One of Sarkozy’s earliest scandals as French President was when he took to the streets of Paris to jog. The spectacle of a jogging President immediately revolted France’s soundbite friendly intellectual community with Alain Finklekraut demanding that Sarkozy immediately curtail his “undignified” jogging adventures. Not only did Finklekraut object to the spectacle of the Presidential knees, but also because “Jogging is management of the body. The jogger says I am in control. It has nothing to do with meditation.” In a city where Charles Baudlaire had previously extolled the virtues of the flaneur, the intellectual meditative pursuit of strolling and contemplating the cityscape, Sarkozy jogging in his NYPD t-shirt appeared as yet another vulgar and anti-intellectual importation.
Locked into such concern was the idea that jogging embodies a US-centric neo-liberal order loaded, as it is, with a logic of performance, individualism and narcissism. For the jogger, the body is reconfigured as technology, an instrument to be perfected and managed through discipline in order to participate in the everyday. It bears witness to the double-bind of consumer culture where hedonistic pleasures must be balanced with the miserable asceticism of diet and jogging regimes. Locked into a trance the jogger is completely closed to any social possibility as their body mechanically and robotically sets about repetitive tasks as they expect strollers to stand aside and transform parks into a private gymnasia. Yet, unlike running, the regime of the perfected body never arrives as jogging remains an exercise-lite hobby, as consumer researcher Dr. Robin Canniford of University of Melbourne puts it, “jogging is like Ready Brek instead of porridge, Elmlea Cream instead of clotted cream, Flora instead of butter, designer stubble instead of beard and David Cameron instead of Mussolini. Basically, jogging is life in half-measures.”
The history of jogging is commercial and widely believed to have been imported into the US by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman who popularised the pursuit and recognised an opportunity to expand the taket market for sportswear. Hence the rise of jogging in the US is historically connected to the rise of Nike yet Bowerman’s vision of jogging was fundamentally social and organised around the principle of clubs and group jogs. In particular Bowerman was interested in jogging as an athletic pursuit for the elderly that would bring cardio-benefits. Fifty years later, the widespread practice of jogging is unrecognisable from Bowerman’s enthusiastic vision and its health benefits contextualised by a plethora of knee and hip injuries. Indeed in 2009 Nicolas Sarkozy collapsed whilst jogging and required hospitalisation.
Walking through Battersea Park during marathon season, surrounded by a sea of lycra-clad and suffering-faced joggers who each expect you to stand-aside, it is tempting to conclude that this is a particularly pointless phenomena of consumer culture’s half-measured ascetic lifestyle regime.