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Note: This post may contain spoilers.

Chris Bell’s Bigger Stronger Faster (2008) is a detailed exploration of the use of steroids in sports. In the process, Bell also explores the nature of American masculinity.

Bell begins this documentary by highlighting the muscled icons of the 1980s: Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Hulk Hogan. His questioning starts with the steroid use among himself and his brothers, who participate in strength-driven sports such as football, wrestling, and lifting. While Bell himself feels uncomfortable taking steroids, his brothers use them toward achieving their athletic goals.

From there, Bell serves as our guide as he raises questions about the uses and understandings of anabolic steroids. He interviews various experts about the panics surrounding the use of steroids and about the media’s perpetuation of that panic. He interviews others about the ethics of using steroids in sports, pointing out the contradictions in how they enhance performance and how many athletes use them even though it is commonly held that athletes should not use them.

From there, he delves into the larger question of performance enhancers in various aspects of life, such as Adderall and schools, and in aspects of business, in that performance enhancers are a multibillion-dollar industry that goes largely unregulated.

Throughout, Bell weaves in interviews with his brothers, mother, and father about steroid use. While many documentaries that use a personal voice tend to lean too heavily on that perspective, Bell manages to find just the right balance between the personal sides of these issues and the larger social questions.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh is a documentary blogger and mass media professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Follow her on Twitter @documentarysite.