This poster (across from Vefa Center, on Gorkova), terrified me. Grotesque. Childhood figures of cuteness and innocence distorted into some terrible, muscle-ripped portrayal of testosterone-driven hyper-sexed masculine ideals. Extra grotesque because it looks like piglet has raw meat, uncovered muscles and no skin. And the neckless, top-heavy braunchy Winnie-the-Pooh… gah, I don’t even want to dream their depiction of Christopher Robin.
But let’s back up a second – how does a graphic like this even end up in a Bishkek gym advertisement? What is it about ripped cartoon characters that the advertisers though might appeal to their target demographic? And how exactly do we describe, do we understand, this aesthetic?
First, on Winnie the Pooh. He’s everywhere here, subtly. There are day cares decorated with locally drawn Mickeys and Winnies, an entire chain children’s shop named after him, and of course there’s the popularity of the cartoons. As many children grow up watching Winnie the Pooh in Russian as in English (clip here) – he’s so popular, there’s even a completely independent Russian version, where the bear is short and brown and the whole thing looks like it was drawn with PicArt.
As for the muscles… that’s pretty standard fare for sports club. The gym we used to frequent had glossed
posters of weight lifting champions in nothing but baby oil and speedos plastering the walls. Other gyms around town show similarly impossibly muscled men (occasionally alongside ponytailed women doing yoga or lifting three pound weights). The image isn’t fit – it’s fantasy. Unlike the US where you can see really muscled men who look like they spend all their time bench pressing at the gym, here I’ve only ever seen one man with half as much muscle as portrayed in the posters. Most Kyrgyz men are built too slight for it to ever be attainable; Russians seem to tend towards large or scrawny.
So… familiar faces from childhood mixed with an impossible ideal plastered across dozens of city walls… honestly I’m still not quite sure what to make of the ripped Winnie and crew. Obviously it’s meant with a sense of irony, is aimed at young and possibly scrawny men, and it’s playing on the impossibility of offerings at fitness centers across the city. But still, this time I’m at a loss. Bishkek, you got me here.