TV


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.

…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.

I just read Kate’s entry on diet and fitness guru Bob Greene’s recent claim (pulled from his ass or at the very least not established fact, as you can see from the information she cites) that yo-yo dieting is actually healthier than maintaining a higher weight. I was thinking about how we are willing to accept the statements of “experts” unquestioningly, and how we are so desperate to believe that permanent weight loss is within reach that we are all too willing to uncritically believe comments like Greene’s, or casual, unsupported claims that lots and lots of people are permanently successful at dieting, which I seem to hear a lot.

As I thought about this, I recalled that I was watching this asinine talk show called The Doctors yesterday, because I was stuck at the car dealership for what turned out to be nearly 4 hours. I had already taken a long walk, so I couldn’t think of anything to do other than sit in the customer lounge and watch questionable midday talk programming. This particular episode behaved much like an infomercial involving that one trainer from The Biggest Loser, and was hosted by a dude in scrubs who appeared to be about 20. (Yes, I know he’s really not. I did do a cursory check of the show’s web site, and the guy is an actual doctor. But he kind of reminds me of either a stereotypical frat boy or Devon from Chuck, except NOT so awesome from what I can tell.)

So anyway, the episode included a segment where they browbeat “Chunky B,” an employee of the show (who admitted to a poor diet, lack of exercise, and not seeing a doctor in 20 years, which, OK, is maybe not such a good idea, but I can understand how it might happen), into agreeing to go on a diet. And because no such dramatic change is complete without public fatty-shaming, they weighed him and checked his body fat percentage, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose right there on the stage, then made him exercise with the trainer lady to demonstrate how unfit he was.

(Incidentally, I had to laugh when she had him stop exercising and measure his pulse. It was 155, and she said with great alarm “that’s way too high!” First of all, the upper end of my recommended heart rate range during exercise is around 160, so 155 does not seem “call the ambulance” bad to me. Second, I realize I’m kind of unusual and most people have lower resting and active heart rates, but I have been running for a few years now and was a regular gymgoer before that, currently log 20-25 miles a week including running for 90 minutes straight the last couple of Fridays, and I have to consciously work to keep my heart rate down near 155 during my runs! I don’t doubt it would be right up there if someone had me start doing all kinds of crazy strenuous stuff–the point of which on the show was probably “look at the clumsy, out of shape, pathetic fatty!”–without warming up. What if the guy had been thin? Somehow I think she’d have found a way to explain away that “way too high” heart rate.)

Anyway, the results were as follows: body fat percentage, 29; blood pressure, 170/100; cholesterol, 189; LDL, 40; and blood glucose, I can’t remember, but it was quite low in relation to the reference range they showed onscreen. Host dude was unflatteringly deflated and surprised that the cholesterol result was OK (though he seemed happier about the borderline LDL number, no doubt because it better aligned with his worldview) and glucose low (by the way, weren’t these supposed to be fasting tests? Of course, maybe he did fast and they just didn’t mention it). Because we all know that every fat person in the world has clogged arteries and Type II diabetes. Also, I’m not a health professional, but I could envision that being publicly shamed for your weight on national television, in addition to possible miscuffing (this dude had huge tree trunk arms) might account for some of the scary BP number.

Or maybe not; maybe the guy really is at death’s door. The point is, they couldn’t know just by looking at him, and to me the segment just reinforced my and many other fat people’s experience with “experts” and with the medical profession–doctors presume to know that you’re unhealthy before they look at a single test result, and if you raise a legitimate concern–like miscuffing accounting for inflated blood pressure readings or possible hypothyroidism, or a concern that you have tried reasonable measures to lose weight and they don’t seem to be working, or a joint injury that is making exercise painful–their need to keep you from “making excuses” for your weight seems to trump their interest in actually looking into these factors and addressing them.

Of course, it is not a coincidence in my opinion that most doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers are naturally thin (fat people are told they’re unhealthy from Day One, are given no credibility for knowing what constitutes a healthy diet, and are not encouraged to excel at physical challenges and probably couldn’t get hired as a trainer in any case because they don’t look the part), so many seem pretty much unable to see that the relationship between diet, exercise, weight, and health can differ from their own experience. So maybe eating and exercising in a similar way to your doctor or Jillian Michaels will make you thin (especially if you used to be thin and happened to put on weight somewhere along the line). Maybe it will not make you thin, but will improve your health. Maybe that regimen would be actively unhealthy for you.

Perhaps most importantly, maybe the thin guy who is seen at the next appointment has habits that are just as (or more) unhealthy than yours, but your doctor doesn’t ask him about it or suggest changes to his diet or activity because he’s thin, so he must be healthy, right? (Or he simply asks “Are you eating a healthy diet and exercising? Still not smoking? Good for you!” whereas a fat person is grilled in detail about the number of calories she consumes and minutes of aerobic exercise per week that she performs, and more often than not is assumed to be lying about both.) At that point, your doctor’s assumptions have resulted in a disservice both to you AND to the thin guy.

