reappropriate

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Modern Day Freak Show

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the most obscene display of a lifetime. Prepare for the vile, disgusting show of gluttony ever to set foot this side of Kansas. Cover the eyes of the little ones, ladies and gentlemen! Beware the earthshaking quakes as the ground trembles beneath this behemoth's feet. Brace yourselves, for here, behind this very curtain, is the horrible, shocking, delightfully devastating monstrousity of humankind: THE FAT PERSON!!! Obesity is one of God's gifts to media sensationalism. It seems like every couple of days, another "honest-to-goodness", genuine, scientific study comes out decrying the harmful effects of obesity and overweightness: diabetes, blood pressure, depression, on-and-on-and-on. And just to make sure we all know about the latest findings, news outlets like CNN and MSNBC are sure to devote precious airtime to reminding us just how bad that Cheez-it really is for us. That they do this is arguably for better or for worse. Like it or not, the "fat studies" are news and CNN is a news dissemination outlet. So, that they report on a study's finding doesn't really get to me. What really gets to me though is how they do it. Every time the topic of obesity comes up on CNN, the cameramen are sent out to local malls or city streets to videotape fat people (*gasp*, *shock*, horror of horrors!) walking. With every Paula Zahn voiceover comes the inevitable booty shot of a fat person going about their daily business, painfully ignorant of the camera lens trained firmly on their ass. The heads and faces are never shown -- after all, that might actually require asking the poor voyeurism victim for permission to beam their rear ends into televisions all across America. Instead, we see the back of a head, some swishing of hair, and a close-up of bulging flesh beneath a bra strap or underwear elastic. If ever we needed evidence that large people are marginalized and disrespected by society, we only need only turn to Channel 31, our favourite 24-hour news service. This kind of treatment by so-called journalists only heightens the mistreatment of society upon its obese citizens. It trains non-overweight members of society to view those fatter than themselves as dehumanized objects or pieces of meat to mock and deride. It encourages the treatment of obese individuals as animals, incapable of self-determination or opposition to this belittlement. It suggests to the skinny that the fat have no feelings; that buried under their weight is a heart of stone impervious to the disgust of the camera lens. It encompasses the Modern Day Freak Show where the Fat Lady gets the dubious honour of ceter-stage. Mom always told us not to stare. But it seems like so long as we can hide behind the safety of our television screens, there's nothing wrong with fixating, mouth agape, at fat people. Or so CNN would have us believe. Treating people like objects of sanctioned ridicule, dehumanization and derision is never cool in my book. It started with the minstrel shows and blackface. Combine that with cheap pornography from around the world. Add to that a dash of homophobia. And now, we feel no qualms in making the fat person the butt of every joke -- even the ones that aren't all that amusing? As if the fat person is walking around with a constant "Kick Me" sign on their back. It wasn't that funny the first time. Also consider how often the fat person shown from the back is a woman compared to a man. Are there issues of sexism and looks-ism that must also be taken into consideration here? How often is the person a White woman? Race-related beauty standards are also coming into play here that benefit no one but thin White males. I'm not really asking too much. All that is needed is a little time and energy devoted to depicting fat people with the same human dignity allowed to every other person shown on the air. Ask the fat person for permission. Show the fat person's face. Ask him or her a question. Let him or her have a voice. Don't treat fat people like walking freaks that exist for your amusement and delightful disgust. When the curtain falls, you might realize the real people are all backstage.

18 Comments:

Blogger silverfish said...

Is it usually a white woman they show?

Ohhhhh you would be horrified to read about some of the European freak shows of the early modern period. There's a colonialist/imperialist element in there as well because some poor people with disabilities were actually brought in from Asia.

1/18/2006 05:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

from what i've noticed, it IS usually White women that they show, or Black women. Almost invariably, a woman, and usually one of those two races, although more often than not a White woman.

Yeah, freak shows are truly disgusting. I appreciate some aspects of human oddities in the scientific sense of understanding what CAN go wrong in the human body -- however, putting people on display like animals is really off-putting.

1/18/2006 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous sheldiz said...

ah, what kills me most about the footage of 'random fat people' is that its assumed that this overweight person is of course on their way to sit in their car by themselves and eat 10 quarter pounders and cry about why no one loves them. who's to say the person isn't on the way to the gym? isn't out celebrating b/c they've lost 100 lbs and only have 50 left to go? that they're happy they've started to make healthy choices?

nice topic, i couldn't agree more. fat-bashing really is one of the few remaining acceptable prejudices and you're right that its mostly women who bear the brunt of it.

