Ever since I started weightlifting I’ve been obsessed with the Instagram of Thor Bjornsson, the Icelandic bodybuilder who plays The Mountain on Game of Thrones and was recently crowned the World’s Strongest Man. He weighs 400 pounds and stands six feet nine inches tall, and can overhead press his wife with one hand. I am not sure whether I approve of him (he seems to mostly just be a very tall, strong, and famous person who is enjoying that experience), but I do know that I really like looking at his Instagram and reading his so-simple-they-seem-cryptic captions.
I recently saw a picture of him wearing aviator shades while bottle feeding a white tiger. The caption reads: “What a beautiful Tiger!! - Had an amazing time at the palace here in Dubai, thank you to @mohdbinrashed and everyone else for the great hospitality 🙏”. I am captivated by this image; here are the thoughts I had about it, in the order in which I had them:
Are all relationships made up of two parties, the Thor Bjornsson and the white tiger? I.e. are you the strong yet nurturing presence unafraid to bottle-feed a 400 pound jungle cat, or are you the majestic killing machine pacified to the point of accepting a bottle and scritches?
Why do his sunglasses look photoshopped on? Maybe it’s just that most objects look unreal next to Thor Bjornsson’s ultraphysicality? In most pictures, Bjornsson looks like the realest thing in the scene. The only reason he looks even remotely correct here is probably because he’s next to something equally arresting. A similar effect occurs when he appears next to his extremely compact and hyperreal wife, whom he met when she asked him if they could take a photo together. Can a human be a charismatic megafauna?
What the hell is in that bottle? Is it milk? If so, from what animal? Is this like…a tiger that is still young enough to be nursing? (does some cursory Internet digging into how long do tigers nurse, and discovers some horrifying shit about tiger farming for profit). To quote commenter @debbie.apples above, “this picture makes me so sad, though.”
The weirdness of Dubai feels similar to the weirdness of Thor Bjornsson, in that it seems like a concentrated hub of power, bigness, and grandeur that is sort of terrible in how much space it takes up. A place where Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, prime minister of the Arab Emirates, has tigers on tap to entertain his guest Thor Bjornsson, who is himself here to entertain by being the world’s strongest man.
[An extended deep dive into the lives of the two most prominent wives of Mohammed Bin Rashid. One is so devout that there are no public photographs of her; the other, Haya Bint Hussein, was an Olympic equestrian for her home nation of Jordan and served as president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports until she had to step down because her husband and stepson were convicted of doping racehorses.]
The realization that I have no framework for understanding polygamous husband-wife relationships that take place in the public sphere despite being publicly involved with multiple people myself. Also: my amazement that Haya Bint Hussein, a princess, Olympian, and Oxford graduate is willing to be the junior wife of a man twenty five years her senior who screwed up her presidency of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. Also: why do I feel sorry for a woman who owns both a racehorse and a yacht?
In the relationship between Mohammed Bin Rashid and Thor Bjornsson (or between Mohammed Bin Rashid and Haya Bint Hussein), who is the Thor Bjornsson—the seemingly-oblivious strongman proffering the bottle of drugged milk—and who is the white tiger suckling on the milk because it can’t quite remember how to shake a human by the neck until its spine snaps? Is the fact that they both weigh 400 pounds indicative that they are variables in a balanced equation or reversible chemical reaction?
The world of the wealthy and powerful is a surreal space in which all human relationships become blurred into parody by the presence of all that wealth and power. If you are a regular person and you’re given a gift like the opportunity to pet and bottle feed a white tiger, that’s going to trigger immense gratitude, even if it requires no effort from the person orchestrating the moment because they already just had a doped white tiger lying around. But that’s not the same thing as generosity, which is about proportionality and sacrifice, and proportionality and sacrifice are impossible when you are so wealthy that nothing can touch you.
That however tempting it might be to step into the world of wealth and power, it is not worth the price of admission, which is to be made neutral and entertaining. If the house always wins, it is perhaps a relief to not be a racehorse, tiger, strong man, or princess, and thus to be safely beneath notice.
In another photograph taken in Dubai, Thor Bjornsson holds his wife Kelsey over his head while she sits stoically on his palm in a white headscarf and black sunglasses. His caption reads, “Dope shot!! Check out how relaxed Kelsey is!! This is what I call, complete trust 100%!!” As I consider this image, a kind of binocular shift takes place, and Thor Bjornsson, the tiger, Kelsey, and Haya Bint Hussein are suddenly superimposed. What a beautiful tiger. Check out how relaxed she is. This is what Thor Bjornsson calls complete trust. Thank you, Mohammed Bin Rashid, for this dope shot.