Pop Culture


Body Love Wellness has a very revealing interview with a Biggest Loser finalist here (Part 2 here, and some additional thoughts on the interview here). I think it is awesome that Golda got the straight story on this.

Whether to diet is a very personal decision, but I think it is bad news bears to make it dramatic enough to be a reality show–the kind of slow, moderate weight loss that people seem to agree is “healthy” (not that I personally am even particularly convinced of that, of course) does not exactly make good TV. Even worse now that clueless workplaces have weight loss competitions loosely based on this concept (my complaint being that–even if you buy into weight loss as a positive–it should never be a straight “competition” based on the scale because, since different people lose at different rates, that all but guarantees people will do stuff that is risky or ill-advised. Adults can do what they like with their own bodies, but feeling coerced to participate in a weight loss competition is not cool).

Individual fat people may be unhealthy, and I’m sure some individuals have benefited from The Biggest Loser. Statistically it seems likely enough, I guess. But it is by no means a given that any particular fat person is so unhealthy that it justifies overexercising in 90-degree heat, purging, diuretics, and a caloric intake so low that it is likely to screw up your metabolism for life. These things are a bad idea on principle, and fat people are being used as guinea pigs in a way that is very irresponsible. I am far from the first to make this observation, but I suppose something actually beneficial, like a HAES show, would be far less popular because fatties would be empowered, not punished.

I understand what it is like to want this badly to be thin, but The Biggest Loser just preys on that desire and feeds into viewers’ beliefs about fat people (all for entertainment value–it’s not like this is an altruistic venture designed to benefit humanity) in a way that is very distasteful to me.

Wow… I thought I sort of liked Tony Kornheiser, not that I know a whole lot about him, but this is ridiculous. It’s just so… funny, I suppose, that the system that gives rise to women in sports reporting wearing more provocative or at least “cute” clothing (which, not that I care, but I think the outfit she is wearing looks fine), while men wear the typical no-brainer suit uniform, also allows men to judge out loud whether their colleagues are being compliant enough with said system. (Wear frumpy clothes and you don’t get noticed, but go “too far” the other way and people feel free to make fun of you for being “old” and pathetic.) I mean, sure, you might see a sports analyst joking about another guy’s loud suit but I think we all know that would have a far different tone. Why… it’s almost like this is a no-win situation for women or something.

Of course, this is what happens when we have 24-hour news and people have to think of stuff to say to fill the time. Eventually they are going to say something stupid and usually it’s something that reflects their true colors.

I was listening to NPR‘s All Things Considered last week and heard an interview with Sapphire, the author of the novel Push, on which the movie Precious is based. The host asked why it was important that the character be obese, and I found this question and some wording in Bob Mondello’s movie review (“her face so full it seems incapable of expression”) to be at least irritating and perhaps borderline offensive–I felt that they seemed to view Precious and to some extent Gabourey Sidibe, the actress who plays her, as some sort of strange curiosity. So I loved the author’s straightforward and beautiful response, in the context of an anecdote about a white woman who had approached her to indicate that, after seeing the film, “she would never look at an overweight black woman again with the same judgment.” It made me happy to hear.

After seeing this film, she had to deal with an obese black woman as a feeling, intelligent person as a person who dreams, as a person who wants the things that she wants. So we brought up a stereotype, and we cracked it open, and a human being comes forth.

My local public radio station posted this photo essay to accompany a current reporting series on the “obesity crisis” in Michigan (Personally, I think we have other crises that are more important right now, but why not scapegoat fat people to make ourselves feel better in the meantime?). The series is called “What We Eat” (make of that what you will) and starts airing this afternoon, so you will probably be able to check the web site after that for segments that have aired, if you are interested.

Michigan Radio posted a Facebook update about the photo essay today, so if you have any additional feedback after viewing the photos, feel free to add it to their comments. (Right now it is the top update on their page, but you may have to scroll down as I can’t figure out how to link to the update directly.) I did my best, but I tend to rant and rave rather than stay on message. I also commented in this earlier thread, and I have to say there are a lot of comments there that I liked (even the one person who is all “every fat person I have known has made terrible choices, IT’S SCIENCE” is not 100% unreasonable). I really wish I had mentioned Kate’s name in that thread in case they take it into their heads to actually do an FA interview. Maybe I will go do that now, even though it is probably too late.

So anyway, I thought we could use the photo essay to play a fun little game called “spot the fat hate/fat stereotypes.” I have a lot of ideas about this, but I will post just one–see how in the first photo, the overflowing trash can is front and center, perpetuating the idea that fat people are destroying the environment with our greed and wastefulness? What other anti-fat ideas do you see embodied in these photos?

…the problems with Glee? Yes, it’s entertaining (I’m giving it another couple of episodes in the hope that it will settle some of its issues, because I enjoy the singing, the show’s potential, and the school setting), but so far it’s also pretty sexist. Beyond that, very few of the characters are remotely likable (the exceptions for me are the main female character, Rachel Berry; the teacher, Will Schuester, who is so bland and inoffensive that it is hard to have an opinion about him one way or the other; the principal; and cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, at least for the roughly 30% of the time when the incomparable Jane Lynch is spouting hilariously demented lines rather than filling up a feminist stereotype bingo card). It’s like the show’s creator hates the entire cast in addition to hating all women everywhere.

