Sporning monsters

'Sporning' describes the current obsession among young men with pumping up their bodies for the sole purpose of posting selfies online. It explains the phenomenal rise in gym membership among 16 to 25-year-olds and the explosion in the numbers of men so bulky they have to go through doors sideways.

Apparently, the sporning phenomenon is the result of young men who lack the opportunities to become something truly fulfilling like a data miner or call centre operative being edited out of the future. Of the developed world and developing world, that is. I can't imagine a starving Syrian refugee marooned on the Macedonian border cares too much about being peeled, ripped and shredded.

Discovering sporning (and is it me or are the names for our wonderful new tribes getting uglier?) made me think about what my ideal body type was at 16.

Punky, pale and interesting

Punk, which mercifully hit when I was 15, was all about looking as unhealthy as you possibly could. We wanted to be Mac in the Charles Atlas ads before the insult that made a man out of him. Boys who did any kind of sport, let alone go the gym, were pariahs to us. So why were we so obsessed with looking close to death?

Our heroes were, of course, the main influence. Take the Sex Pistols, Clash or Ramones. They were all white as sheets and looked like the only time they ever broke a sweat was running away from a broken window or a gang of Teddy Boys. Congenital conditions and sickly childhoods meant Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone couldn't have built their bodies if they'd tried.

Bowie too was an enormous influence on us, as he was on our punk idols. We did our best to look androgynous, poking eyeliner pencils in our eyes and gagging on lipstick. Throughout the 1970s Bowie was death warmed up. By the time he started to look like he was going to live - around Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence in 1983 - we'd lost interest in him. Being Bowie, of course, he turned having blonde hair, shining white teeth and a deep tan into a costume in itself.

We were also reacting against the way in which organised sport like football (soccer) dominated our culture. Especially if were had the misfortune to be still at school. We were emphatically not joiners, which is why so many of us lost interest in punk when it became a flag to rally behind.

I can't get too misty-eyed about my teens though. For a start, I'd been a fat kid and starving myself on a diet of white bread, Holsten Pils (remember 'all the sugar turns to alcohol'? and cheap pink speed) to the point where I could fit into my girlfriend's panties didn't do my physical or mental health any favours. I do think, however, that my generation's determination to broaden our minds while narrowing our trousers was a far more positive response to being made to feel powerless by society than becoming a pumped up sporner.

Not that we ever really had 'No Future' as Johnny sang. Compared to the yoof of today, we had it made.

Sporning is conforming

I can't imagine that medieval farm workers gave two shits whether their guns were pumped or not. But ever since capitalism created a leisure class, social status has shaped our bodies.

To give my favourite example, up until the 1920s, the upper classes viewed having a tan as simply not done. The only people who had them were the hoi polloi who worked outside. But for wealthy young Americans, a mahogony tan proved you had enough money to enjoy the leisure of being outside with nada to do. When the real-life Dick Divers began arriving on the Riviera they made the tan deeply fashionable throughout Europe.

Sporning bothers me because it's such a sign of defeat. Young men who sporn are really saying their body is the only thing they have control over in life. (Do they remove all their body hair because they're subconsciously acknowledging their powerlessness by turning themselves into big babies?) And they're only pumping up for cosmetic reasons. They may look like cage fighters but they're oddly passive.

But perhaps I'm wrong and sporning is a good thing after all. Maybe, when things truly fall apart, hundreds of thousands of sporny young man will be the shock troops of the revolution. With Kygo providing the soundtrack and leading the charge, they'll use their brawn to storm the institutions that have denied them the right to get smug, lazy and soft in the middle.

Sporn free at last!