I just think that suspending–even for a few moments–the snap judgment that convinces an “expert” that he or she knows everything about the state of my health just from 1) my appearance, and 2) the weight the nurse entered on the chart, would go a long way toward actually improving fat people’s health, rather than using them to make oneself feel superior or viewing them solely as reflections of statistics and stereotypes. And isn’t that the goal, if “The Doctors” in this case truly care about the well-being of their colleague and friend?

I just read about this charming episode at Big Fat Deal (in which a couple of male ballroom dancers on Dancing with the Stars criticized female dancers on the show for their weight), and I am incensed.  First of all, do NOT fucking presume to tell me why I watch or should watch a TV show. I don’t watch DwtS, but if I did it would be for the same reason I watch So You Think You Can Dance–for the dancing. Especially do not presume to tell me that, effectively, the reason I watch it “should” be to get inspired by stick-thin dancers. I may be inspired by their dance ability or someone else’s writing or artistic ability or accomplishments, but I am not “inspired” by images that encourage me to get on some kind of impossible hamster wheel so that someday–if my dreams come true–whatever man is making this kind of ludicrous pronouncement from on high might declare me worthy of being looked at as a sex object. I have more important things to do than make a career out of looking acceptable to men. Especially if “acceptable” means “thinner than women who are professionals in a field that is already well-known to be fraught with eating disorders and unhealthy weight standards.”

Also, I bet you a million dollars that whatever BMI is represented by these two dancers is at least 5 points below any level at which male dancers would start to get any grief about their unsuitability as role models. But, you know, these two guys are just concerned for our health. I’m not sure what’s worse–the sexism or the idea of two out-of-touch dudes riding up on a white horse to save stupid fatties (who might otherwise actually be fooled into thinking that these two women [link also via BFD] are plenty thin enough). Who will end the OBESITY EPIDEMIC if van Amstel and Chmerkovskiy are prevented from conveying the important, totally health-related message that although Burke and Schwimmer may look just fine to obese, ignorant hayseeds like ourselves, they are actually “heavy” (per van Amstel)?

All I can say is, thank god weight standards for women are so objective, beneficial, and completely unrelated to men’s sense of visual entitlement. I don’t know what I’d do without these guys looking out for me.

I know this won’t actually help, but since I never miss an opportunity to plug the show IRL, why not just cut your losses and start watching SYTYCD instead? Love. Well, except for some of Nigel’s more fatphobic and homophobic moments, but that’s another post.

ETA: I found out this morning (thanks, wriggles) that the men are claiming they were misquoted. I did skim past the comment on BFD that made that point last night, but I was typing this at about 4 a.m. and the comment didn’t really sink in for whatever reason. Anyway, here (van Amstel and Chmerkovskiy, respectively) are the links to their explanations so you can decide for yourself. FWIW, the claim of being “taken out of context” is not that compelling to me because I’m not sure in what context such comments would be appropriate… and therefore Chmerkovskiy’s post is not that convincing to me (and I don’t really like how he appears to pin the blame on van Amstel), but as I stated in comments, it’s possible a language barrier is making his “tone” read differently to me than what he intended, so just know that he did claim he was taken out of context, and draw your own conclusions from his words. van Amstel’s post is quite full-throated and I appreciate his clarifying the situation.

Even if the two men are the victims of misquoting or having their words twisted by the reporter, I think it’s really interesting and says something profound about our society that the reporter’s misquote took the form of totally ignoring the men’s main point (if they are to be believed)–that they personally had gained weight and were musing about their suitability as role models–and made it all about the women on the show. This is so typical and representative of the general view that women’s bodies are public property and women have a responsibility to meet the standards of the male gaze (no matter how stringent or unreasonable) at all times. Add in the fact that you can hide behind the Obesity Epidemic and “health” pretty much no matter what you say, and it’s like hatred soup (and although I don’t want to unfairly slam the dancers if they did not in fact say these things, in a larger sense it almost doesn’t matter whether they or the reporter said them… the thrust of the words is so predictable and telling). Mmmmm!

So my husband and I have this hypothesis that My Name Is Earl episodes are for some reason written by two separate groups of writers. The first group (according to our guess) has written the majority of the episodes, and appears to consist of relatively kind people. The characters are consistent and basically good-hearted, and their actions reflect this. The second group (which cropped up in an episode or two before the writers’ strike, and in one or two of the new episodes) appears to enjoy ickiness for its own sake and moves often two-dimensional characters through the plot for the purpose of arriving at mean, depressing, sophomoric, or shock-value one-liners. I also think clever and varied use of music in an episode is a tipoff that the “good writers” are at work, but I could be displaying some selective memory there.

(Bear in mind also that quite likely I am full of shit and there is no such thing as “good writers” or “bad writers” here. But let’s just assume I’m right since it’s my blog and I can say whatever I want. 🙂 )

About 5 minutes into this past Thursday’s episode, my husband and I concluded that this one was written by the “good writers”–Earl was optimistic and level-headed, Randy was sweet, and the gag of “Darnell and Joy live in the Crab Shack” provided some cute moments (“Who calls a bar after 7 p.m.?! We’ve got kids sleeping here!”) Granted (taking into account Catalina and Stuart) the new propensity for people in Camden to turn gay and/or straight at lightning speed was pretty tiresome. But I’m still pretty sure the “good writers” were at the helm. So if I first say that I have loved the vast majority of the show’s episodes, perhaps I can get away with a little constructive criticism.

