Call it the melee of the middle-aged men.

We already know the main event. That would be Elon Musk versus Mark Zuckerberg in Las Vegas, or maybe the Colosseum in Rome. The rival tech billionaires advance to a cage match, brokered by Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

And for an undercard, how about a sitting US senator vs. a union boss? Markwayne Mullin, Oklahoma Republican, last week challenged Sean O’Brien, the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to a mixed martial arts fight after Mr O’Brien called him a “clown” and a “fraud” on Twitter.

If that’s not enough testosterone, maybe some strength supplements are in order. Robert Kennedy Jr. might be interested. The Democratic presidential candidate recently took off his shirt in Venice Beach to do pushups and incline bench presses — revealing an unusually defined upper body for anyone, let alone a 69-year-old. (He has a full decade on Jeff Bezos, who is also muscle-bound.) So could Jamaal Bowman. On Thursday, the Democratic representative of New York posted a video to Twitter of himself bench pressing 405 pounds.

For some powerful men, this is a season for peacocking. No longer content to embody the masculine ideals of financial, professional and political achievement — or simply optimize their fitness, as tech execs have long done — suddenly these honchos want us to. to see the achievements of their bodies. Struggle, push, bend, dominate (or be dominated): These are no longer tired metaphors for corporate or intellectual conquest. They are literal descriptions of America’s big shots turning out to be same boys.

So, what’s with all these blatant displays of machismo? For starters, they’re mostly just that – screens.

“A lot of it is spectacle,” said Andrew Reiner, a lecturer in men’s studies at Towson University and author of the book “Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency.”.” As Mr Kennedy’s viral session proved, a bit of well-timed machismo is prime fodder for the social media.

But, according to Mr. Reiner, these observed behaviors also draw on something deeper: tropes of male honor and personal strength that American pop culture has largely moved away from, but may be rediscovering.

“It’s textbook, old-school, retro masculinity,” Mr. Reiner said, pointing to Will Smith’s slapping of Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars — after Mr. Rock made a joke about Mr. Smith’s wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith — as a watershed. a moment

One factor in the cage match moment is the growing influence of mixed martial arts culture. Joe Rogan, a prominent fight fan who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, reaches millions with his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” on which Mr. Musk, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Zuckerberg have all appeared as guests . Mr. Mullin, the senator, had a brief career as an MMA fighter.

The Musk-Zuckerberg and Mullin-O’Brien back-and-forth brings to mind the jaw-dropping performance of a boxing match weigh-in, and the athletic theatrics, or “kayfabe,” of professional wrestling, where wrestlers play characters they never acknowledge exist. manuscript.

This mixture of reality and fantasy have become a key feature of American public life during the Trump years, according to Abraham Josephine Riesman, the author of “Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America.” The blurring of reality is key to understanding a world in which gay performances of heterosexual masculinity can capture our collective attention, Mx. Riesman said.

“There’s something about committing to a completely oversized parody that just works for the human brain,” she said.

Another common thread may be an amount of overcompensation. After being photographed shirtless last summer on a yacht (and subsequently ridiculed for his physique), Mr Musk tweeted in October that he had fasted and taken Wegovy, a prescription drug used to treat obesity. And although Mr. Zuckerberg, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, is actually a committed athlete, he for years carried the title of nerd king, which he inherited from Bill Gates. (Recently, Mr. Zuckerberg has turned to training and competing in martial arts, and posting mirror selfies of his progress on Instagram.)

Meanwhile, for Mr. Kennedy, the shirtless romp contrasts with the Democratic front-runner, President Biden, who is 80 years old. “Get pumped for my debates with President Biden!” Mr. Kennedy tweetednext to a video of himself doing push-ups.

The modern history of male politicians shooting and bickering dates back at least to Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s. Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president and himself a jew black beltwas photographed shirtless on horseback in 2009. And Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the House and former vice presidential candidate, posed with 40-pound dumbbells for Time magazine before the 2012 presidential election.

More recently, the muscular former Democratic congressman John Delaney spoke to the news media in 2019 about his fitness routine while running for president. (Mr Mullin’s two-part, inspired fitness routine was covered in The Times nearly a decade ago.)

Gary Meltz, a consultant who advises politicians and corporations on their image, said he thought Mr. Kennedy’s attempt to appear younger and stronger than Mr. Biden misread the electorate.

“It’s more like Putin sitting on a horse than something that will appeal to Democratic voters,” Mr. Meltz said.

Of course, women in leadership positions face scrutiny about their appearance and influence in ways Mr. Musk and Mr. Kennedy never would. Imagine, for example, how one would talk about a female CEO who displayed Mr. Musk’s apparent impulsiveness, aggressiveness and vanity.

“The margin by which women can show any kind of jealousy, resentment, ego or desire to advance in any unfettered way is very narrow,” said Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the co-editor of the anthology “Ugly Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America” and the author of the upcoming book “The Myth of Making It.”

Then again, times may change. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman and CrossFit lover who once shared a video of herself doing pull-ups and overhead presses, named her Republican colleague Lauren Boebert of Colorado. “little dog” on the House floor last month. It was exactly the kind of beard one would expect before a cage match.

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