You look at yourself and see a strong, vibrant member of a community of like-minded individuals. I look at you and I see a sweaty, desperate fascist in training. Three supportive cheers from the Fitness Team for your personal record today—fascist!

You look in the mirror. You look in the mirror because you are paying good money to stand in a mirrored room with other approval-seekers and follow instructions shouted by a self-appointed guru. You look in the mirror to admire yourself as you engage in your wholly public simulacrum of work. You look in the mirror to admire yourself in the context of the group. You, the shy boy in Lord of the Flies, ensconced now safely in the bosom of the grunting group. You, able to shed your identity and slip so easily into the undifferentiated, throbbing, neon mass. No longer are you just another human—scared and confused, as we all are, by the challenges of the world, relying only upon your own will to get you through—instead, you are A Member of A Community.

You have the same t-shirt as the others now. Wow.

I want to act like I’m having a party in your honor and rent a space and decorate it and invite all your friends and put the spotlight on you and come right up next to you with the microphone and tell you: You sicken me. You sadden me. You make my stomach ache like a hard set of weighted decline sit ups that I did alone, unlike some people I could name (your name here). Hard physical exertion should be a lonely journey to the dark places of your own soul. Not a freaking mixer. That’s crazy, man. Save the mixer for the mocktails. “Fitness” is a byproduct of you seeking out pain like a particularly masochistic fish might seek out fish hooks. “Fitness community” is an oxymoron. 1) There should be no COMM-unication in working out, because be quiet, and 2) the only UNITY you should be having is your spiritual communion with the God of Being Tired (Barnaby, a mythical fat bulldog slumped on a golden floor for all eternity).

Get it correct or you don’t get it all, champ!

SoulCycle. A room full of stationary bikes improbably masquerading as a lifestyle. A room full of stationary bikes soon to collect billions of dollars from investors. A room full of stationary bikes atop which sit dozens and dozens of lost souls who have not only paid good money to be sitting there, all at the same time, but who have paid more good money to purchase tank tops bearing the slogan “SOULCYCLE” to wear as they pedal their stationary bikes together in order to signal as strongly as possible that they are eager to adopt every last norm of the group. A room full of stationary bikes, lost souls, and branding. There ain’t nothing soulful about that. “We Aspire to Inspire” says one wall in the exercycle room. “Find Freedom In Our Sprints,” says another wall in the exercycle room. “We Are a Fitness Community.” All of these slogans can be properly translated as “Give Us Your Money And We Will Give You the Temporary Safety of a Group as a Narcotic For Your Wounded and Fearful Soul.”

A truly revolting spectacle.

Crossfit. The primordial stew from which a new Aryan supremacist movement could spring. Dozens of people, each one either too intense or not intense enough, gathered together in a cement block room to do kettlebell swings together for a shockingly high price. Those who are too intense could have done kettlebell swings alone, for free; those who are not intense enough will be injured. A group of people doing serviceable workouts who have all made the mystifying decision to do those workouts at the same time in the same place and then to pathologically inform the rest of the world about said workouts after they are completed. Why? All so that they can have an excuse to remark to one another at regular intervals, “CROSSFIT IS LIKE FINE ART, CRITIQUED BY MANY BUT UNDERSTOOD BY FEW.”

You’re just jumping onto a box with a stopwatch my man. Learn to do leatherworking or some shit if you want an interesting hobby. You want a culture? Move to Greenland and become an Inuit. Inuit is a culture. Crossfit is several dozen IT employees doing thrusters in a warehouse.

A farce tinged with just enough latent menace to constitute a potential breeding ground for terrorism. Homeland Security has been alerted.

Tough man races. You run through mud and climb a wooden obstacle. For this you gain a “Tough Mudder” t-shirt to wear to the company picnic in hopes that Stephanie will take notice of you. It won’t happen friend. Stephanie has the good sense to keep her workouts to herself. “It’s all about teamwork and camraderie,” the Tough Mudder organizers tell you. Wrong. It’s all about a nation of people insulated from danger and privation coming to a mutual agreement among themselves to pretend that they have tasted danger and privation. You’ve paid money for a corporation to bestow upon you a false sense of triumph. You can run through mud for free hombre. But you can’t run away from yourself.

Hit the road, Jack.

A small town where you grew up and your family knows every other family and the guy at the general store lets you run a tab for flour and bacon is a community. A hip hop crew that has traveled all over the world engaging in MC and break dance battles with the finest b-boys from Switzerland to Japan is a community. A prison gang, if it is well-run and doesn’t get caught up on all the vindictive stuff, is a community. A class where you pay too much money to do workouts with people I don’t like is not a community. That is called an “exercise class,” and you should skip it and just go see how long you can jump rope in an empty parking lot before your legs cramp up. If you are so desperate for human connection that you need to form a community that is somehow connected to working out, of all things, go to this gym in Harlem that doubles as a socialist community center and move all the squat racks out of the way so they can set up for tonight’s screening of a documentary about Fidel Castro. Now that’s what I call a community!!!

If you are in a room full of people in matching t-shirts, you are already on the wrong track.

[Image by Tara Jacoby]