Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Numero Uno "Numero Uno" Shirt

I suppose the following post does contain spoilers for the documentary "Pumping Iron" so look away if you don't want to know about the results of the 1975 Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding Competition or if you haven't gotten around to watching your 36 year old DVR of it. Although can one really spoil a documentary about a public event? I mean the records are right there: the Union wins the Civil War, global warming continues unabated, McDonald's is bad for you. Regardless you have been warned.

I recently got around to watching the influential 1977 bodybuilding documentary (although I actually prefer wikipedia's characterization of it as a docudrama) "Pumping Iron". It was really quite entertaining. The insight into the seemingly alien subculture of competitive bodybuilders was interesting enough but the film's real strength was the deft editing and creative license of the filmmakers to craft compelling narratives between the competitors. This is really crucial for any sort presentation of a competition whether it be "Spellbound" or "American Idol". Some personalities came off as villains, some as heroes and it really raised the tension by the time the final results scenes came around.

Of course the film is most known for really raising the public profile of one Arnold Schwarzenegger (sorry "Hercules in New York") and he is the best part of the film. It's easy to say it now but hearing him talk, watching him train, seeing him play mind games with and completely psyching out his arch rival Lou Ferrigno, you just know that this is a dangerously ambitious individual that can essentially will himself to whatever he wants to achieve. There is a strong parallel to fellow icon Michael Jordan in that, in addition to being supremely talented and skilled and being the greatest at their sport, they are both psychotically competitive assholes. Both appear to have an unhealthy burning desire to win at everything at all costs that sets them apart from the merely great, but also ultimately alienates them from almost everyone as well. These character faults just continue become more fascinatingly pronounced as they age and move farther from their competitive primes. Some indications imply that Jordan has gradually become the NBA's Daniel Plainview while Arnold has been recently profiled as being proud of his achievements but deeply repulsed at his own frailty.

So going back to the movie, it comes as little shock at the end when Arnold defeats the younger and larger but not as mentally tough Ferrigno (whose overbearing stage father/trainer also helps) and captures his then record 6th consecutive Mr. Olympia title and retires as the greatest bodybuilder of all time. He celebrates his victory backstage with his fellow bodybuilders, a meal of fried chicken and cake, and a fat blunt. And as an exclamation point on this grand moment of triumph Arnold is seeing wearing a white ringer tee simply proclaiming "ARNOLD IS NUMERO UNO". It is one of the more famous scenes from the film (that and the scene where he explains how bodybuilding makes him feel like he's constantly "cumming").

As I later discovered to my surprise on the internet, the shirt's fame is apparently so great that an entire website and e-merchant exists that exclusively sells replicas of the "numero uno" shirt (and also making custom "[insert name here] IS NUMERO UNO" shirts). Now I know money is made in the most interesting and esoteric of ways on the internet, but I found this to be even more peculiar than most. I recall buying my replica Nigel Tufnel shirt from "This is Spinal Tap" off the internet but the site also specialized in a whole assortment of retro replica shirts. There are plenty of CafePress style custom stores that sell one off generic replicas of the "numero uno" shirt but this site is really dedicated to crafting as accurate a copy was possible right down to the material. It's really the authority for authentic replica shirts. I can't recall any other business devoted to just one shirt from one scene from one movie.

That being said it is a pretty sweet shirt and, if my thrifty immigrant upbringing did not preclude me from paying more than $15 for a simple t-shirt, I would consider ordering a custom made "VICTOR IS NUMERO UNO" to wear on birthdays, anniversaries, and Mr. Olympia victory parties

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