A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Critically Unmaking a Culture of Masculinity

Jason Lajoie, University of Waterloo 

(Published November 18, 2019)

In his 1900 book, Ideal Physical Culture, professional strongman William Bankier (aka ‘Apollo’) ambiguously described a ‘muscle developer’ he had invented. Though he provides no details of its construction, nor any diagram, his remarks offer some clue as to what it might have been. He describes it as “a combination of electricity and light dumb-bell exercise at the same time” (124). The device was intended as both an aid to muscle development and a restorative cure.[1] Bankier claims the device was functional, since “[e]veryone who has tried it is enthusiastic about its efficiency in driving rheumatism away” (124). If Bankier’s remarks are anything to go by, muscle developers were apparently quite common at the turn of the century, for he adds that “as a mere muscle developer it stands a long way ahead of any other so-called developing-machine” (124). This developer is not an aberrant technology but rather involved within a larger framework of physical development.

The book emerges within a broader context of the physical culture movement of the late nineteenth century, which included other self-publicizing bodybuilders like Prussian émigré to London, Eugen Sandow, and his more eccentric American imitator, Bernarr MacFadden.[2] These bodybuilders all used a range of media materials like books, magazines, pamphlets and trading cards to advocate for the pursuit of physical culture through the cultivation of the body (which was always presumed to be male).[3] The decisive role of media technologies owes to their discursive capabilities, which undergirded the construction of bodybuilder identities. Despite circling around the same theme of physical culture, each bodybuilder could nonetheless build a unique identity to better interface with the public whom their very discourse sought to shape. Bankier’s invention is of a piece and a pace with the integration of technological devices intended to facilitate techniques of muscular development.

While the ways we perform masculinity through physical culture may have changed since Bankier’s personalized account of his muscular development, the discourse and its emphasis on technique remain unchanged in principle. Scan the front covers of any contemporary physical culture magazine lining any store checkout aisle, and you will recognize the phenomenon to which I refer. A sample, chosen at random, all within the past five years: “18 ways to turn pizza into muscle fuel,” “325 body hacks,” “31 ways to look younger now,” “48 ways to boost testosterone” (that cover also includes the promise of “genuine muscle hacks”). There’s no point in citing any particular cover; the language is so repetitive as to recirculate every few years or so, always in conjunction with digitally manicured images of men. Coincidentally, nearly every male cinema superhero actor has graced the cover of Men’s Health, including but not limited to Ryan Reynolds, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Henry Caville, and Robert Downey Jr. Their muscular physiques, especially adopted for the duration of their cinematic roles, are shown amplified through the appearance of sheen, veins and tight-fitting clothes, and typically with those aforementioned phrases neatly compartmented around their imposing frames. In all cases, the body is discursively positioned as an apparatus for signalling masculinity that can be fine-tuned through techniques of muscular development. Their bodies invoke associations with power, energy, and control, and their virility is amplified by every technique modern technologies can supply—from gyms to supplements to photoshop to high gloss magazine production techniques. The technological function of the body is maximised, fine-tuned as an implement for constructing and communicating masculinity.

I became fascinated with Bankier’s device because I saw it as an object that evoked a great many of the tropes of masculinity that remain in circulation to the present.[4] It is an object, moreover, that speaks to a larger complex of techniques for defining masculinity through muscularity being developed at the close of the Victorian era. [5] In this rhetoric, men are expected to take an active role in the physical production of masculine bodies. The body becomes a discursive object and an apparatus for communicating gender, where masculinity can be determined by the ways particular signs of health are reified in the body.[6]

Applying Applied Media Theory

Link: Wiring diagram, code and instructions URL: https://github.com/hyperrhiz/muscle

To explore this device, my initial approach was to conduct archival research into both the device and the cultural scene in which it emerged.[7] However, the direction of the project shifted in a radical direction to align with a call put out in 2018 by Grant Wythoff, curator of the R-CADE symposium held at Rutgers University. The annual symposium invited scholars to engage in “hands-on research with digital ephemera.” Under the direction of Marcel O’Gorman, our group used this topic to think through the role of technique in what O’Gorman calls digital rituals. [8]

With the assistance of Matt Frazer at the University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab, I was able to build a working device that modelled the function of Bankier’s device without creating a faithful reproduction of the device.[9] The final project involved an Adafruit accelerometer attached to an Arduino Gemma microcontroller, which was further attached to an LED screen and a shock mechanism disassembled from a novelty shock pen—technologies that would obviously have been unavailable to Bankier in 1900. Every time the accelerometer registers a dip, it sends a signal to the microcontroller, which adds one pixel to the LED. This operation also instructs the microcontroller to output a brief electrical charge to the shocker. Thus, every time the user completes a bicep curl they receive a shock. All of these materials were then sewn onto a tensor bandage—a material technology for alleviating muscle pain that offered an ironic clash with the mild electric shock (see Figure 1 Speculative object made by author).

