On the internet, where people become data and popularity is conveniently quantified, it’s easy to learn what a community values most. Twitter embraces celebrities and #brands. Reddit stans for Barack Obama and elaborate pop-culture GIFs. Quora is an asylum of techies questioning their morality and their stock options; its second-most-upvoted answer is a “soul-satisfying” account of a sales bro helping a homeless man.
On the Bodybuilding.com forums, the two most popular threads of all time are not about deadlifts, intermittent fasting, or maintaining motivation. They’re about women. Specifically, women Bodybuilding.com members would “love to pound.” While one thread features pictures of “petite/slim girls” and the other of “athletic girls,” both are an endless stream of lightly Photoshopped near-nudity and predictably lecherous comments. Both have been viewed almost 3 million times. And both are on the lone section of the Bodybuilding.com forums that’s explicitly unrelated to fitness: the Misc.
“Participate at your own risk, some content NSFW,” reads the description of the Misc. on the forums’ homepage. “U Aware?”
The number of people who are Aware, it turns out, is over 16 million. As of January 2018, these members of Bodybuilding.com have made more than 137 million posts on the forums, including 90 million on the Misc. The forums first became active in 2000, a time before Wikipedia and when “Skype” was neither app nor verb. Myspace—Myspace!—didn’t exist until three years later. The Misc., as the predominant section of an internet community with such immense popularity and longevity, has cemented its place near the top of Google’s search results for any query imaginable. To appropriate Rule 34, if it exists, there’s a Misc. thread for it. Online, at least, the Misc. is inescapable.
A cursory scroll through the Misc. reveals what it has in common with the still-popular internet communities it predates, Reddit and 4chan. There are the memes, comics, copypastas, acronyms, and slang recycled endlessly in a digital echo chamber largely devoid of moderation. There are the forum members—Miscers, they call themselves—who post, and post in, intentionally incendiary threads about whether tongue rings scream “cum dumpster” and how “Crossfit is gay,” then fan the flames for entertainment’s sake by doubling down on their inanity. There are moments of uproarious, absurd, gut-busting idiocy. There are ideology-clarifying usernames (RICHSTRONG, MinisterOfLust, weightsb4dates, WishIWasJawBrah, MericaThatsWhy) and statement-making profile pictures (deliberately titillating yet invariably off-putting abdominal shots, monochromatic selfies, strategically underlit bicep closeups). There are trolls surely seething and/or laughing maniacally, their keystrokes like machine-gun fire, as they launch poorly punctuated ad-hominem attacks and, at their most destructive, encourage people to commit suicide. There are sexists, racists, xenophobes, and homophobes. There is the sense of being in a parochial, patriarchal madhouse where decorum has gone to die.
What emerges, when you spend enough time on the Misc., is a ghoulish portrait of a place that embodies the white, male id currently at the helm of S.S. America. The Misc. is a stone-faced Uncle Sam with Popeye’s forearms and a cocked pistol in each hand. It’s a screeching bald eagle with a foreign Bad Thing in its talons. It’s everything that defines America’s bro culture, magnified and weaponized. But it’s deeper than that.
“Bro-merican” culture is largely defined by the stratification of power and status, both real and imagined. So, too, is Bodybuilding.com, where a power imbalance is embedded in the structure and design of the site’s forums. Unlike on 4chan, where all posts are anonymous and ephemeral, or on Reddit, where the grand sum of a user’s upvotes has little value, Bodybuilding.com members’ reputation points, or “reps,” mediate and deeply influence community interactions. While reps are similar to Facebook likes—weighted such that getting either “repped” or “negged” by a user with hundreds of thousands of reps will drastically affect your own rep count—they function as the Misc.’s de facto currency. Your rep count is displayed next to your every post. It’s like your bank account balance flashing on your forehead whenever you speak.
Bullying by those with power (high-rep Miscers) and obsequiousness by those without it (low-rep Miscers) is rampant. Getting negged by a high-rep Miscer means potentially becoming a “red,” a user with negative reputation points, displayed beneath your username as a gradated red bar as jarring as a stop sign. If you’re a red, you’re a second-class citizen. Your posts might as well come with a disclosure: “I’m a worthless idiot. Please listen to absolutely nothing I say.”
