, so they lift weights, shave their backs and try to have sex with everything they can to fill the time. These people are normal, and that’s fine.
That’s the thing about douche-baggery – it’s a great social leveller. Lock a low-level hash dealer and a six-figure banker in a room together, and they’ll get on just fine as long as they’re both in the 1,000 pound club. They both engage in an activity that bears no connection to class, so will be perfectly happy to chat about ketogenic cutting phases and the perils of 20-rep squats for as long is takes for someone to open the door. While it might unite people from different walks of life, douche-baggery ultimately has nothing to do with your social standing.
(Photo by Ben Bentley)
That’s what bothers me about watching the commentariat opine on the douche as if he’s a complex social study, at once a hapless victim and a macho-caricature with no idea what to do with himself. Because he’s not – he’s just a regular young man who works a job, drinks alcohol, gets a pump-on, knows the Anchorman script off by heart, attempts to have sex and pretty much DGAF about anything else. Why is that so problematic?
Of course, there are people who think this cock-and-creatine nihilism is a danger to our very being – that the combination of dianabol and “Blurred Lines” is everything that is wrong with our country. The young men of our generation march down streets chanting, “Let’s go fucking mental,” not, “Stop the war.” Our heartthrobs have a reality show and a BTEC in Sports Science, not chest hair and a license to kill. People like George Best and Sean Connery are the last bastion of proper masculinity, and memories of their achievements are fading away rapidly.
Then again, George did drink himself to death and Sean has admitted to slapping women around. So I say: Fuck those guys; every generation has its arseholes, we just think ours are worse because they’re bigger, louder and hopped up on Jägermonsters.
That’s why I love these douches: they’re brash, straightforward and astonishingly positive – whatever crisis the young British male is going through, it doesn’t seem to bother him. He may lack a worthwhile vocation, and his only hobby seems utterly vain, but at least he bombards his way through life as if he’s not totally fucked. There’s a lot for the douche to be worried about – unemployment, global conflict, a loss of mass – so it seems odd that the people who would never associate with this common beast (the creative, the weak) are doing all the fretting for him.
Have they ever thought that the douchebag might actually be pretty content with his life? That his day-to-day isn’t just a gym-fuelled shit-show of crappy lager and even crappier outfits? That maybe they’re too vast in numbers to feel undervalued, unloved and hopelessly scared? They’re not Gurkhas, they’re just men whose interests seem a bit vacuous to some people. Even as I write this, there are legions of them crushing "leg day", slamming protein shakes and meticulously selecting which pastel garment to drape over their pumped torso before the night ahead.
And I guarantee that they wouldn't bother with the pain and the pumping if it didn't make them happy in some way. Which is a lot more than can be said for the kind of person who sits at home, feeling sorry for themselves because they're not able to make the changes that they want to in their lives.
More from VICE: