Picture this: A close up shot of a huge bulging bicep pulls back to reveal its bearer wielding an impressively large tree trunk on his shoulder as he strides confidently towards his alpine lodge. This depiction of phallic mastery surely ranks as one of the campest 'straight' images in contemporary Hollywood cinema, for whilst this scene would not look out of place as the opening to some trashy gay porn flick, (and would certainly be appreciated) it is aimed at a particular kind of resolutely straight male audience. Another clue: In a climactic showdown towards the end of the movie, our bodybuilder hero grapples and grunts with another bodybuilder, the villain's henchman, who, with his cropped hair, moustache and clingy fishnet vest, looks like nothing more than a decidedly dodgy seventies gay clone.

If you still don't know, the movie was the blockbuster Schwarzenegger vehicle, 'Commando', and if you didn't see it, you didn't miss much. It is a preposterous film, bulging with a typical kind of eighties excess. It performed very well at the box office ten years ago, but if it was released today, the film would be laughed out of the cinemas.

However, watching the film now, two things become alarmingly apparent: Firstly, the extent to which our ideas as to what constitutes the figure of the hero have changed over the past ten years, and secondly, that the underlying homoeroticism that energises the action movie is the most persistent and crucial element that characterises the action
hero and the situations that he finds himself in, so that in many ways, action films can be seen as providing a spectacle which allows for the legitimate appreciation of the male body in a way that is thrilling for straight men. Obvious parallels can be drawn with the spectacle of boxing, and in this light it becomes clear how the film 'Rocky' served to not only launch the career of Stallone, but also how it whet the male appetite with a taste of the pleasures in watching the powerful male body in action, and thus paved the way for the body-builder as action hero.

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