Speaking of Not Funny Anymore

Update: see comment #25 below, especially if you live in Sacramento.

Update 2: Go read Spinsterwitch’s exchange with Jaime O’Neill. 

In case you think I exaggerate the abominable treatment of fat people in this culture, please enjoy this piece by Jaime O’Neill from Sacramento News & Review.

[F]at’s not funny anymore, not given the sheer number of fat people thundering through America’s malls and markets. As Alfred Hitchcock understood, even things that are benign in small numbers become creepy en masse. Little birdies are cute—even sweet—but when the flock blots out the sun, it’s creepy.

And that’s how it’s become with fat people. You’re everywhere these days, people of a size once found only in tents where yokels paid a quarter to gawk at them. You’re not just fat; you’re huge, ponderous, beyond jumbo, a vast and undulating formidability of flesh, an avalanche of avoirdupois, a devolution of the species back to a future of protoplasmic balloon creatures.

I wish I could figure out a way to fit that last line onto a Fat Hate Bingo card; I swear, sometimes it seems like journalists perpetuate the notion of an “obesity crisis” just because it gives them an excuse to bust out the thesaurus and exercise the flowery descriptive sentence-writing muscles that have been atrophying since their freshman creative writing classes. (The word “undulating” is an inevitable favorite, even though fat people don’t actually move through the world in slow motion, so it’s actually pretty hard to catch us undulating in public.)

I’m not usually one to employ the “Imagine if he said this about X other group of people!” argument — since every group you could name still has its own important battles to fight — but that passage up there seems to be begging for it. So indulge me for a moment. Look at that first paragraph:

As Alfred Hitchcock understood, even things that are benign in small numbers become creepy en masse. Little birdies are cute—even sweet—but when the flock blots out the sun, it’s creepy.

and imagine he’s talking about immigrants, not fat people.

Now remind yourself that he is talking about fat people — emphasis on the “people.” And this was published. In an alternative weekly — the kind of publication that, while not necessarily being known for the most impeccable journalistic standards, is generally known for being a bastion of progressive thought. As in, the kind of thought not generally known for eliciting “The barbarians are at the gates, and we normal people must rise up!”-type statements.

Yet, according to this jackass, my family and I and many of our friends represent a “devolution of the species.” A devolution of the species. Did you catch that? Remind you of anything?

Wait. It gets better.

Contemporary America begins to look more and more like that old movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which aliens take over the bodies of earthlings, exact replicas of the people whose identities they assume, but minus feelings and emotions. In Body Snatcher: 2007, however, the aliens have snatched the bodies of normal Americans and made them unable to wedge themselves into most public seating or, if able to sit, completely unable to extract their bloated butts from those no-longer-adequately-sized seats once their full weight has spread and settled.

The “snatched” bodies are still apparently “minus feelings and emotions” in this version, though — since believing that is about the only justification I can imagine for speaking this way about actual human beings. For fuck’s sake.

Oh, and fat people are also evidently superhumans who never suffer from disabilities:

Lots of those obese people deal with it by purchasing electric carts to haul themselves around in. You’d think when you’d gotten too damn fat to walk, that fact might be a wake-up call, a message from God or just an indication that something is a little out of whack in the old lifestyle department, but the message lots of Americans take from the confabulation of flab is that it’s time to motorize the motion.

Um, yeah. You’d think when you see a person on a motorized scooter, you might consider the possibility that she has a disability or illness that makes walking painful, regardless of her size. You might consider the possibility that he has arthritis or fibromyalgia or is recovering from chemo. You might consider the possibility that she racked her knee playing soccer two days ago. I mean, if you were a progressive, you might. If you’re just a hateful dicksmack who wishes everyone in the world looked exactly like you, you probably wouldn’t.

So hey, maybe this guy doesn’t consider himself a progressive. Maybe he’s the kind of fucknut who does feel the same hatred and disgust for people with disabilities, immigrants, non-white people, gay people, etc. — ergo not the kind of person whose opinion I should dignify with a moment’s thought.