The opinions and caprices of high-rep “green” Miscers, then, dictate the forum’s personality. Any Miscer brave enough to post contrarian ideas—including, and especially, those that are liberal and feminist—is often negged into oblivion. Bad joke misses the mark? Negged. Sincere comment comes off as sarcastic? Negged. The Misc. is an echo chamber in which “greens” are given a megaphone and a gun.
But in contrast with Reddit and 4chan, the Misc. has been filtered through and molded by bodybuilding subculture, a set of beliefs and customs rooted in the many manifestations of stereotypical masculinity: egotism, aggression, hypersexuality, über-competitiveness, entitlement. Insecurity, intolerance, misogyny. Bodybuilding, after all, is not about functional strength but about vanity and surface appearances, how masculinity is projected to the world. It fosters narcissism by trading in cosmetic superlatives: the highest bicep peaks, the most vascular calves, the most extreme V-shaped back.
The Misc. applies this dog-eat-dog frame of mind to every topic. Everything is a masculinity- or dick-measuring contest. Including, of course, the actual dick-measuring contests, because Miscers are nothing if not cripplingly aware of their own inadequate manhood. Swears and slurs are censored but their creatively misspelled phonetic workarounds are not, which makes for a forum full of “kunts” talking “chit” and menacingly telling each other to “pepper your angus” (prepare your anus). The most recurrent insults all concern perceived masculinity, or lack thereof. “U mad bro?,” a popular retort, juxtaposes one-of-the-guys slang with the notion that showing emotion means demonstrating debilitating weakness. A real bro doesn’t get mad, he only gets testosterone-fueled revenge.
Near the bottom of the masculinity totem pole are “low-T beta manlets”—that is, short, shy, effeminate guys. Lower down are “phaggots,” a word that gets tossed around the Misc. like salt at a Sichuan restaurant. Lest any Miscer think you’re a “phucking phaggot,” all posts about personal care, fashion, home decoration, or how to look like a certain actor/model/bodybuilder are appended with “no homo.” Yet shaky Misc. logic dictates that even if you’re a gay man, there’s still someone you genetically out-alpha and who is, therefore, below you: a woman.
While the entire internet is teeming with horny men whose dark loneliness and insecurity wears the cloak of misogyny, they seem to be especially vocal, and in especially high numbers, on the Misc. Every other thread is a depressing question (“Think she’s faithful to him?”) or a charged statement (“Drunk Sex > Sober Sex”) about women—their bodies, hitting on them, their innate tendency to cheat—and sex—where to find it, how to go “no contact” after having it, why she is fucking him.
The Misc.’s ties to PUA (pickup artist) forums and Reddit’s /r/TheRedPill, a perniciously misogynist, anti-feminist Reddit community dedicated to “discussing sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men,” are as well documented as they are unsurprising. One of PUA’s most frequent suggestions is to acquire “inner game,” or self-confidence through self-improvement. Miscers, being on what is ultimately a bodybuilding forum, have inverted that mantra—they’re going from the outside in. Look good, feel good.
Other elements of the manosphere, from cries of societal misandry to sexual techniques like kino escalation and shit-testing, permeate the Misc. All women are “thirsty sloots” to be conquered, their emotions and physical well-being to be toyed with for internet strangers’ entertainment. When, to the forum’s delight, a Miscer posts about a sexual conquest in lurid detail—a surefire way to rack up the reps—the verbs employed are barbaric: “took down,” “smashed,” “hit.” To have “oneitis,” or an obsessive and unrequited crush on one woman, is to be afflicted with a masculinity-destroying emotional disease, one that can be cured, naturally, by sexually subjugating another woman. Regardless of whether a Miscer is successful or is rejected in the pursuit of sex, the response is the same: “Sloots gonna sloot.”
Despite the Misc.’s obsession with women, it has the latent homoeroticism you’d expect of a website devoted to a male-dominated sport in which bronzed, muscled competitors get smeared with oil and put on thongs before preening onstage in front of other men. This is no more obvious than when discussing a “Chad.” While there is a 5,000-post thread asking what, exactly, defines a Chad, the consensus is that he’s shorthand for a tall, built, strong-jawed, big-dicked, thick-haired, financially successful, athletic, confident, funny, sociable man who, because of these eminently desirable qualities, has his pick of the XX-chromosome litter. You look at a Chad and say, “This guy fucks.” (The prototypical Miscer might be a “Sheldon,” minus any TV-driven connotations of high-level intelligence.) Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski is a stone-cold Chad. Chad Johnson of The Bachelor is a Chad, and not just in name. It’s no accident that “Chad” is one of the most generically white and straight names imaginable, nor that archetypal Chads are nearly always white and straight. The etymological origin of the name Chad is the Welsh word cad, meaning “battle,” a fact that would surely delight Miscers to no end.