Speculative object made by author, with the assistance of Matt Frazer at the University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab

Figure 1. Speculative object made by author, with the assistance of Matt Frazer at the University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab.

The conceptual making of this device followed a methodology formulated by Marcel O’Gorman at the University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab (CML). The CML seeks to blend critical making with media theory. In Necromedia, O’Gorman articulates what he calls an Applied Media Theory (AMT), in which scholarship engages with the construction of digital objects-to-think-with. The intent is to create critical objects that evoke conceptual and theoretical premises and integrate modes of theorising media and technology with practices of making them (143-8). Garnet Hertz explains that critical making offers a means to augment critical thinking by focusing on the process of artifact creation. Matt Ratto views making as “a ‘critical’ activity […] that provides both the possibility to intervene substantively in systems of authority and power and that offers an important site for reflecting on how such power is constituted by infrastructures, institutions, communities, and practices” (DIY Citizenship 1). Critical making offers a mode of engagement with technology “to supplement and extend critical reflection and, in doing so, to reconnect our lived experiences with technologies to social and conceptual critique” (Ratto, “Critical Making” 253).[10] Indeed, the ontology and materiality of Bankier’s invention became a helpful way of understanding the critical importance placed on making in late Victorian culture, and the gender dynamics that inventor identities helped to enforce.

Following a creation-as-research approach (Chapman & Sawchuck), my initial intent was to build an authentic replica of the device, limiting my tools to those that would have been available to Bankier at the time. Bankier insists in his book that the developer existed, claiming that he had “fully protected and patented this [developer], and the machine will shortly be procurable at a low price” (125). However, as I continued my research into the state of electrical devices and muscle developers that existed at the turn of the century, the total lack of available material evidence for Bankier’s device became increasingly clear.[11] Indeed, despite his fervent pitch, Bankier does not mention the device anywhere else in the book, nor does he provide a customary mailing address so that readers might write to obtain the developer. By the publication of the fourth edition of Ideal Physical Culture, Bankier appends a note which reads, in part: “In reply to many enquiries from all over the world, respecting my electrical developer, I here inform future applicants that I have decided not to put it on the market” (125). It’s not hard to imagine why Bankier would sustain the pretense in later publications of having invented a muscle developer, the interesting point is that he felt it necessary to invent the device in the first place. Rather than seek to build a replica of a device I had become increasingly convinced never existed, I began to think instead about what the device represented in its social and cultural context.

Inventing the electric body

While this electric muscle developer may be a purely textual phenomenon, Bankier’s invention is worth investigating because of what it suggests about the roles technology and electricity had assumed by 1900.[12] The fanciful nature of an electrical invention and Bankier’s efforts to sustain the fantasy of its existence suggests the importance placed at the turn of the century on human invention, technological innovation and technical mastery over phenomena like the body and electricity. As my research began to point to the nonexistence of the object, I began to think about the speculative functions the device would have served in the formation of Bankier’s identity. Carolyn Thomas de la Peña explains that whatever their actual medicinal value, electric belts held psychological utility in that they “helped, primarily, male consumers understand technology as the means by which their bodies could achieve the physical power necessary to meet the modern era’s public and private physical demands” (275).[13] The demand for the invention noted by Bankier suggests the credulity of his audience in believing that it both existed and worked, further indicative of the importance placed on technology and electricity in this time. As a purely speculative object, Bankier’s fantastical muscle developer is a testament to the development of physical culture in the nineteenth century.