But wait, what’s this? Oh, there’s more to his argument than “Fat people are creepy!” Fat people are also

becoming a living metaphor for the way the United States is viewed by much of the rest of the planet: a rapacious, gluttonous, insatiable nation of swine, the Pig People of North America, the fat neighbors who are fouling the whole neighborhood, consuming everything in sight, and strewing waste in your wake. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, each person in the United States consumes twice as much energy as Germans, 12 times that of Colombians, and almost 30 times the consumption of India’s citizens. For each American’s consumption, 127 Haitians or 395 Ethiopians could consume away.

Whee! It is an alternative weekly!

Except, isn’t it the rich people who engage in the most egregious overconsumption? And isn’t it the poor people who are most likely to be fat? Doesn’t that create a small problem with your argument that the solution to our cultural profligacy is, uh, for fat people to diet? ‘Cause really, that’s the only substantive argument I’m seeing here. Not that people should stop buying fucking Hummers to drive around cities with excellent public transportation, or that we should quit building 5,000 square-foot houses for families of four, or that, you know, killing people for oil isn’t very nice. Just that fat people need to stop being fat. Have I already said “for fuck’s sake”? ‘Cause for fuck’s sake.

I first read the theory that fatphobia is a manifestation of our cultural anxiety about overconsumption in The Obesity Myth a few years ago, but I’ve never seen it illustrated quite so blatantly before. Thank you for connecting the dots with a goddamned Sharpie, Jaime O’Neill.

And thank you for giving me a perfect opportunity to bust out this quote, also from Paul Campos, once again:

Remember that particularly clueless right-wing acquaintance of yours? The one who believes that anybody in America can become rich, because he thinks about poverty in a completely unscientific, anecdotal way, which allows him to treat the exceptional case as typical? The one who can’t seem to understand the simplest structural arguments about the nature of social inequality?

The next time you see some fat people and get disgusted by their failure to “take care of themselves,” think about your clueless friend.

35 thoughts on “Speaking of Not Funny Anymore

  1. This is maxed out on the hateful scale. This is an 11.

    This is worse than mean to fat people, or thinking they should just get it together and diet. This is worse than ignorance, meanness, or moral superiority.

    It’s flat-out dehumanizing. He’s not talking about fat people. He’s talking about fat things. Blobs. Sideshow attractions. Metaphors. Symbols. He wants us back where he can safely gawk with a nice, comforting crowd-rope separating “Us” and “Them” so that he can be assured he’s always on the “Us” side.

  2. Right on, Deborah. I didn’t even get into the part where he starts off with “Fat used to be funny” — as in, we used to get to laugh at fat people, and that made it okay for them to exist. He’s unbelievable.

  3. I saw his “piece” last night, and it sent me into despair. Seriously. I told my husband that this was the closest I’d been to suicidal in a long time. Not because I *agree* with him, but just because such hateful attitudes are actually getting published.

    I’m a bit better now, btw.

  4. Obviously, I made a mistake in Fat Hate Bingo by only taking on the psuedo-reasonable types who cloak their intolerance in bland platitudes rather than “edgy” types who try to demonstrate their “political incorrectness” by just being blatently hateful. Maybe something for FHB3. These kinds of articles are just dripping in self-satisfaction and the fact that they can so easily get published exposes the fake claim of being edgy and counter-culture.

  5. I wrote the following letter, but I don’t expect it to be published…

    Dear Mr. O’Neill:
    Your above-referenced article is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen printed in an editorial column of a “respectable” newspaper. If you substituted the word “fat” for “African American,” “Hispanic,” “Jewish,” or “Handicapped” I suspect the piece would never have seen the light of day. That an editorial writer can let loose his utter contempt for those who don’t look “right” to him and get such a piece published is proof-positive that the “War on Obesity” is in fact an all out war on the obese.

