Fat "Creatures"

As a fan of Aardman Animation, I was very excited to hear that there would be an American version of their BBC series "Creature Comforts" where interviews of real people on a variety of subject are reset with claymation animals. Sounds like a really simple concept, but it really works and I was intrigued by an American take on the show. The first two episodes have aired (and are being shown again tonight on CBS) and I'm pretty impressed. Part of the charm, certainly, was the British accents and perspective of the BBC series, but I think the American version is finding its voice in more ways than one.

Of particular interest is that the US version covers some of the same topics as the UK version. The show has 3 acts, each of which has a theme that all of the interview segments touches upon. Like, art or lying. The second episode featured "self image" which was also done on the UK show. I watched both the US and UK segments last night and I found the differences quite striking and not a little discouraging while still very honest.

The thing I picked up on was how much more self-negative the US interviews were compared to the UK. Don't get me wrong, there was negativity in the UK, too, but it seemed to always be paired with a "eh, but its what I am" form of acceptance. In the US, the subjects are far more reflexively negative without much even grudging acceptance to temper it. There were exceptions, but in general the US interviewees were far more apologetic about their appearance. I imagine this tells a lot about our society and the ways we are expected to cower in the face of cultural standards. The power of our cultural ideal seems much greater in American society than it is elsewhere in the world.

As you might imagine, fat was certainly a subject of more than a few interviewees self-loathing. I actually don't recall anyone bringing up weight in the UK take on self-image. One pair of subjects, a mother and daughter, were animated by the pigs I posted above. Another woman who comments on weight was depicted by a Hippo. (to be fair, a shark describes herself as sexy and thick, so there are exceptions) While I'm tempted to see this as fat bashing, I'm not sure it really is. Indeed, in the context of the program, I think it really deconstructs the self-loathing and exposes it as absurd. We know that a pig is supposed to be a pig. We know that a hippo is supposed to be a hippo. Seeing those creatures be defensive about their weight creates a disconnect which ought to prompt us to question our certainty that those attitudes are valid at other times. Maybe I'm being too generous, but I think that interpretation is more in line with what the show does with creating visually absurd characterizations of the interviews than just a cheap fat joke. Of course, I suppose it could be both.

The "fat talk" ultimately seems more real than mean. The daughter pig (actually the one nursing) is just kind of sad in how she feels about her body. The mother tries to compliment her and the daughter is absolutely dreading it and is quick to negate anything positive the mom says. The same characters appeared in a segment on the first episode on health care. There, the mother pig tells a story of a extreme doctor who insisted that after breaking her leg, she'd never walk again unless she lost weight. The mother's response to her own story is a defiant, "Well, I'll show you! I'm walking, ain't I?"

Aside from the fat stuff, the show is really worth watching, but if anyone has seen it or watches the first two episodes tonight, I'd be curious how they take the fat talk. Am I grasping at a way to interpret it more positively, or does it seem genuinely nuanced in its approach to the subject?

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