If you know, you know. That’s the best way I can prepare any prospective reader for Jack Garbarino’s The Movement: How I Got This Body By Never Going To The Gym In My Life. If you don’t know, and you encounter this book in the wild, I can imagine your 150-page journey (if you make it that far) will be troubling and confusing. If you do know, however, and you take it upon yourself to read this masterpiece, you will be rewarded. When reviewing a book like The Movement, context is crucial. The circumstances surrounding any reading of this book will undoubtedly influence the reader’s perception of it.
At this point, you’re either on board with The Movement or completely rattled. And if you’re rattled, you now have a choice. You can live in ignorant bliss and remove The Movement from your mind forever, or you can become a part of something much larger than yourself.
Nathan For You
Still here? I’m glad. Your life is about to be changed forever, and you won’t even need to go to a gym. Plus, I’m going to give you the context you need to enjoy this book.
The Movement finds its origins in season 3, episode 3 of Nathan For You, a Comedy Central show that ran for four seasons in the mid-2010s. If you can grit your teeth and make it through the moments where the awkward/cringe meter is dialed all the way up, you’ll be treated to a comedy masterpiece. Nathan Fielder brings his wacky marketing ideas to struggling businesses under the guise of a show that helps said businesses turn things around.
Every single episode of Nathan For You is special. Fielder lampoons Hollywood, traditional marketing, magicians, gender norms, and myriad other things throughout the four-season run of his show. Nathan For You is perhaps best known for “Dumb Starbucks,” which wove its way through the mediasphere in 2014. If any of this sounds even remotely intriguing to you, the show is a must-watch, all the way through, up to and including the feature-length “Finding Frances.” Seriously, it’s comedy gold and, frankly, a really good movie.
But it’s in that season 3 episode that The Movement is born. To get you up to speed and to give you a taste of what the show is like, enjoy this clip (watch the full episode for the full effect, though):
The Movement In Context
And that brings us to The Movement, by “Jack Garbarino,” or ghostwriter Austin Bowers (who did a great interview with Nerdist, should you wish to explore further).
Within the context of Nathan For You, this book is a treat. Garbarino/Bowers’ voice from the show plants itself on each and every page, and there are 150 of them. I’d argue that The Movement lambasts marketing in general, though it hyperfixates on fitness marketing. The book, existing within the orbit of the show and the specific episode from which it was born, provides a sharp commentary on how quick people are to capitalize on even a middling idea when given access to a full-on marketing machine. That machine can (and will) pump out a story that consumers are all too eager to gobble up without realizing that the story exists just to prey on their precious dollars.
Think for a moment about other books that have enjoyed a rocket-boost marketing push. The Secret via Oprah’s book club might spring to mind, and it’s a perfect case study. Oprah Winfrey promoted the ever-living crap out of The Secret, and the visualization/self-help book wound up on the dusty shelves of many a midwestern mom (speaking from personal experience here). The real secret, which isn’t so secret after all, is that author Rhonda Byrne and promoter Oprah stood to gain all sorts of money by sharing this book with the masses. The Secret threaded itself into the tapestry of people’s lives simply thanks to a strong marketing effort. The messages of the book (or, more accurately, the messages Oprah said the book contained) struck a chord with people, who then bought the book. And yet another secret? A bunch of them probably never even read it.
The Movement, then, is some sort of distantly related kin to The Secret, in that both books exist to push an idea that takes shape beyond the text. And, on some level, the hope is that people will purchase the book, whether or not they actually read it or take its messages to heart.
Why The Movement Matters
Reading The Movement after seeing the episode of Nathan For You can cement this idea in your brain. Garbarino’s text may be subtitled “How I Got This Body By Never Going To The Gym In My Life,” but the fictional version of him in the book goes to the gym several times. The Movement may purport to contain a fitness plan that allows people to get in shape sans gym membership, but the text itself is just a wonky life story told through disconnected anecdotes and myriad typos.
During my readthrough, I enjoyed a fair few hearty chuckles at the glaringly obvious inconsistencies between the Jack Garbarino of the show and the Jack of the book. Plus, some sentences seem to start off with no clear direction, and the lack of it only becomes clearer as the sentence winds to a close. Consider the interview with Bowers I linked above. In it, he says he wrote the book in seven days. He gets a pass for any errors from me due to that timeline, of course, but also because of what the show and the book collectively say: none of this actually matters.
Context is what matters. In this case, the book and the episode exist within the world of a large, long joke. The joke lampoons and critiques the power of strong marketing–a full book, a workout program, morning show appearances, and much more–and paints both the recipients and participants of this marketing as sad saps who are lost in the labyrinthine gears of a well-oiled machine. And The Movement only exists as an offshoot of the show. No reader unfamiliar with Nathan For You would reasonably enjoy the book. Much like The Secret, The Movement gets lost in the publicity. The ideas don’t mean a thing as long as the book actually sells copies.
It’s a twisted form of irony at play, but it all serves the bigger message and feeds the question: what the hell am I reading and why? Thankfully my answer is “I love Nathan For You and this is an extension of the content I love so much.” I may still be feeding a marketing machine, but at least I’m in on the joke…right?!
The silver lining here? At least The Movement gives us flawless critique of mass marketing. And, according to Bowers, the proceeds all went to charity. The joke is good for more than just a laugh, and at least Nathan Fielder understands the impact of his actions, no matter their comedic intent.
I won’t proffer a review score here, because The Movement doesn’t need a review. Instead, consider this a plea to watch Nathan For You, then read it. Bask in the zany oddity that is The Movement, understand its message, and enjoy a few laughs along the way.