His antics make Marina Abramović’s efforts look like a walk in the park
He is undeniably in possession of an aesthetic gift. The Liver King’s bloody, camp, operatically extreme photos and videos contain shades of Paul McCarthy’s grotesque culinary performances, Matthew Barney’s physical workouts, the blood and guts of Hermann Nitsch’s gory rituals, and WWE. Watch him handing his wife, the Liver Queen, a bunch of raw hearts on skewers as a Mother’s Day gift. Watch his blonde sons gobbling raw liver in the swimming pool of the family’s Texas mansion, blood smeared across their lily-white cheeks. Watch him place a vegan burger on a table and destroy it with a shotgun. Watch his personal chef introduce a dish of ceviche testicles and a meat Christmas tree with kidneys for baubles. Look at his preposterous body and wild beard, listen to him preach about following the primal lifestyle and getting back to the barbarians we once were.
But the real reason we know that the Liver King is an artist is because many of his claims turn out to be rooted in fiction. “Yes, I’m on steroids,” he confessed in a YouTube video uploaded on 2 December. A few days prior, emails leaked by a personal trainer who goes by the name of Vigorous Steve revealed that the absurdly ripped Paleo influencer, who has racked up over five million followers on TikTok and Instagram in less than two years by supposedly living off a diet of raw meat and weightlifting (or, per his website, ‘championing the ancient path to a more robust life… guided by the principle of Ancestral Living’), was in fact injecting over US$11,000 in growth hormones per month. If you’ve seen the Liver King, this news is about as surprising as the Pope coming out as Catholic. The Liver King’s pumped body bears the telltale signs of steroid use: soft little breasts on top of his pectoral muscles and a textbook case of bubble gut, which has caused his eight-pack to protrude like he’s four months pregnant. Welcome to the meat-and-muscle carnival.
Yet the Liver King’s steroid use shouldn’t overshadow his very contemporary genius. In recent history, extreme performance-art has found a new and profitable home on social media, where a capitalist avant-garde of influencers is thriving: individuals who commit to exaggerated personas and are willing to go to great lengths, personally and aesthetically, to gain vast amounts of money and followers – things that performance artists have historically found themselves unable to achieve. The Liver King is at the forefront of this influencer movement, turbo-charging the familiar tenets of endurance, experimentation, shock factor and audience participation in order to rack up views and hawk his brand of ‘ancestral supplements’, which includes bottles of ‘Beef Thyroid’ pills for over US$50 a pop. His antics make Marina Abramović’s efforts look like a walk in the park. Think sitting down all day in a gallery for a few months is hard work? How about shooting ’roids, surfing with chains around your neck and eating raw organs with your wife and kids?
A notable feature of the capitalist avant-garde is the spectacularisation of identity, and specifically gender – a smart move for gaining attention during an era in which gender is one of the preeminent preoccupations. The Liver King takes the caveman larping, protein-chugging clusterfuck of contemporary masculinity and dials it up to the max. If you thought his admission of steroid use might hurt his image, think again: framing himself as a champion of beta males – a kind of Jordan Peterson in a Tarzan bodysuit – the Liver King shows himself to be the type of guy who would go to any lengths to provide them with an alpha role-model.
It would be a stretch to say that capitalist avant-gardists actively comment on the conditions of contemporary identity. Instead, as narcissistic exhibitionists with a dedication to the grift, they exploit the anxieties and desires that haunt the contemporary psyche for money and attention – the snake-oil salespeople of our time. The Liver King taps into the status anxiety of the white man in a woke world, his corny products and caveman schtick aimed at profiting from panic over the erosion of patriarchal values and conservative gender roles, and from the body dysmorphia that has spread like wildfire among ‘gymcels’ far and wide. A grifter and a charlatan he may be, but the Liver King is a talented artist, able to transform fears and fetishes into cartoonesque proportions, and to expose the many contradictions at the heart of the caveman fantasy. His ‘ancestral’ persona is a masterpiece: an extraordinary, humorous and dark portrait of the confused and chaotic entity known as contemporary man.