He wears the same outfit every time. Light blue t-shirt. Grey shorts. Light blue Nike runners. Ankle socks. His clothes are tight-fitting. His chest and thighs could be described as “bursting out”. He doesn’t smile. His technique is flawless. Sometimes when he is doing push ups or star jumps he looks like he is stuck in a recursive loop. He is the most important person at the gym. Without him none of us would know what to do.
He appears on four screens at the front of the room and he guides us through our 45 minute sessions, exercise by exercise. The gym, which is a multi-billion dollar international business, promises that if you follow him closely then you will become fitter, stronger, healthier, and more “functional” overall. There is a non-screen based instructor in the room, too. They talk us through the exercises at the start of class and then offer periodic words of encouragement throughout. But even though they are there in the room I quickly forget their instructions and instead rely on the man on the screen. I watch him intently. When he picks up a bag filled with sand and puts it over head I do, too. When he jumps over a box, I jump over a box. “I would be lost without you”, I think to myself some mornings.
I have tried at times to synchronize my movements to his movements. I always fall short because he is astonishingly co-ordinated and strong. His body moves without hesitation or strain. His face is unfeeling and nondescript. I have stared at it for hours now and I couldn’t tell you anything about it other than that it is symmetrical. So featureless is his face and so perfect his body that for a long time I couldn’t figure out whether he was real or not. I wondered whether he was some physical savant plucked from obscurity by the gym and then recorded doing exercises for hundreds of hours in a studio somewhere. But I’ve also equally considered whether he might be a computer generated character who, despite not having a real body, helps others come to terms with the limits of their own.
One morning I arrived at gym and the non-screen based instructor told us that there was a surprise. “David Beckham,” she said. Then she turned on the TV screens, where the man in the blue-t-shirt and symmetrical face usually appears, but in his place there was David Beckham grinning from the corner of his mouth, with his hands on his hips. David Beckham said, “alright then” and guided us through 45 minutes of leg and core-based exercises.
At the end of the session I asked whether we would always be guided by David Beckham now or if the other man was coming back. “I’ve met him before,” a woman with a very large pink water bottle said. “You’ve met David Beckham?” I said. She responded that she had not met David Beckham but the other man, the one with the tight fitting blue t-shirt. A few months earlier she saw an ad on Instagram promoting his “world tour of exercise”. She flew up to Sydney to be part of the world tour and spent 45 minutes doing exercise with hundreds of other people in a carpark and then another 2 hours waiting to get a picture with the man. As she told the story a small group of us had gathered around her, eager to learn more about this man who guides us towards greater functionality. “He had flawless technique,” she said. “His name was Cory.”