Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
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Ben Nadel at CFUNITED 2009 (Lansdowne, VA) with: Matthew Abbott and Andrew Abbott

Bigger, Stronger, Faster - The Side Effects Of Being American

By Ben Nadel on
Tags: Movies

Last night, I went to see Bigger, Stronger, Faster - The Side Effects of Being American. Written by Chris Bell and staring him and his two brothers, it is a no nonsense look at the world of performance enhancing drugs - what they are, what they do, who uses them, and most interestingly, how America is so incredibly hypocritical when it comes to dealing with them. All three of the Bell boys have used steroids; Chris - writer/director of the film - has given them up after being overcome with feelings of guilt and a strong belief that he was doing something wrong; his brothers, on the other hand, both use them and the youngest one, "stinky", a power lifter, explains that he will be probably be on and off them for the rest of his life.


 
 
 

 
Bigger, Stronger, Faster - The Side Effects of Being American Movie Poster  
 
 
 

This movie was really good. It was well put together, flowed well, and had a great mixture of comedy, drama, and straight up documentary style film making. It really went past all the media hype and the baseball scandals and got to the facts about performance enhancing drugs. It interviewed top medical experts who specialize in performance enhancing drugs, it talked to people on the Olympic Anti-doping committee, it talked to strength athletes, endurance athletes, and it talked to olympic trainers. The facts are pretty stunning - performance enhancing drug use is all around us. And, it's not sports. It is estimated that only about 15%-18% of all performance enhancing drugs are used by professional athletes; the bulk of it is taken by recreational users.

Here's another interesting fact from the movie (and available on most anti-drug websites):

Deaths each year attributed to Tobacco ~ 435,000
Deaths each year attributed to Alcohol ~ 85,000
Deaths each year attributed to Steroids ~ 3

When you see these numbers like this juxtaposed with the massive amount of press that Steroids receive, you only get a small taste of how hypocritical America is when it comes to these performance enhancers. As the film demonstrates, America both romanticizes strength, power, and even Steroids and at the same time, turns around and calls it inherently unamerican. Just one of the many funny facts that the movie points out is that in the same year that President George Bush Sr. made Steroids a controlled substance, he also appointed Arnold Schwarzenegger - a confessed steroid user - the chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Schwarzenegger, himself, campaigns that we need to do something about the drug problem in sports and then turns around and personally funds the Arnold Classic - a bodybuilding contest that does not do any drug testing at all.


 
 
 

 
Bigger, Stronger, Faster - The Side Effects Of Being American Movie Poster  
 
 
 

As someone who works out and spends a good deal of time in the gym, the culture of performance enhancement is not unfamiliar to me. I have seen friends of mine put on 25 lbs of muscle and increase their bench by a clean 175 lbs. I've been in the locker rooms to hear gym goes discuss world politics in the context of fitness - "Who cares what happens in Korea" one lifter said to me once, "It's not like that's where I get my steroids from." I one time had a particular boisterous lifter come up to me after I had finished a set of Squats and exclaimed, "I used to do squats, but then I'd go and throw up all the D-boll I'd taken - just seemed like a waste of good drugs to me, so no more squatting."

I don't judge these people. To me, steroids are like breast implants or liposuction - if that's what makes you feel better about yourself, then good for you. Who am I to judge.

As the film points out, eventually performance enhancement might not even require drugs. It might be gene therapy. In the film, Chris Bell goes to see a Belgian Blue Bull, which is famous for a genetic abnormality that causes the suppression of Myostatin which, in turn, causes a phenomenon known as "Double Muscling":


 
 
 

 
Belgian Blue Bull Exhibiting Double Muscling Phenomenon  
 
 
 

Currently scientist are trying to leverage this to fight muscle wasting diseases like muscular dystrophy. Once they figure that out, how long is it going to be before weight lifters are signing up for "drug trials" to be the first one in their gym with "double muscling?" At that point, what can they do? Ban sports in general? After all, how can you start saying that one person's genes are better or worse than another person's without igniting some sort of new-age race war.

And what about all the non-steroid performance enhancement? What about Tiger Woods' super-human eye surgery or the fact that musicians take beta blockers? It's really fascinating. Whether you are into sports or not, I highly recommend this film. It is a very powerful and eye opening experience.