1/18/2006 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous sheldiz said...

oh btw, before i get jumped on, fat-bashing was supposed to be in quotes. of course i would never use that term in any degree of seriousness! =)

1/18/2006 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Rtother said...

Let me start off by saying that I applaud very overweight people who are active and try to get themselves in better. It's difficult for some people to lose weight. That said, I have little patience for them being protrayed as victims. Exercise and diet are very important, and many people just pay lip-service to them.

I don't view fat people as inhuman. I think that shaming people into excerising to a healthy (read not stick-thin) weight is a tactic that ought to be used.

1/18/2006 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous sheldiz said...

we accept emotional/psychological/genetic excuses for a vast array of common 'ailments' in the us: alcoholism, ADHD, drug abuse, to name a few. why then, can't people, like the above poster for example accept that there are other factors involved in obesity than just 'eating a lot'. in much the same way you may turn to exercise or drugs or sex or art to deal with stress, many people use food. in addtion, food can be an addiction just like any other substance. being obese is often the result of an eating disorder, an uhealthy obsession and relationship with food. i ask rtother if you would also say you can't see those with anorexia or bulimia as victims. do you also feel these people should just, you know, eat normally? it kills me that people will feel sorry and sympathetic to a 78 pound anorexia patient and in the same breath make fun of or discount a 425 pound obsessive eater. its a double standard that should absolutely be stopped. saying that an extremely overweight person can't be seen as a 'victim' simply because they don't have a 'hard time losing weight'. you have absolutley no idea what is behind their weight gain and have no right to imply that it doesn't matter. and i can't even begin to discuss the ways in which "shaming people into excerising to a healthy weight" is both sick and wrong. most people that are overweight have enough shame already without your adding to it.

1/18/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Rtother said...

How many obese people are actually physically addicted to eating? What percent of all overweight people are like that? How many can't control themselves? Are you talking about a lot or just a few percent? Seriously, I would like to know.

Just because someone is addicted to food doesn't mean that they have to be forever, or that they have to be fat. There are plently of programs that, (mainly for a price), will help people lose weight and take control of their diets, and I applaud people who try.

Besides I already said that I know some people have difficulties wiht weight-control. Some of it is beyond a person's control, and I know some people will be big regardless of what steps they take. As long as they try to be healthy, I'm all right with them.

I think some shame serves a purpose in society. I don't support people going around mocking every fat person they see, but shame felt from impersonal media outlets (like films and tv shows) can be additive to other components that will cause one to want to become more healthy. I don't want to make it socially acceptable for people to ruin their health. I don't want people to die from preventable diseases, or be reduced to electric wheelchairs to be mobile, just like I also don't want people to smoke themselves into lung cancer.

1/18/2006 10:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Rtother said...

Oh yeah, people can battle alcoholism, ADHD, and the like with drugs/thearpy/etc. I don't see why obesity for most people is any different.

1/18/2006 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous sheldiz said...

i'm not disagreeing that people can treat alcoholism, etc w/ drugs and lifestyle changes. what i disagree with is the STIGMA surrounding obesity that is NOT surrounding these other "preventable" diseases. i don't think public shaming of alcoholism will do anything to combat it and i feel the same is true with obesity.

1/19/2006 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger silverfish said...

I think a lot of overweight people are in the habit of using food when they're upset. Over time this habit stops people being able to interpret signals such as feeling full or knowing when you're genuinely hungry. Even thirst gets confused with hunger. They are often in denial about what they are doing and moments of recognition can be a shock.

It's probably not like alcoholism but it is one of those things that are often misunderstood by people who don't have experience of that problem.

1/19/2006 11:32:00 PM  
Blogger kactus said...

"I think that shaming people into excerising to a healthy (read not stick-thin) weight is a tactic that ought to be used."

Oh please, you're not really serious, are you? Shaming is a tactic that ought to be used? Do you know that fat people get shamed every single day of our lives? Fat children get teased and bullied and sent to fat camps. Fat teenagers get shamed and mortified into anorexia. Fat adults get shamed into dangerous weight loss surgery and yo-yo dieting, among many other dangerous side-affects. And at every stage of life fat people get shamed into self-hatred. Shame is NOT a tactic that works, otherwise there would be no fat people in existence. Let's talk instead about people leading healthy lifestyles at whatever size they are. Lets talk about getting exercise and eating right and either you lose weight or you don't, but at least you're doing the healthy thing for your body.