The Misc.’s resident Chad is an Australian bodybuilder known by his Bodybuilding.com handle, Zyzz. In early 2010, Zyzz began regularly detailing his “aesthetic” lifestyle on the Misc. As the so-called and self-proclaimed “king of aesthetics,” and with the zingy catchphrases “U mirin’ brah?” and “U jelly?,” Zyzz became the preeminent demigod of the Misc., where he and his “Aesthetics Crew,” acolytes similarly lacking in shirts, body fat, and social grace, were #bodygoals and #squadgoals come to life. Pictures and videos of Zyzz fist-pumping shirtless in public, wrapping his tanned arms low around the waists of nipple-pastied ravers at festivals, adopting a Herculean pose while standing in a shopping cart—these were the icons of the Misc. religion. When Zyzz died of a heart attack in 2011 at the age of twenty-two, his death became the sixth-most-searched death-related topic in Australia that year. His Facebook page, still regularly updated, has over 400,000 likes.
Zyzz’s masculinity showed itself in vain but harmless demonstrations of grandiosity, but other headline-making Miscers have expressed theirs through violence and morally indefensible acts. Gable Tostee first became a Misc. star by posting screenshots of his Tinder and text conversations with women he “rooted,” or had sex with; he entered Misc. lore after creating an ill-advised thread titled “Regarding the balcony tragedy” in the wake of news that one of his Tinder dates had been found dead from a fall from his apartment balcony. (Tostee was later acquitted of murder and manslaughter.) A Miscer known as YaBoyDave secretly filmed himself having sex with women—“whale-smashing,” in Misc. parlance—and posted the videos on the Misc.; he served 10 months in jail and is now a registered sex offender.
Still worse was Luka Magnotta, a wannabe model whose desperately misguided attempts at fame led him to asphyxiate kittens on camera and, later, live stream the brutal murder and dismemberment of a Chinese student while music from American Psycho played in the background; he was arrested at an internet café in Berlin, alternately surfing for pornography and reading news stories about himself, and it was later revealed that he’d posted on the Misc. Most infamously, Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter, was active on the Misc., starting threads like “Why do girls hate me so much?” and “I’m tired of seeing losers with hot chicks.” In the latter thread, he recalled being “disturbed and offended” by seeing a “short, ugly Indian guy driving a Honda Civic” with a “hot blonde girl in his passenger seat.” It’s the bro’s classic sense of entitlement: Why should someone less masculine than me have what I know I deserve?
Miscers reaching toxic masculinity’s most violent nadir are mercifully few and far between. Yet the obvious connection between these people is one shared by the vast majority of the Misc. They’re young, white men whose social and sex lives are marked by absence or humiliating rejection, and their worldviews have likely been shaped by those failures. Rodger, for one, admitted in his autobiographical manifesto to having “never even kissed a girl.” He was an “incel,” or involuntarily celibate. “Not getting any sex,” he wrote, “is what will shape the very foundation of my miserable youth.”
A pervasive negative sense of self, of disappointment about one’s past and simultaneous anxiety and hopelessness for one’s future, is to the Misc. what the iceberg was to the Titanic: visible if you know to look for it, destructive if you don’t, and lurking below the surface all the same
The running joke about Miscers is that they’re all sad, awkward, forever-alone virgins who don’t lift and are on the only non-fitness-oriented section of a bodybuilding website because they can’t get their shit together. It’s revealing that one of the Misc.’s celebrities—there’s a 24,000-word condensed version of his “saga” on a fan-made website dedicated to him—is a weird, often clueless Everyman. He’s neither egregiously out of shape nor conventionally “aesthetic,” and his videos show a distinct lack of social awareness, a trait cultivated, presumably, by a life spent behind a computer screen and under a barbell.
Users of other Bodybuilding.com sections and other internet communities entirely propagate this idea of the Misc. as a cesspool of beta males with hopelessly futile aspirations of being alpha. “They have to be some of the most insecure dudes out there,” a Hypebeast forum user said of Miscers. On another forum, a user wrote that the Misc. is “filled with people [who] make fun of autism, while at the same time they themselves complain about their jobs, women, etc.”
