The prospects for the section cruel designs continues with, once again, a carceral invention from the 19th century: a treadmill for prisoners as a disciplinary apparatus. JF Ptak Science Books’ website gives us an overlook to this device implemented in the prison of Cold Field Baths in London. The principle is as simple as it sounds, a series of wheels that prisoners have to make a physical effort in order to walk on it and thus perpetuate an immobile movement. We can legitimately doubt that the energy thus produced was not used for anything and can be therefore compared to the traditional penitentiary stone breaking punishment, as useless as physically enduring.
With this example, we can interrogate the design status of the treadmill we are more familiar with, the one that populates our gyms whose vision considered coldly has something of industrial farming. What can be said of the voluntarily participation of all those bodies found in the common yet very much individual will of sweating? What is for sure is that such (expensive) systematization of human effort emptied from anything that would possibly characterizes sport, requires a piece of design that has been thought for such use. We might want to use a cinematographic example that many will know to illustrate the smallness of a difference there is between Cold Field Baths’ prisoners and those happy gym addicts who voluntarily run for miles without actually going anywhere: In Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003), we can see (if not, see below) the character played by Bill Murray running on a treadmill (something that probably has another name actually) that gradually accelerates to the point that his body is soon being tortured to be able to follow the rhythm imposed by the machine. The cry “help” is then both comical and tragic, expressing the complete powerlessness of the character when subjected to the cruel design.