1/22/2006 02:23:00 AM  
Blogger Piig said...

There are fat people who live to be ninety, and thin people who die in their 30s and 40s, and every variation in between and outside those age ranges. Do we examine the diets and exercise regimens of acceptably thin people to determine their levels of "healthiness?" No, it's only fat people and anorectics who are deserving of this scrutiny. It's only when a person falls outside the acceptable norms do we begin to feign an interest in their health. If I'm fat and I want to sit around all day and eat fatty foods it's nobody's business but my own. If I'm fat and I ride my bike to work every day and practice Tai Chi for wellness that's my business as well. I am sick unto death of this fatphobia disguised as concern for health. Leave fat people alone and use your time to address the real ills of the world such as racism, sexism, classism, poverty, corporatism, and homophobia. Shame our politicians into working for the common good for a change, not fat people for choosing how to treat their own bodies.

1/30/2006 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mom gave a child up for adoption. When we met her, we realized that she was the same shape as the rest of us. Her family is all skinny; we're all chunky.

So I did the research. My bio-sis isn't weird: people tend to have the profiles of their bio-family.
I'm extremely healthy: exercise daily for at least an hour, tons of fruit and veggies, and I've got more info than a nutritionist on calories, fat, and carb compositions. I've been anorexic, eating no more than 200 calories a day; I know as much as there is to know about healthy diets.

Now, I'm chunky. Exactly like everyone else in my family.

So, to Rtother and everyone else who have the misbegotten, media portrayed idea that fat people sit lazily around cramming Big Macs into their faces all day, I say this: you've been mislead. And further? Your anger, your dismissal, is truly weird. What is the deal with that?

Appetite, calorie storage, and calorie loss have all now been shown to have dependency on genetic factors. There's scads of obesity research, and each and every new study comes out with this: There's a massive genetic impact on weight.

Yes, environment does play in: a fat person, put in a famine, would lose weight. (More slowly). (Would Live). Some of us were selected for our ability to be heavy.

But dismissive shaming anger is nuts, irrelevant, and seems to be a wee bit unhinged. I can only assume you're either anorexic, or really afraid of your thighs.

2/08/2006 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous mothworm said...

I highly recommend The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos to anyone who wants to learn more about how fat and health is distorted in our society. Most people who diet end up weighing more than if they had never dieted; weight loss can actually make a fat person unhealthier; to a surprisingly large extent, your genes pick what you're going to weigh, and your body will fight you very hard if you try to change it.

2/09/2006 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger jen said...

Take a look at Suzan-Lori Park's Venus for a fact-based account of a black woman in Victorian Europe, displayed as a freak for her "strange" body type.

Thank you for the post!

2/10/2006 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Rosemary Grace said...

THANK YOU!

Whenever I see those news reports with shots of chunky bums and bulging bellies walking about I wonder if someone out there is sitting watching the news and recognizing their body, in their favourite t-shirt.

Imagine how HORRIBLE it would feel to see the news and think "wait...I have that tshirt, and that purse, OHMYGOD they're using MY ASS to exemplify the evils of obesity!"

2/16/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, reak shows aren't always a negative thing. Have you ever heard of self-made freaks? People who spent years learning how to do bizarre things so that they could join up with traveling side shows. Most so called 'freaks' were normal people who learned their trade, faked it, or enjoyed the spotlight. Actual people with disabilities were GLAD to be included in the show. In the days when freak shows were popular, there was no government who paid people to sit around at home... If you were disabled you were sometimes killed by your own family, or else you just starved to death because you couldn't find work. Sideshows weren't as cruel as Hollywood says they are. Check out sideshowworld.com if you want to know more..

3/05/2006 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Violet said...

You know, reak shows aren't always a negative thing. Have you ever heard of self-made freaks? People who spent years learning how to do bizarre things so that they could join up with traveling side shows. Most so called 'freaks' were normal people who learned their trade, faked it, or enjoyed the spotlight. Actual people with disabilities were GLAD to be included in the show. In the days when freak shows were popular, there was no government who paid people to sit around at home... If you were disabled you were sometimes killed by your own family, or else you just starved to death because you couldn't find work. Sideshows weren't as cruel as Hollywood says they are. Check out sideshowworld.com if you want to know more..

3/05/2006 04:56:00 PM  

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