I certainly learned things in my classes -- jab, cross, left hook, right hook, bouncing around -- and indeed sweated my balls off. The question is: do most folks come here for the boxing and stay for the bullshit, or vice versa?
It’s worth noting that the “chic boxing” trend got its start in New York, thanks to endorsements from models and Instagram influencers like Gigi Hadid. But over the last decade, metropolitan areas of the country as well as Paris and London have seen a surge in boxing gyms -- interestingly enough, while the spectator sport of pro boxing is on a simultaneous downswing. Which makes sense, considering your standard city-dwelling millennial’s concept of authenticity: why go to that shady neighborhood for real Mexican food when you can get “real” Mexican food served by white hipsters just a couple blocks away? We’re savvy enough to see the artifice, but too lazy to care that much. (Please note that I include myself in this generalization.)
And as alluring as it may seem to consider boxing the counterpoint to our cerebral, soft-handed, Internet-addicted lives, the longstanding fetishism of the sport as “authentic” shouldn’t be taken at face value. Much like Overthrow’s brand, depictions of boxing in pop culture have always been predicated on a smartly packaged binary, one that long predated social media. Norman Mailer’s white intellectual perspective on the sport in The Fight, his book on Ali and Frazier’s Rumble in the Jungle, worked as a microcosm of black culture at the time. Fight Club’s unnamed narrator, who evaluates insurance claims for a living, hates the idea of being a slave to products and represses his sense of emasculation until he “meets” Tyler Durden. Brad Pitt was paid $17.5 million to dirty himself up, get jacked, and play Durden in the film. A Fight Club-themed bar in the East Village called Durden is a favorite of NYU students. Only one of its current Yelp reviews is conflicted.
In a way, the true appeal of Overthrow’s brand isn’t that it’s particularly uncompromising, or committed to the destruction of the American Death Machine. It’s that it’s not. It’s “half-in, half-out,” perfect for girls like me who don’t necessarily relate to that perfect-looking woman in head-to-toe Lululemon, but is also too bougie to do a free hour at some no-frills Planet Fitness, either. It’s just gritty enough to satisfy its clients, but not so gritty it could turn people off. It offers violence without violence, and rebellion without rebellion.
Still, I can see how the illusion is appealing, for girls or guys. I’m a “drink a bottle of wine and smoke half a pack of cigarettes one day, go to Barry’s Boot Camp the next day, repeat for as long as possible” sort of workout person. In getting sweaty and gross and breaking your only-white-wine rule for a warm can of Tecate -- in a controlled environment, at $34 a class, taught by male models -- you are further demarcating yourself as “not one of those green-juice people” or “crossfit people.” You are becoming “a person who goes to boxing,” even if you never really become "a person who boxes."
It’s what Freud called “the narcissism of small differences.” But then small differences can be very big differences, in the hyper-self-aware, hyper-connected present. So if there is an answer to the gym’s motto -- “WHAT ARE YOU FIGHTING FOR?” -- maybe it’s that. You're fighting to be just different enough.
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Anna Breslaw is a frequent contributor to ELLE.com and Cosmopolitan. She's also written for GQ.com, Complex.com, NewYorker.com, and Paper. Her first novel, Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here, is due out next April. Follow her: @annabreslaw. Read more here.