Bankier’s claim is also notable for how unnecessary it seems given his apparent skill as a bodybuilder. Despite several half-tone reproductions appearing in the book which show the author’s muscular physique and thereby testify to his adherence to physical culture, Bankier nonetheless felt compelled to exaggerate his qualifications further by claiming to have invented an electrical device for building muscle. His invention asserts more than would be needed to establish his claim on physical culture. Given the risk to his reputation, the components of this fantasy suggest a great deal about their cultural significance. How could technology in the early twentieth-century supplement his identity as a man, and an ideal one at that?

Electricity played a critical role in the structure of enlightenment rationality and scientific progress.[14] Iwan Rhys Morus explains how electricity became an investigative tool of scientists in the early nineteenth century for “unlocking the secrets of vitality” (“Galvanic Cultures” 7), to the extent that by the end of the century it was widely believed to be the vital principle of the universe.

The widely publicized experiments of men like Andrew Ure and Aldini (nephew of Galvani—the man responsible for the theory of animal magnetism), who applied electrical stimulation to organic tissues, including the corpses of deceased criminals (and which likely provided the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) suggested how vitality might be restored through the application of electricity.[15] The human body quickly came to be understood as a machine obedient to mechanistic causes. Electricity and electrical inventions, like the telegraph, shaped interpretations of animal biology, with Alfred Smee in the 1840s reading the operations of the nervous system as a “bio-telegraph” system relaying messaging to the central battery (i.e. brain). Simmons Mackintosh, building on the work of Ure and Aldini, proposed in the 1830s that:

the animal system is a bundle of circles, each connected with the others, like the wheels of a watch, or like the different parts of a steam engine, and that the primary circle, the main spring, which may be said to originate the animal functions, is the nervous, and that the nervous circle is actuated by electrical agency. (qtd in Morus, “Galvanic Cultures” 10)

Such philosophising led to increasingly radical social politics underwriting human, civilizational, even universal teleologies as constituents in an “all-encompassing network of power” (Morus, “Galvanic Cultures” 249) that held electricity as the prime motivator.

There was great power accorded to the newly emerging empirical disciplines that blended science with radical social politics, galvanized by Darwin’s research on evolution, and great prestige to be claimed in identifying oneself as a learned man of science. As Cynthia Eagle Russett explains, “Sharing with other men the apprehension created by women’s determined assault on the enclaves of masculine privilege, scientists had a particular need to reaffirm their ontological stature” (204). Electrical inventions expediently analogized mastery over all these domains. In this context then, Bankier’s fabricated claims to an electrical invention are easier understood: what man wouldn’t want to use a muscle developer to prove his masculinity? In addition to adding physical vigor, electricity augmented the discourse of manhood, particularly inventions which made novel use of electricity and which signalled ingenuity and scientific progress.

Bankier’s device, embedded as it is within a history of anthropometric apparatuses and anthropological sciences,[16] emphasizes how not all acts of making are unambiguously emancipatory. Bankier’s activities emphasize how maker culture can be a force for hegemonic repression depending on the ideologies of the maker and the context in which objects are made.  Quite fittingly, then, he secures this absurd ontological status by inventing an object impossible to replicate or obtain. Bankier’s device offered yet another means of asserting his role as the ideal masculine specimen. Thus, both the speculative device and the technological object in which it appears (Bankier’s book) demonstrates the struggle for the control of masculine discourse at the time. And all of this striving for recognition takes place, it must be noted, through media, and through gendered interactions with media technologies.

The history of the muscle developer evokes a milieu when the acts themselves were beginning to be developed and their coding began to be defined through mass production of media; a time when techniques of muscular definition arrived in tandem with technologies for defining contemporary gender codes. Informed by my ongoing research exploring how books, magazines, cards, and other textual paraphernalia have been constitutive of gendered and social bodies, the maker project became a means to think through how material objects themselves function as discursive practices integrated with cultural techniques of production and use.

With this cultural function in mind, I tinkered with the idea of building a device that would approximate the intent of Bankier’s invention in such a way as to critique the very object I was researching. Bankier’s invention highlights the broader relationship between sexuality and male bodies that occupied Victorian scientists, medical practitioners, cultural critics, authors and strongmen, who each in their idiosyncratic deployment of technology contributed to radical revisions of sexual and gender identities at this time. Indeed, Bankier’s willingness to cede credit for his physique to an external factor further suggests the importance that electricity played in the construction of masculinity. The developer, whether it existed or not, represents an instance in the technological construction of masculine tropes, associated with the use of technical apparatuses to build men or to unmake them as the need for power called.