Here are a few of the sexist characters, tropes, and images I noticed in the last couple of episodes:

  • Mr. Schuester’s wife, Terri, is a lazy, whiny, entitled princess who thinks she’s put-upon for having to work part-time at a Sheets-‘n-Things store. She is also stupid, as evidenced by her “hysterical pregnancy.” Oh, the hilarity! In general, she seems to exist to fulfill the belief that your wife really is naggy and evil and out to take all your money, whereas you are a saint with the patience of Job, and furthermore the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence where that cuter younger model whose only apparent personality trait is quirkiness resides. By the way, when I was trying to find this character’s name, I came across a forum link with a discussion thread entitled “Anyone else can’t stand Terri?” Um, I highly doubt you’re supposed to like her. The one glimmer of hope I see for Terri is that she appears to realize at the end of the most recent episode that lying about her pregnancy was wrong, but was so scared she didn’t see another alternative. A true cardboard cutout would have been totally fine with the lie.
  • Which brings me to Terri’s sister, another flat stereotype whose husband is afraid to go to the bathroom without permission, who eggs Terri on to purchase an elaborate McMansion that they can’t afford (side note: their “inadequate” apartment appears to contain a giant clawfoot tub in a beautifully restored bathroom–WTF?), perpetuates the “wives and mothers are lazy spoiled princesses” trope again by admonishing Terri not to give up her “craft room” for a nursery in a mockery of the concept that stressed-out moms should dare have any outlet for themselves, and encourages her to continue lying to her husband about the mistaken pregnancy. This character is like all of the most hateful assumptions about women distilled into one person.
  • Sue is hilarious and in many ways a joy to watch, as Jane Lynch always is. But they also write self-important lines for the character that are intended to show the hilarity and ridiculousness that is feminism–murmuring “offensive” to the phrase “cock of the walk,” lashing out that she doesn’t want to be treated like a second-class citizen because of her gender when gender wasn’t really part of the discussion. This should all be just super for coddling and justifying complacent viewers’ misinformed beliefs about what “feminists are like.” Of course there is a line that reveals Sue to be post-menopausal as well, because it wouldn’t do to portray a character like her as anything other than man-hating, “dried up,” and desexualized (though the show also could have gone with “‘scary’ butch lesbian”).
  • Emma, the school’s guidance counselor, has the potential to be an interesting character, so I will reserve judgment on her for now (though I don’t like the general idea of the tiny, pure, perfect ingenue who often appears on TV and in film and is always just so much more appealing than the ol’ ball and chain), but in a really gross line from last week’s show, she advises Rachel that not having a gag reflex will be a boon to her “later in life.” This line veers just a little too close to “rape is funny” for my comfort–it assumes that oral sex is de facto uncomfortable and unpleasant for women, but something that you are simply required to buck up and do anyway. Ick.
  • Speaking of which, the show’s mean girls belong to an abstinence club where they scheme behind closed doors about how to exert power over boys by denying them sex. This scene, to me, seemed designed to show that women really are controlling, cold bitches who deserve what they get. Later, when the boys and girls were attempting to interact “chastely,” one of the boy characters simulates grinding and yells “c’mon, take it!” in a throwaway line. This is what immediately jumps to mind when the writers think of sex–for women, it’s a mind game, and for men, it’s a push to dominate against a woman’s will? To me, that’s kind of depressing.
  • A wimpy, sexually frustrated male character who appeared to be portrayed as something of a Jewish stereotype was another tiresome addition to this scene. Come to that, the show’s creator appears to be none too fond of men either–a fired choir director is a druggie pedophile who harasses his students, and previews showed a presumably gay choreographer who appears to be played as a fat, bitchy, irrational, pathetic figure of fun in eyeliner. (Note that I obviously don’t think “fat” or any of those other features are negative characteristics, but you can bet this show probably does.)

Finally, the way the show’s ensemble is set up is fairly ridiculous. OK, to be fair, many TV shows contain a white character or couple around which the entire plot revolves, with a supporting group of minority characters who exist mainly to make the cast look “diverse,” but sometimes attempts are made to alter this structure or present it in a more subtle manner. Not on Glee! Nope–you have the patented characters of black girl, gay guy, Asian girl, and disabled guy all literally backing up the white main character and leading man. Furthermore, it would seem that Rachel’s dark hair is meant to symbolize her status as unpopular misfit (in opposition to her blonde head-cheerleader nemesis)–never mind that she is still white, thin, pretty, and otherwise TV-perfect in every way–so the show doesn’t really even break the mold that the golden girl or couple must always be not only white but blond to boot.

The black singer’s personality seems to consist entirely of “loud diva,” and the rest of the characters have not really been given personalities to speak of yet. I suppose they could be playing this structure so blatantly as a means of satirizing the white-lead/minority-supporting-cast structure, but personally, I am not really seeing that.

In any case, this show is on probation for me. Treating the characters like actual human beings deserving of a baseline level of respect would go a long way toward helping the show live up to its own hype, in my opinion.

A friend sent me this article, and I am freaked out:

Megachurches? Check. Homophobia? Check. Angry misogyny (um, I mean bemoaning the plight of men in the church and making women’s submission to their husbands a central tenet of your theology)? Check.

The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”

Seriously, people of Seattle? You aren’t smarter than this? What a load of hateful crap. I didn’t think the modern megachurch could get any worse, but here we are. I guess at least he doesn’t backpedal or attempt to conceal his bigotry, so you know what you’re dealing with. That’s sort of refreshing. I guess.

And is it just me, or does every new heavily-marketed pop culture worship style pride itself on being the only one that tolerates “outcasts”? I bet if you walked into Rick Warren’s church with tattoos and piercings they’d be thrilled to acquire the bad-ass cred.