More often, however, the call is coming from inside the house. Miscers reveal their vulnerabilities and problems in earnest with critically self-aware, self-deprecating posts. There are countless threads about “beta” topics like being a virgin (a Google search of site:bodybuilding.com “virgin” yields nearly 70,000 results), undergoing hair loss, not knowing how to normally interact with women, and giving up entirely. The Misc.’s Relationships and Relationships Help sub-forum would be more aptly titled “Sex: Help.” The “Depression Discussion and Support Thread Part III” thread is “stickied” by moderators at the top of the Misc., indicating that it resonates with the community; “Part II,” before it got so long that a new thread had to be created, had 10,000 posts and 1.6 million views. After the two aforementioned pornographic threads of “petite/slim girls” and “athletic girls,” the most-viewed Misc. threads are one about “Beta/cringe” moments of social awkwardness and another that documents the 350-pound weight-loss journey of a Miscer named Wetbreasts. For many Miscers, undoubtedly, browsing those threads is either motivational or like looking in a mirror. Or both.
It might appear counterintuitive that unconfident, sex-deprived, socially awkward young men would congregate—by the millions—on a bodybuilding website. But that paradox is precisely what’s responsible for the Misc.’s enduring allure.
It goes like this: A young guy thinks that improving his body will improve himself, that lifting weights will make him more confident, which will make girls like him more, which will make him happier, which will get him laid. And so on. In search of guidance, he finds Bodybuilding.com, where, after analyzing fat-to-ripped or skinny-to-jacked transformation stories, he ends up on the most popular part of the website: the Misc. But in the Misc. he finds a different kind of self-help: a vibrant, active community of like-minded guys. Guys who’ve felt inadequate and lonely and somehow less than manly, who’ve struggled with women and friends and money and body image, who’ve laughed at internet jokes and self-referential image macros that no one found funny, much less comprehensible, in real life. With a newfound sense of solidarity, this young guy wades deeper into the Misc., a community that gets him, his worldview increasingly shaped by this bodybuilding subculture, his mind warped by the community’s devil-may-care, “LOL, nothing matters” ethos.
It’s this last quality of the Misc. that Miscers themselves most readily use to characterize the forum. They see the stupidity of getting worked up over little green internet squares. They don’t take themselves seriously—it’s a motley crew of dudes on a bodybuilding site, bro—so nor should anyone else. Their attitude, one adopted from the bro culture with which they’re intertwined, is predicated on actions not having consequences. Break shit and someone else will pay for it. Get blind drunk, scream offensive things in public, and your boys will carry you home. Sexually harass or assault a woman, more than one woman, dozens of women, and you’ll still be revered, promoted, elected. You’re just “bro-ing out,” man, be easy, be chill, have a beer, have a protein shake.
“bro that forum is a fucking laugh man, just need a sense of humour,” a Hypebeast forum user wrote, in a thread titled, “The misc section of the bodybuilding forums is full of clowns.” If you’re young, white, and male, with a sense of humor shaped by the internet and a sense of privilege shaped by, well, everything else, the Misc.’s “clowns” can certainly be hilarious. But the further you are from that in-group, the more those clowns start to look like a horde of disturbing, misogynistic Pennywises.
Zyzz was once your standard insecure teenager with bad hair and spaghetti-thin arms. “I remember feeling like a little bitch when I was out with girls, walking next to them and feeling the same size as them,” he said in an interview. Becoming “aesthetic” hid a profound insecurity. His no-fucks-given attitude hid a fierce desire to be wanted.
Miscers see only the mirage. To them, Zyzz was living, walking, flexing proof that an average guy could eventually open the door to the HBB-filled alpha-male kingdom by gaining confidence and an aesthetically pleasing body. But the king is no more. And not every guy in search of personal fulfillment finds the key to that door by picking up a barbell. Not every young, white male who’d otherwise troll Reddit or 4chan becomes, through bodybuilding, the type of bro who doesn’t spend time on internet forums because he’s too busy crushing it, whatever “it” is, in real life. The Misc.—an online fraternity of the average and awkward, a safe space of the resentful and lustful and doubtful—is for the bros still searching.