10.01.2010

Hating fat people is not "edgy"

Dr. Samantha Thomas points out a rather obnoxious ad created as a demo for some Australian ad agency. In the ad, we see a woman presented as if she is preparing drugs to give her child, only she gives him a burger and fries. The ad isn't for anyone. The ad agency itself took it upon itself to do this service announcement. Basically, they are advertising themselves as the makers of such an "edgy" and "controversial" take on condemning fat people.

Which is idiotic. This isn't an auteur art project. Its an ad agency trying to drum up work. They are doing this precisely because piling on fatties isn't really edgy at all. They are doing this BECAUSE fat people are disenfranchised. Its like people who think saying racist or homophobic jokes makes them a politically incorrect rebel instead, ya know, a fucking racist or a homophobe.

What this really is is the flattery of privilege. I feel like I saw this a lot defending fat acceptance on other sites recently. There is no shortage of people looking to congratulate themselves for hating fat people. They want to flatter their ego with the notion that they are courageous to verbally beat up on fat people. Except, of course, that they are just standing up for the status quo, defending the privileges of fat hatred. That's pretty much the opposite of "edgy", but people in power have a way of convincing themselves that THEY are the ones who are being put upon.

You see it in the "Men's Rights Activists" who rush feminists sites to complain about how much men are abused in our society. You see it in the people who send race baiting emails about President Obama. You see it in those who complain about the "assault" on Christianity in an oppressively Christian society. Its not just that they are standing up for disenfranchisement to preserve unjust power. Its that they convince themselves THEY are the ones being oppressed. They manufacture these absurd notions of an oppressed majority just to impress themselves. They think of themselves as brave as they pile on a group with little power. They think they are being edgy and contraversial but they do so purely within the confines of a shared delusion. They aren't taking any real risks. They know full well they are presenting dominant views and people will flock to congratulate them on their courage. This isn't speaking truth to power. Its smug self-satisfaction.

This ad is actually quite deft in its way. It pushes buttons of two very different threads of fat hatred and would find haughty support from both camps. For the liberals, it presents the notion of fighting an evil corporate threat with the imagery of fast good. For the conservatives, the text suggests issues of personal responsibility through the drug metaphor. It walks the line between both takes leaving just enough for either group to feel vindicated in their privileged hate.

The message, of course, is foolish. It advances the notion that fatness is something done to people, particularly children. I know progressives tend to like telling themselves that this is kinder, gentler fat hate but its still hate. Blaming anything for my body is still about defining it as transgressive. Doesn't matter if you blame McDonald's or my mother. Its still about stigmatizing me and disenfranchising me. The ad is so lazy in its cliche's, but it knows they are cliches people cling to. Fatties eating burgers is second only to donuts as a go-to insult for someone prejudiced against fat people. I could see PETA running this ad in a second to advance their increasingly untethered message of "Meat isn't murder but it is making you occasionally have to glimpse fat people and that's much worse".

Eating isn't like doing drugs. I know a lot of fat haters think they are brilliant for coming up with that silly rationalization for their prejudice, but its just plain dumb. I could not sooner give up eating than breathing. Eating gives us strength and energy. Eating brings us life. Stigmatizing eating only creates patterns of disordering eating and a frightening amount of social acceptance for disordered eating.

So, in conclusion, eating is fine. Fat people eat more than burgers and donuts. (Some of us are even vegetarians!) Hating fat people is positively ordinary and fat shamers deserve none of the flattery they lavish on themselves because there is nothing brave about standing up for the status quo.

12 comments:

CTJen said...

The other thing that bothered me about this ad is that it's like an instruction manual for shooting up heroin.

Yes. So disturbing on many levels.

queenostara said...

I am PISSED at this bullshit add. My mother is a nurse who takes care of drug babies and all the other forgotten reject kids of society. She's the one who treats the 12 year old mothers who've been addicts all their lives and give birth to babies who are addicted. There are true horrors in this world, children who truly are growing up in downright terrible situations, whose parents are high while they teach their children to get high.

Growing up in a house where the occasional burger is eaten is not the same as growing up in the house of a drug addict. Not the same at ALL.