    Without any sense of irony at all, you cite Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Mr. Hitchcock was one of the most brilliant, and most obese, directors of the 20th century. He didn’t let his obesity stop him from fully expressing his artistic vision and sharing it with the world. Would you have preferred that he spent his life ashamed, hiding in his room, so that his fat body wouldn’t have offended the delicate eyes of the slender?

    Mr. O’Neill, stop concerning yourself so much with the size of other people’s back-sides and worry more about the big, fat empty space in your chest where a human heart should be.

  6. Brian, I suggest “fat is unpatriotic” as a cover for some of the most blatant ass-fattery on HB3.

  7. “If you’re just a hateful dicksmack who wishes everyone in the world looked exactly like you, you probably wouldn’t.”

    I love this sentence. Seriously. I want to have its little snarky babies.

    (But I also love “Avalanche of Avoirdupois” — if I didn’t love my blog’s name so much, I would seriously change it to that.)

  8. Rose, I think your letter is really well-written and impassioned. I know some people object (for sensible reasons) to the comparison of fatphobia with other kinds of bigotry, but in this case it does seem relevant, since you’re talking about what the editors would and wouldn’t allow to be published.

  9. [Note to Teppy: I edited your comment so the blockquote worked and deleted your second one, since there was no longer a need to clarify. You just forgot to close the tag. Oh, and thank you.]

  10. I recognize this is not the point of the post…but just to nitpick…”killing people for oil”…really? This obvious and over simplified cliche is beneath you.

  11. This infuriates and depresses me. I’m typically very confident and happy about my size, but the part about the motorized scooter hit really close to home. I have MS, and I often have to use a motorized cart at stores. I’m always embarrassed when I do, and I’m certain people are looking at me thinking, “Wow, that fat cow can’t even walk!” And the thing is, I walked just fine before MS and enjoyed being on my feet most of the time. Now that it’s a problem for me, I’m more embarrassed about my size than ever, and it’s got nothing to do with that at all! I hate this guy. I really do. I’m sending him the worst of vibes right now.

  12. Here’s my letter in response. I posted it to my website as well…

    Dear Mr. O’Neill:

    I just read your opinion piece, Fat Bastard, and felt a need to write to you to congratulate you on the most outrageous and rude stereotyping that I have had the privilege to read in print recently.

    Stereotypes are often perpetuated by people who have no personal connection to the group that they are stereotyping, so I thought I would step forward to give a face to fat. My name is Spins and I live in the Bay Area. I am a social worker and a therapist. I am fat.

    I am not going to go into a long spiel about how I exercise and eat right. I’m not going to try to justify my life to you, or my body. I’m sick of having to do that all the time. What I will say is that my father comes from a long line of fat folks, and that I grew up the short, fat kid in a house with a tall, skinny sister, so obviously it isn’t just about what you are taught to eat.

    Let me tell you what this example of a “devolution of the species” does with an average day. I get up in the morning and go to work. I work with people who are chronically ill, many with illnesses attributed often to obesity. But the majority are not obese. They are just sick.

    I help people with their benefits, with dealing with the stress of having an illness and having to face the medical establishment every day. I help people access resources because we barely provide enough in benefits for people who have worked to survive in the Bay Area. I share the grief of losses and the joy of new hope. It is, in short, an emotional roller coaster. After that a couple nights a week and on Saturday mornings, I see individual clients dealing with the stress and overwhelm of day-to-day life.

    When I come home, I may sit to watch a television show or I may go out with friends or my partner. I like to do lot’s of strange and interesting things…swimming, belly dancing, music, theater, hiking, going to readings, singing.

    Because I am fat, I have had to deal with people like you all my life. Believe me, I know that I’m fat. I think I got the hint when a classmate left an anonymous note in 3rd grade with the words “Fat Pig” on the one side and the picture of a pig on the other. As an adult, I realize that this behavior is not unexpected from children. Children need to be told that being a bully is considered antisocial behavior. I would think that an adult would know better.

    I am no one’s “living metaphor” of anything, let alone “a rapacious, gluttonous, nation of swine.” I am a person, who takes pride in the energy I put into the lives of other people. I am a woman who loves, despite the messages I am inundated with on a daily basis, her body and her life.