Deconstructing masculinity through critical making

My critical approach to the maker project was further informed by Rita Raley’s Tactical Media, which explores ways of making critical and political interventions through media. Raley discusses critical media projects that model abstract interactions between things, arguing for the ways tactics can make visible the ideologies which bring these things into discursive assemblages. The aim of tactical media is to provoke resistance to power through strategies like procedural rhetoric,[17] so that “[if] there were one function or critical rationale that would produce a sense of categorical unity [to tactical media], it would be disturbance” (6). While tactical media operates, in Raley’s words, “in the field of the symbolic” (6), I am interested in a theory of tactical media technologies: a methodology of critical media production that critically engages with the ways technology designs meaning and frames the very discourse in which intervention might be articulated and construed. I am in part driven towards this focus by Raley’s continual refrain of futility in the projects she explores, as if the necessity for intervention presupposes the failure of its efficacy to produce radical systems change. To my mind, what’s needed are ways of articulating the mechanisms which structure power in the first place.

Within the framework of critical making, technology affords modes of ontological and epistemological critiques. Research creation through processes of making allow for the objects themselves to serve “as vehicles for testing or generating theories” (O’Gorman, “Broken Tools” 31) in which the materiality of the object influences the insights generated from research. Critical making is thus a praxis of meaning-making through object making ontologies. Critical making engages with the intersections of methods, methodologies and cultural ideologies that comprise the circuitry of social systems in ways that move the research beyond the domain of making things per se towards new modes of making meanings.

The critical making of a speculative object afforded me a chance to illuminate what I perceive to be the processes of meaning-making in technocultural systems. By thinking of the ways Bankier’s developer was imbricated within an extended network of discursive objects, I reflected on the formations of discourses of technology that developed to determine who gets to wield technology and the signification of bodies and materials. I thought about the ways Bankier’s efforts to master the circuitry of gender and physical culture in 1900 paralleled the activities of maker cultures a century later; the ways that the media of physical culture discursively formed and positioned gender according to techniques of media production echoed how contemporary maker cultures have discursively positioned gender according to technological production. I wanted to evoke the ways in which we are continually hailed through discursive formations—mentally and physically shocked and prodded to process signals according to epistemic ideologies.

To think through how gender itself is produced by a system of referents, my device parodies the technical procedures by which muscles, and the techniques of building muscles, serve to underwrite claims to masculinity at the end of the Victorian era—which, I suggest, could plausibly extend to present performances of masculinity. The use of electricity also invokes the histories of electrical technologies within the realms of anthropometric apparatuses, and physical culture devices I have already discussed. Though the LED screen was obviously absent from Bankier’s design, I added it to comment on the function of objects in the construction of identity. Within the context of Bankier’s invention, for instance, I have shown how muscles, technologies, energies and the discursive mobilization of these things conferred traits that have since become tropes of masculinity. Bankier’s book typifies how the scripts of contemporary masculinity are predicated on our relationship with media technology. There is, in Bankier’s formulation, only his ideal physical form, rendered into a cultural object that all others must desire and seek to achieve. The ideal male, according to Bankier, could be developed only through the development of muscles, and so he fabricated a fabulous muscle developer to assert his role in the development of masculinity. 

From a more technical perspective, I designed the object — which I will refer to as a critical muscle developer — to give its wearer a shock each time they complete the motion of a bicep curl. When the device is turned on, the Arduino microcontroller is instructed to continuously read the persistent input signals written by changes in the orientation of the Adafruit accelerometer. When the signal passes a specific threshold (assigned by the user — myself in this case) and then returns to its original value, the Arduino Gemma is instructed to output 3.7v of current from the lithium ion battery (its power supply) for less than one second. The output of current is enough to light an LED or similar electrical device. This Gemma is wired to an 8 x 8 pixel LED screen that is instructed to light up one pixel for every repetition (in this case, a bicep curl) and to continue appending one pixel for every repetition until the screen is filled or the device is powered down. The wires are also attached to the capacitor of a disassembled novelty shock pen and have been extended by more wires that attach to the operator. Each repetition instructs the Arduino Gemma to emit a mild and brief electric shock, which is intended to shock the operator when they are connected to it.