Reader Comments

@CoolJJ,

That dog looks bananas. That appears to be the same genetic defect that the bull above has. They even called it "double muscling" in the article that you linked to. It looks like some sort of science fiction animal, doesn't it?

I'm generally in the same camp as Ben - I wouldn't ever feel comfortable using steroids, or even some kind of testosterone type supplement to improve my appearance or recreational performance (obviously they have medical applications - if a steroid dose prevents me from suffocating or something, I'm not going to turn it down :-P) - but if other people want to do what they feel is necessary to make themselves better, then that's their business.

I see a few problems when that's applied to competitive sport, however.

First up, in competitive, professional sport, you take every advantage you can get - I mean it's reached the point where athletes have specially designed clothing to cut back on the fraction of fractions of seconds that drag creates on ordinary clothing.

Now when the competition is that tight, and performance enhancing drugs make this much of a difference, my opinion can no longer apply - "allowing" performance enhancing drugs in sport essentially means requiring them.

So what happens then... do we have 2 streams of events, "enhanced" and "natural"? Which holds more of an attraction to the people who watch sport, and which is therefore more marketable?

I'm reminded of the "history" of Earth that is described in Red Dwarf, in which there is a period where all professional athletes are simply genetically engineered to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

Things get more and more out of hand until finally, a soccer team in the UK fields a goalie who is a perfect 24' x 8' block of living flesh.
"Somehow," the book goes on, "they still managed to lose..."

Once it reached that point, everone realised that things had gone too far - we were no longer taking the naturally freakishly strongest, fastest and biggest of our society and celebrating their humanity.

There is an awful lot of science in sport today - but are we heading to the point where there is less sport than science? Where the competition is really fought in the lab and the results are just shown on the field?

I don't know, I'm not that passionate about sport.

Also:

You mentioned the "double muscling" disorder.
Dan Rutter discusses this, along with other "body upgrades" in this article, which I strongly recommend (if only for the entertainment factor):
http://www.dansdata.com/gz078.htm

"Upgraded muscles with a stock-spec heart, resulting in loss of consciousness if you try to lift anything heavy!"

Good times.

I can't believe this has happened in people who lives. Apparently, the double-muscling requires much more food intake and so, most people born with mutation die from malnutrition. The german baby is pretty crazy.

Ben, steroids are most certainly NOT "like breast implants or liposuction" - well, half of that, anyway. Liposuction is immensely dangerous, and over used, and should only be used in extreme cases.

Breast implants? Cosmetic surgery that carries the same standard risks as an appendectomy.

The problem with attributing death to steroids is that we just don't do it. Cancer, suicide, etc. due to steroid use - or steroid withdrawal - doesn't get listed as "attributed" to usage.

Your apathy towards people in your gym using steroids astounds me. If "steroids" was replaced with "crack cocaine", would you have a different attitude? Would you strike up a personal relationship with them? Would you feel comfortable letting your kids associate with them? A teenage sports fanatic, maybe? I'm sure they are REALLY nice people, but I've known drug users who were really nice (and "no" they weren't allowed in my house or near my family).

I'd put it to you, Ben, that your apathy (or is it acceptance) of steroid use is feeding the problem. Look at how attitudes towards drink driving has evolved over the past 20 years or so.

The difference between Tigers eye surgery and Steroid use? Simple, the eye surgery isn't a health hazard. It does, of course carry the same risk as all surgery, but it is not addictive, and does not carry overwhelming consequences to ones health. There just isn't an argument to be made there.

As far as the future is concerned - I think you have a good point. Will potential athletes be gene tested at a young age? Will we allow this? What happens when someone makes a performance enhancing drug with little or no health hazards? I don't know.

Until then, Ben, don't let your apathy feed the problem, please!

Cheers,

Davo

Oh yeah...."The Side Effects of Being American"

Lets not kid ourselves - this is an international problem!

Cheers,

Davo

@Davo,

Just so we are clear, the "Side Effects of Being American" is part of the actual film title - that's wasn't my commentary. I just wasn't sure if you thought I was adding that myself.