    Before you decide to write another article based so grossly on stereotypes, why don’t you try to get to know a person who represents what you think of as the stereotype. Once you have that person in your life, think of them as you type the words “Fat, dumb and ugly” and see if maybe, just maybe you might be compelled to look for a different analogy for the way in which our country squanders our resources.

  13. The last paragraph of that you quoted of this writer sums up the reason why fat hate is a non partisan issue, affecting progressives just as hard as conservatives(although I’m not sure they have any more reason for it, even if you take their beliefs into account).

    The exact same thing is going on in the UK, with people using fat people as a symbolic representation for their sublimated guilt and class prejudice.

    I hope that the people upset by this can realize that these people are genuinely pathetic, I pity their need to take on this way, and I am glad to be on this side.

  14. Rose and spinsterwitch, I’d post a copy of your respective letters to this fuckwit’s editor too. After all, this is the person who allowed this pernicous pile of crud to be published in the first place.

    Articles like this make me incoherent with rage and fill me with despondency because they outline just how very far we have to go. I’m absolutely certain that goons like O’Neill have it so firmly entrenched in their subconscious minds that fat = ignorant, stupid and lazy they honestly believe we can’t read or, at any rate, choose not to. If OMG fat people are taking over the world!! then the law of averages would suggest at least half of their readers are fat. Why piss off and alienate half your paying audience?!

  15. Ooh the Paul Campos quote, was that published in various places or just in the Tribune/Beacon? I almost forgot that you’re from the Chicagoland area ^_^ Either way, I was happy to see it in the paper nonetheless, albeit on a random page in a random place and rather small…

    In regards to the article, it’s simply sickening that people like that exist out there. Seriously, rise-to-power time? Please? You can lead this region, but I call, erm, sub-general? XD

    P.S. Dicksmack is an excellent word, and I have officially made a mental note to overuse it :3

  16. Buffpuff, this is a “freebie” paper available to be picked up on the streets for free. Most American cities have at least one such paper that comes out once a week. They are advertiser supported, and do not rely on subscriptions or newsstand purchases. The only way in which “alienating readers” would be relevant here is if the advertisers wind up losing business because of it and cease to place ads.

    About a year ago, a similar situation took place at one of Portland’s free weekly papers, the Willamette Week, in which one of their columnists wrote a paragraph about Stacy Bias’s Fat Girl Speaks book project that was blatantly insulting to fat people (stating we needed typing sticks to write to Stacy because of our “sausage fingers” and so on), and the local fat community rallied around her, threatened boycotts, etc., and the writer ultimately apologized in print. (And once she did so, we all sent her thank-you-for-getting-it notes at Stacy’s behest.) And that example of snark was mild compared to the over-the-top hate spewed by O’Neill.

    I don’t know if there is a politically involved fat community in Sacramento that’s anything like it is here, but if so, their involvement is probably what it would take to make the editors of the News & Kittylitter pay serious attention.

  17. What we need to do is round up all the obese people. Then we need to put their fat asses on trains to put them in camps, all around the country, like prison but not prison, and try to re-educate them. The ones who can’t be re-educated well, we’ll tell them they’re going in for a “shower,” see, but really what happens….what? What’s that? Been done already?

    Nevermind.

  18. Hello All,

    An interesting update. I see a response to my email from someone at the Sacramento Bee. I open it and realize that the guy sent it to me by accident! I suspect that even though he says “if we get a ton of letters …” that they ARE getting lots of letters and trying to figure out what to do with them. I’m pasting what I was sent below (but chaning their names to only initials for their privacy):

    K-

    If we get a ton of these Jaime letters, and it’s your sense that we’ve been having a steady enough flow of letters on other subjects to fill the section from week to week, we could always run a sampling of Jaime letters in print and put the rest online. Just a thought.