I offer this set of technical details to suggest how the critical muscle developer can also be thought of as an assemblage of systems (lines of wires, threads, codes, muscles) for relaying signals. This description is intended to call attention to the denotations of words like “signal,” “threshold,” “append,” “device,” and “instruct,” since they are crucial components of the critique that I will soon discuss. The language of this description is intended to reflect on the semiotic agnosticism animating the device: the developer operates through the embodied switching of position within vertical and horizontal axes. I have conventionally assigned them to the act of performing bicep curls, but any sufficient change in orientation may trigger the shock. At a technical level, signals determined by the analogue position of the Adafruit accelerometer (the controller) are read by the Arduino Gemma and processed as digital data by a confluence of code and technology.

From a media studies perspective, my device can also be construed as a relay system that queers the ontology of discourse networks.[18] In the cybernetic arrangement of my device, human flesh becomes an interface for the console to communicate its control. Human tissue joins silicon and copper wiring as inscription media implicated within a recursive network of discursive formations coordinated by media technologies and the cultural techniques of their operations. The shock suggests the capacity for the fluid interchange of signals between interfaces, while the screen remediates human activity to the abstraction of a single pixel. The device’s techniques of communication abrade contemporary perspectives of ergonomic solidarity between machine and human. The linkage of the movement of the body to the representation on the screen to the production of the shock prods the user to reflect on the role of the body, the sign and electricity in Western technocultural development.[19]

The muscle developer approximates performativity in its simplest form, with each repetition of the action adding one pixel to the LED screen. When the screen is filled, it becomes a larger assemblage of identical parts, 64 pixels becomes a single square of light. The precession of signs proceeds inexorably to more signs. The banality of this procedure ironically emphasises how much of the epistemology of gender depends beyond any single repetition or representation on the screen; how the encoding of gender performativity proceeds according to the logic of cinematographic montage, one processed image leading to the next. The addition of the pixel with each repetition of the arm, until the screen of simulation is filled, signifies my attempt at a reductio ad absurdum of the process of gender performativity.[20]

The rhetorical irony of my device, then, which shocks as it counts the repetition of signs added to the screen, represents my playful attempt to shock the short-circuit between image and meaning, sign and signifier, pixel and data. The appendage of pixels invokes the stultifying procedure of masculinity habituated by the ‘anthropological machine’ of the Victorian era.[21] My aim with critical making was to abstract the construction of gender and thereby destabilize its meaning. To think and make critically, then, I made an anthropometric device designed to record the most mundane of difference: the orientation of the Arduino Gemma microcontroller, which gestures towards the radical division that techniques of orientation scored between bodies, minds, and sexes. The speculative device itself exists at the intersection of disciplines, cultures and histories. It is both a conceptual revenant of earlier speculative imaginaries about the capacities for technology, and a disciplinary interloper, straddling the domains of scholarly and artistic practice. Out of place and out of time, the device embodies for me a queer object-to-think-with.

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. The Open Man and Animal. Stanford UP, 2004.

Atkinson, Michael, and Lee F. Monaghan. Challenging Myths of Masculinity: Understanding Physical Cultures. Ashgate, 2014.

Balsamo, Anne Marie. Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women. Duke UP, 1996.

Bankier, William. Ideal Physical Culture and the Truth about the Strong Man. Greening & Company, 1904.

Berger, Maurice, et al., editors. Constructing Masculinity. Routledge, 1995.

Black, Jonathan. Making the American Body: The Remarkable Saga of the Men and Women Whose Feats, Feuds, and Passions Shaped Fitness History. U of Nebraska P, 2013.

Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games the Expressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, 2007.

Brookes, Martin. Extreme Measures: The Dark Visions and Bright Ideas of Francis Galton. Bloomsbury, 2004.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 2006.

Carnes, Mark C., and Clyde Griffen, editors. Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America. U of Chicago P, 1990.

Chapman, David L. Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding. U of Illinois P, 1994.

Chapman, Owen, and Kim Sawchuk. “Creation-as-Research: Critical Making in Complex Environments.” RACAR: Revue d’art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review, vol. 40, no. 1, 2015, pp. 49–52, doi:10.7202/1032753ar.

Connell, Raewyn. Masculinities. 2nd ed, U of California P, 2005.

De La Peña, Carolyn Thomas. “Designing the Electric Body: Sexuality, Masculinity and the Electric Belt in America, 1880-1920.” Journal of Design History, vol. 14, no. 4, 2001, pp. 275–89. JSTOR.

