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Making Italian AmericaConsumer Culture and the Production of Ethnic Identities$
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Simone Cinotto

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823256235

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823256235.001.0001

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Consuming La Bella Figura

Consuming La Bella Figura

Charles Atlas and American Masculinity, 1910–1940

(p.100) 5 Consuming La Bella Figura
Making Italian America

Dominique Padurano

Fordham University Press

The biography of pioneering body-builder Charles Atlas (né Angelo Siciliano) illuminates the paths of the commodification of the Italian American male body against the backdrop of the consumer culture of the 1920s and 1930s, its insistence on body presentation, and the graphic power in the “representation of the other” of mail-order catalogues and photo magazines. Since the 1930s, photographs of and words about Atlas’s body attempted to convey its power, the new sine qua non for American “he-men.” But despite his own public embrace of hegemonic notions of one-hundred-percent Americanism in his popular bodybuilding course Dynamic Tension and advertisements from the 1930s onward, Atlas continued to engage in private acts of consumption that reflected his Italian origins. Dynamic Tension inadvertently continued to teach other men how to “consume Italian” in order to become like its corporate icon. In the process, Charles Atlas helped to alter dominant conceptions of what it meant to be an American man, ensuring that he would be a little more Italian for decades to come.

Keywords:   bodybuilding, Italian Americans, Atlas, Charles, masculinity, popular culture, immigrant entrepreneurship, immigrant bodies ethnicity, consumer culture, magazines

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