Dear “good writers”:

1) You are writing Stuart lazily. The fact that he became addicted to chicken bingo earlier in the series? Funny. (I mean, in the show’s telling of it.) The fact that he wears a floppy hat while gardening? Not. And the sheer number of gay-themed jokes in the episode, while some may individually have been not un-funny, caused the whole portrayal to come off as taking the easy way out, IMO.

2) On the whole, I found Frank’s equal opportunity horndoggery endearing. I mean, how many sitcom episodes will we ever see where Billie is cute (in Frank’s opinion), but eh, Jocelyn is too so it’s all good? The part where he had to act out a foot fetish to drive home the fact that only a real kinkster would screw a fat girl was a bit much, but even including this I still found the whole vibe cute as part of Frank’s general affable childlike weirdness.

But then you (I’m still talking to the writers here) had to go and fuck it up by making the fat actress say the line “my diabetic ass.” Really? That’s all you got? Does NBC have some “gratuitous fat joke” quota or something? ‘Cause I’m thinking you didn’t really even need to take the trouble to write a line there. “My ass” or, you know, “no” would have worked fine.

I know we all know this, but the reason I mentioned Fat Monica in the title is because it seems like all sitcom writers, even usually-good ones (which I personally think those for Friends were, on the whole, although I know that is far from a universal opinion) know of certain shortcuts they can take by which they will get credit for “a joke” even when there is actually no joke there. I can think of a few off the top of my head, and I’ll get the first example out of the way quickly because if I think too much about it, it angers and depresses me. You can hurt or kill a woman’s cat (or bird, or hamster–any animal other than a dog, apparently). Done. The laugh track plays even though nothing funny has happened and in fact the polar opposite is true.

Second, you can make some kind of reference to prison rape. It doesn’t have to be original or really, at its base, anything other than a bald statement that if you go to prison, somebody will rape you. Cue laugh track.

Finally, you can simply point out that somebody is fat, show that boy, do fat people eat a lot, or parrot one or more supposed consequences of the “obesity epidemic” embodied by that fat person. For those who don’t recall Friends very well (and if that’s you, and it’s not just because you hated the show, you probably shouldn’t tell me because I’ll just get depressed about how old I am), here are a few: Fat Monica is thought to be mad because Joey didn’t bring her multiple pastries quickly enough, or half a pie is saved for her so she can have a snack later. Fat Monica dances (are you kidding me? At least Dodgeball, though hardly fat-friendly, had the sophistication to roll its eyes at the idea that it’s funny when “grotesque” people are put on display and made to dance, and if I am calling you out as less aware of tired jokes based on stereotypes than Dodgeball, then you should probably be concerned) and gets really winded. Newly-thin Monica says something not-much-less-clumsily-worded, though I can’t remember it exactly, so I’m paraphrasing, than “And my heart doesn’t hurt anymore!” And if you thought there would be more to any of these jokes than this (seriously, it is astounding as a viewer to note how balls-out hateful a scene of a fat person dancing to a raucous laugh track with no setup or dialogue is), then you’d be wrong.

“My diabetic ass” falls into that same category. It wasn’t gracefully worded and didn’t really “fit into” or add anything to the scene. In fact, it felt forced and artificial. I suspect you, “good writers,” just took the shortcut because you knew that “beneficial in helping thin people feel superior to fat people” is just as good as “funny” in the popular consciousness. If network sitcoms are any indication, at any rate, self-satisfied thin people must get as much enjoyment out of “Fatties–are they ever greedy, lazy, ugly, and unhealthy!” as they do out of a joke these days.

Huh–looking back, that list of “non-jokes that you apparently get as much credit for as you would for actual writing” has kind of a common thread: Misogyny. Interesting. [Aside to readers: I’m sure there are many other such shortcuts that you might have noticed. If you have a minute to share in the comments, I’d be interested in hearing about some of these other cheap shots that piss you off.]

Anyway, “good writers,” let me be the first to congratulate you on so far resisting the urge to succumb to at least the first two examples. (Mostly–I was pretty upset about last week’s drug lord telling his kangaroo “If you lick off that shaving cream, I’ll put pepper in your pouch again.” You know, at least some effort was expended on writing that line, and IME it’s an anomaly in the annals of the “good writers,” but still, yuck. 😦 )

But back to the positive–it bears pointing out that you even had a drawn-out prison storyline and still you held the line on rape jokes as far as I remember, which may be a feat unmatched in sitcom history. Good work, and I mean that sincerely.

Now let’s work on the fat thing. I know that no sitcom you worked on previously probably even had a fat character ever. And if it did, it was probably SOP to essentially write “Hey, a fat person!” or, if you were feeling really ambitious, “Ha ha! Fat bitches sure are sexually undesirable!” and move on to the next scene. So I’m sure doing otherwise is a daunting prospect. But I’m pretty sure you’re better than that, and given the other complex storylines that you have already navigated with sensitivity, kindness, and humor, I have confidence that you can do it. So. Prove me right?

Thanks,

spacedcowgirl