---. The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American. New York UP, 2003.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “How to Build a Man.” Constructing Masculinity, edited by Maurice Berger et al., Routledge, 1995, pp. 127–34.

Fox, Mary Frank., et al., editors. Women, Gender, and Technology. U of Illinois P, 2006.

Gitelman, Lisa, and Geoffrey B. Pingree, editors. New Media, 1740-1915. MIT Press, 2003.

Green, Harvey. Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport, and American Society. 1st ed., Pantheon Books, 1986.

Hertz, Garnet, editor. Critical Making: Conversations. Telharmonium Press, 2012.

Hughes, Thomas Parke. Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930. Johns Hopkins UP, 1983.

Huhtamo, Erkki, and Jussi Parikka, editors. Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. U of California P, 2011.

Kasson, John F. Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America. Hill and Wang, 2001.

Kittler, Friedrich A. Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Stanford UP, 1990.

Layne, Linda L., et al., editors. Feminist Technology. U of Illinois P, 2010.

Lerman, Nina E., et al. Gender & Technology: A Reader. Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.

Mac an Ghaill, Mairtin., editor. Understanding Masculinities: Social Relations and Cultural Arenas. Open UP, 2000.

Marvin, Carolyn. When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford UP, 1990.

Morus, Iwan. “Galvanic Cultures: Electricity and Life in the Early Nineteenth Century.” Endeavour, vol. 22, no. 2, 1998, pp. 7–11.

---. Frankenstein’s Children: Electricity, Exhibition, and Experiment in Early-Nineteenth-Century London. Princeton UP, 1998.

Nye, David E. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940. MIT Press, 1990.

O’Gorman, Marcel. “Broken Tools and Misfit Toys: Adventures in Applied Media Theory.” Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 37, no. 1, 2012, pp. 27–42, doi:10.22230/cjc.2012v37n1a2519.

---. Necromedia. U of Minnesota P, 2015.

---. Making Media Theory. Bloomsbury, 2020.

Oldenziel, Ruth. Making Technology: Masculine Men, Women and Modern Machines in America, 1870-1945. Amsterdam UP, 1999.

Pascoe, C. J., and Tristan Bridges, editors. Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Continuity and Change. Oxford UP, 2016.

Pick, Daniel. Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848-c.1918. 1st paperback ed., Cambridge UP, 1993.

Raley, Rita. Tactical Media. U of Minnesota P, 2009.

Ratto, Matt, and Megan Boler, editors. DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media. MIT Press, 2014.

Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society, vol. 27, no. 4, 2011, pp. 252–60, doi:10.1080/01972243.2011.583819.

Russett, Cynthia Eagle. Sexual Science the Victorian Construction of Womanhood. Harvard UP, 1989.

Sayers, Jentery. “Kits for Cultural History.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 13, doi:https://doi.org/10.20415/hyp/013.

Shapiro, Eve. Gender Circuits: Bodies and Identities in a Technological Age. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818.

Viko, Eindred. Muscle-Developer. US714067A, 18 Nov. 1902, https://patents.google.com/patent/US714067A/en?oq=patent+US714067A)+.

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[1] For the history of electric belts in medicine during the end of the Victorian era, see Carolyn Thomas de la Peña, The Body Electric, chapter 3.

[2] Of the two, Sandow was the more widely publicized, and it is perhaps largely for that reason that his legacy has perpetuated to the present. Bankier, his book, and especially his muscle developer have been almost forgotten in the sweep of history. 

[3] For the early history of physical culture magazines, see Jonathan Black, Making the American Body (11-30). For the rise of physical culture in the United States during this period, see Harvey Green, Fit for America, especially chapter 8. For a history of Sandow, see John F. Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man (21-76); David Chapman, Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding (33-128); and David Waller, The Perfect Man: The Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman, especially chapters 8 and 10.

[4] For a fuller discussion of these tropes and their relationship to stereotypical portraits of white masculinity in this period, see John F. Kasson’s Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America and Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen’s edited collection Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America. For contemporary accounts of making masculinity, see C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges’s collection Exploring Masculinities, Maurice Berger et al.’s collection Constructing Masculinity, and Mairtin Mac An Ghaill’s collection Understanding Masculinities. For modern contestations of constructions of masculinity informed by physical culture, see Lee F. Monaghan and Michael Atkinson’s Challenging Myths of Masculinity: Understanding Physical Cultures.