    -M

  19. Yeah, the whole motorized scooter thing is especially irritating. I recently got a nastay, evil sunburn while on vacation on my leg that prevented walking. So I rented a scooter for the themeparks–that way, I could watch my kids play and have fun and get from ride to ride without massive doses of vicodin. All I could think about was how I was the “fat chick in a scooter”. (by the way, I did NOT take advantage and cut to the front of the line. I waited, in excruciating pain, because I felt like a cheater otherwise, LOL).

    I fucking hate it that I’m self conscious because of dicksmacks like this guy.

    Thought dicksmack is also my new favorite word :)

  20. Oooooh that motorized scooter part in particular brought a rise out of me, too. I am overweight, but I also have multiple sclerosis so you will see me on a scooter, in wheelchair and using a walker all the time. I ran around like an energizer bunny before this disease hit me, and I was about the same size. If anyone so much as suggests I use my equipment because I’m too fat to walk, they will be pummeled.

  21. Another update: I got a response both from the editor and from the author. The editor asked if I would like my response included as a letter to the editor, and I have given my permission for that if they would like to publish it.

    The response from the author is a thoughtful one, but it still seems like he has missed the point just a bit. I’m in the midst of composing a response, then I’ll be posting both on my blog.

  22. That part about not fitting on “public seating” hurts. I have a lot of junk in my trunk and this happens to me a lot.

    Over the weekend I was on an airplane, and I got stuck in the middle seat of the back row. So here I am, wedging my 6′ self into a space ment for people under 5’5″, sitting, basically on top of the arm rests, and I look from side to side and realize that even my shoulder bones are wider than this tiny seat. The actual bone of my shoulder sticks out about an inch and a half on either side. This isn’t obesity, this is stuff being made for people who tiny. I think people over 5’10” should get a discount on first class.

  23. My dad is big and tall. So he hates, hates, hates airplanes. My family has a wedding in HI next summer, and he’s trying to get my mother to take a cruise there and back!

  24. Yeah! My letter and Spins’ and Rose’s all got pubbed!

    But sigh, they also published a “rebuttal” by O’Neill in which he said 60 percent of Americans were “obese” (according to who, Anna Wintour?), and that too many of us hadn’t made any effort to cut calories or exercise, both of which were guar-un-teed to make a person slender, you betcha. Do you know any fat people who couldn’t instantly tell you the calorie count of any food you hold up? I know of one — Marilyn Wann — and she is also the healthiest human I’ve ever met.

  25. “Do you know any fat people who couldn’t instantly tell you the calorie count of any food you hold up?”

    My hand is up. I have no clue about calorie counts or fat ‘n’ carb grams. I can tell you approximately which macro- and micro-nutrients are predominant in a food, because I make a conscious effort to keep a good amount of food-type and nutrient diversity in my diet. But scales and numbers? I’ve no idea. This was initially an apathetic sort of choice (“Why would I waste valuable brain time on that?”), and now it’s a deliberate one.

  26. Lauredhel, that’s an awesome deliberate choice to make.

    But I do think people underestimate how many fatties have been on diets. In this country, at least, it’s most of us. So it’s just one more stupid goddamned myth that we don’t realize how many calories we’re eating, and we’ll lose weight if we get edumacated.

    Whenever Glamour or whatev publishes an article exposing the shocking! truth! that a mochaccino has hundreds of calories — it’s not just coffee!!!– I think, “Yeah, the fatties already knew that. How come the thin people who pride themselves on their discipline and knowledge of nutrition, relative to fatties, don’t know?”

  27. I found his “apology” every bit as offensive his piece! It could be summarized as “I can see why you wouldn’t want me to use your body as a metaphor of all that’s wrong with society, but you have to agree that fat people do really represent the fall of Western civilization. Still, if you take offense to that, sorry.”

    That guy’s picture should be in the dictionary, as an illustration of the word “Asshat” But I get the feeling (or at least I hope)that the Sacramento News & Review will think twice about letting him do a sequel to that piece.

    And yes, Meowser, it was pretty cool that we all got published! I have to admit that I LUV seeing my name in print, way more than I should, really.

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