I'm afraid I just don't put performance enhancing drugs and cocaine in the same category and I would not judge those two groups of people in the same light. I think their goals, effects, and side effects are extremely different. One is meant to improve one's self where as the other is meant to (one could argue) avoid having to deal with one's self. These seem night and day to me.

Also, I think that with your comment on the eye surgery, you are asserting two questionable statements:

1. Performance enhancement drugs are addictive.
2. Performance enhancement drugs have sever health risks.

I am not sure that either of these is true. I have never heard of them being addictive. If they are addictive at all, I would assume it is only a psychological addiction to "improvement". This would be akin to someone who continues to get plastic surgery after plastic surgery because they think they can always look a little better.

As far as the health risks, I would suggest watching this movie; I think you will see that when it comes to the top medical experts in the world (on this topic), they say that all the dangers have been greatly over stated.

I don't know one way or the other, so I can only rely on people who know more than I do from and education standpoint.

Hi Ben - I realize the title was the official one - I think I was just stating the obvious, that steroids are a world wide issue (may have been unnecessary - sorry!).

So, about my general statements:
1. Performance enhancement drugs are addictive.
- Addiction may not be the right word, but there are severe side effects to coming off steroids after prolonged use, and can attribute to the "psychological" addiction you mentioned.

2. Performance enhancement drugs have sever health risks.
- Look, there are "top scientists" in the world that say global warming is a hoax, and I don't know how to converse with such people. The VAST and OVERWHELMING scientific evidence points to severe health risks for people that use steroids over a prolonged period.

I don't argue that there are levels of drug use - obviously, Crack Cocaine use is worse than steroid use at the gym. But here's the thing, if you had a teenage son or daughter who was interested in physical fitness - be it at the gym or on the track - would you let them associate with known drug users? Pot, Cocaine, anything like that. Would you?

Would you let that same teenager associate with steroid users? I gotta say man, a hard "NO" on both levels. And THAT is where I draw no distinction between the two. I'm sorry Ben, but I have to say, in the sporting world, and that includes body building, apathy to steroids is an enabler.

Cheers,

Davo

@Davo,

I hear what you are saying, especially when it comes to having children of your own and the concern with who they are associating with. I think that always changes the game.

@Davo

You stated:

"The VAST and OVERWHELMING scientific evidence points to severe health risks for people that use steroids over a prolonged period."

The biggest problem with the available empirical evidence is that there are NO long-term studies of the effects of anabolic steroids.

There is no "vast and overwhelming scientific evidence" supporting your statements.

Any assertions regarding the long-term effects of steroids are extrapolations of short-term effects. They may or may not be true.

But to suggest that there is strong evidence to support long-term effects of steroids is false.

Would you let your children keep company with other children who smoke? Would you let your children keep company with children who drank? Of course not. Steroids are for adults, just as alcohol and tobacco are. Just as you or anyone else chooses to drink or not to drink, the same is true for any performance enhancing drug. As stated in both the film and any medical statistic sight, Alcohol and tobacco kills more people in one year than performance enhancing drug have ever killed.
People like to group those people who take steroids into the same groups of people that do drugs such as crack or meth. Only because steroids are illegal without a perscription and have been villianized by the media.
This movie actually takes a very neutral approach and shows performance enhancing drugs for what they are, not what the media and others would like people to think they are... HIGHLY recommend !!!

@Gary,

Well said. And, what people have to realize is not only does the movie take a very neutral stance, the narrator and lead character quite vocally dislikes steroids. He feels so much that they are "cheating" that he had to stop taking them. So, if anything, the movie delivers an anti-steroid examination in a really open mindset.

The VAST and OVERWHELMING scientific evidence points to severe health risks for people that use steroids over a prolonged period."

The biggest problem with the available empirical evidence is that there are NO long-term studies of the effects of anabolic steroids.

There is no "vast and overwhelming scientific evidence" supporting your statements.

Any assertions regarding the long-term effects of steroids are extrapolations of short-term effects. They may or may not be true.

But to suggest that there is strong evidence to support long-term effects of steroids is false.

TRUE DAT BROTHER!!!!!!!!!

The problem is that steroid use was demonized by the Bush Admin. They should never have been categorized in the same class as hardcore drugs.

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