On another, less pissy tangent of this subject, I wonder how fat employees at this ad company felt about this. Did any fat employees work on it? How much qualifying with, "but not you, you're a good fatty. You're trying" went on, with shamed nodding from the fat employees? How many of them started harmful diets to quell their shame?

Maneoplyse (maneoplyse@gmail.com) said...

And so what if eating IS like doing drugs? I practice shamanism and I'm aware that drugs alter my consciousness. Granted, I can't think of any circumstance which I would do opiates, its synthetics or derivatives outside of extreme pain--coca leaf can help with high altitude sickness and a few other things. But that is the problem--extreme physical pain and emotional pain (feeling unloved) are both real.

Addiction can be cured, but telling addicts they can't be cured is the problem. We are constantly altering our neuropatterns. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

It has been noted in a couple of places linked from NOTES that there are psychological studies that demonstrate (IN DISORDERED EATING) chemical reactions on certain brain receptors respond the same as cocaine (not an opioid, but work on opioid receptors) and heroin, however, this doesn't make substances on this planet that alter consciousness "bad." In fact, I believe addiction is caused by culture that tells people they are sinful for wanting their own communion with the Divine.

Now, it still doesn't change anything that feeding your kid a burger isn't the same as shooting them up with heroin, unless the parent is feeding them to calm some emotional pain, which food nor heroin will cure.

I treat people with respect because to do otherwise will lead to extreme self hatred. To place my "morals" on others [considering that morals really don't exist except in my own world(I)] is flawed thinking because who am I to judge.

Just thoughts--not complete ones at that.

TuffyisRad said...

That was a great take-down of "politically incorrect edginess". I have a problem with that type of humor/discourse and its self-congratulatory nature but have never been able to explain it as well as you did. I used to find the "edgy" humor on Family Guy and similar shows pretty funny - except when they would do something that hurt *my* feelings. Now I'm making an effort to reject humor meant to insult and belittle the less powerful people among us.

Brian said...

There absolutely can be humor found in disenfranchisement. I'm reminded of some great stuff Louis CK has done on the topic that talks about white and male privilege in some really funny ways. The thing was making the jokes at the expense of privilege. That's enormously different from the self-satisfied "humor" that's just about enforcing privilege.

Twistie said...

Thank you so much for this word-perfect takedown. I've been sputtering in fury since I saw it, but lacked the words to adequately pull it apart for others.

Samantha said...

Well done Brian!!!!
Great critique! Will go link it over at Discourse now!
S xx

Regina T said...

GREAT piece Brian! You made fantastic comparisons between the so-called "edgy" (re: whining) of the absolutely privileged of our society and reality. It amazes me to hear middle class, white, hetero men complain about how oppressed they think they are by feminists, non-christians, and minorities. It's everywhere in the mainstream media, this "edgy" ranting about how they suffer from less priviledged people seeking less oppression. I have no pity for them or anyone else who is quick to stereotype everyone else upon first glance. Talk about shallow and lacking depth. And you're exactly right that many of them express these "edgy" opinions because they think it makes them brave or impressive....turns out they're just cheering for the winning team. How "edgyy" is that??
Thanks again for such a great post!

wriggles said...

Yeah, great stuff Brian, very thoughtful. I didn't actually notice that conjunction of serving the conservative mindset, plus the progressive one too (I hope the latter are proud of themselves, it reminds me of the flack drawn by anti porn feminists being accused of selling out to and being in league with conservative anti porn crusaders)

Ergh, what a thought, that they should come together in some vile collaboration to punk fatties; that we do not need!

closetpuritan said...

This isn't an auteur art project. Its an ad agency trying to drum up work. They are doing this precisely because piling on fatties isn't really edgy at all.

Exactly.

Criticism is totally oppression/persecution, guys. Look how we're oppressing that ad agency right now! Freedom of speech means you're not allowed to criticize people for saying something "edgy"!

Sleepydumpling said...

I've not been able to blog about that ad, because it just hits something so deep in me that I can't articulate how angry, how hurt it makes me feel. What I want to do is wipe it from existence and memory. I still can't find words to express adequately the feelings that it stirs in me.

But this post articulates a lot of them, and for that I thank you.

Jan said...

Thanks for this post, you have done an amazing job of articulating what I think.

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