[5] On the range of masculinities developing in Victorian America from numerous social and cultural factors, see Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen’s edited collection Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America.

[6] In this regard I am inspired by works like Raewyn Connell’s Masculinities, which discusses how masculine identities are constituted by negotiations with social axes that position bodies in relation to cultural codings of race, gender, and sexuality. See also Fausto-Sterling, “How to Build a Man” in Constructing Masculinity. For a more detailed exploration of the concomitant developments between technology and the discursive meanings of gender, see Nina E. Lerman et al.’s collection Gender and Technology, especially Part II. See also Eve Shapiro’s Gender Circuits. For more recent implications of these gendered divides in the domains of technology and engineering see Mary Frank Fox et al.’s edited collection Women, Gender and Technology, Linda L. Layne et al.’s Feminist Technology, and Anne Marie Balsamo’s Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women

[7] I was inspired to make this move by a range of media archaeological scholarship focusing on the history of ephemeral technologies outlined in Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka’s Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications, Carolyn Marvin’s When Old Technologies Were New, and Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey P. Pingree’s edited collection New Media 1740-1915.

[8] The term “digital rituals” was coined by O’Gorman for the R-CADE conference after developing it through his work at the University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab. His work on digital rituals is the focus of chapter 7 of his upcoming book Making Media Theory.

[9] In this regard, I was inspired by speculative maker projects like Jentery Sayers’ “Kits for Cultural History,” which draws on the cultural history of Fluxkits of the 1960s and 1970s and conducts an archaeological excavation of Victorian era wearable technologies to present a purposefully anachronistic Fluxkit-inspired “Early Wearable Kit.”

[10] For more on the relationship between political activism and social engagement, see Matt Ratto and Megan Boler’s edited collection DIY Citizenship.

[11] The closest invention to Bankier’s muscle developer I could find was Eindred Viko’s 1902 patent (patent US714067A) for an instrument designed for “Developing the Muscles of the Human Body and for Reduction of Corpulency” that works by a series of pulleys and rotors—no electricity required.

[12] The following section on the history of electricity and the development of masculinity relies on several sources, including Ruth Oldenziel’s Making Technology Masculine, Cynthia Eagle Russett’s Sexual Science, David E Nye’s Electrifying America, and chapter 7 of Harvey Green’s Fit for America.

[13] See also Carolyn Thomas de la Peña’s discussion of Pulvermacher belts and powering physical intimacy in chapter 4 of The Body Electric.

[14] See Thomas Park Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930.

[15] See Iwan Morus, Frankenstein’s Children: Electricity, Exhibition and Experiment in Early Nineteenth Century London.

[16] I am thinking here of the work of Francis Galton, described in Pick, Faces of Degeneration, especially chapters 6 and 7. For a contemporary rebuke of Galton’s specious conclusions obtained from his anthropometric devices, many of his own invention, see Martin Brookes, Extreme Measures: The Dark Visions and Bright Ideas of Francis Galton.

[17] The term was coined by Ian Bogost in Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames.

[18] I borrow the term and its meanings from Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks, which refers to the episteme that develops within a culture based on its relationship with media technologies. From a game studies perspective, the technical procedure of using this muscle developer can be read analogous to that of using a video game controller, whereby electrical signals activated by switches are relayed to the console in a video game. Yet, the trick comes from the playful continuation of the output into a recursive loop with the player. Rather than ending at the screen, the console (in this case the Arduino) plays/writes/reads back the move the player has just completed. The resolution of the screen, 8x8, is a consciously abstract retroversion of resolutions output by contemporary video game consoles and computer systems, which exceed 3,840x2160 pixels on screens to match. Rather than a device, the muscle developer can be construed as console, controller, and screen.

[19] See, for instance, David E. Nye’s Electrifying America.

[20] I am here thinking of and drawing language from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.

[21] In The Open: Man and Animal, philosopher Giorgio Agamben examines the origins of the “anthropological machine” of Western thought, discussing approaches to the ontology of man beginning with ancient Greek philosophy. The technical and methodological dispositif that centered human epistemologies around the privileged position of man achieves its sharpest relief with the scientific progressivism beginning in the eighteenth century.