Via Paul the Spud, I have learned that John Travolta doesn’t believe there’s anything gay about playing a role originated by Divine, in the Broadway musical version of a John Freakin’ Waters movie.
Since I don’t want to get sued, I’m just going to leave this space open for you to fill in your thoughts on that _____________.
I was already outraged about the casting of Travolta in the new movie, which I am otherwise dying to see (inevitable unfavorable comparison to the original notwithstanding, I’m a sucker for both musicals and fat girls dancing), because he’s in a goddamned fat suit. Heaven forbid they hire someone actually fat to play the role. But this?
“There is nothing gay in this movie,” Travolta told the London Times on-line. “I’m not playing a gay man.” Besides, the actor insists, Scientology isn’t anti-gay, despite numerous reports that it seeks to “cure” homosexuality.
Are you fucking kidding me? No, you’re not playing a gay man, you’re just doing a piss poor job of filling a gay man’s — a fat gay man’s, I might add — iconic shoes. The two things aren’t related at all. And of course it’s just silly to suggest that Scientologists might have a problem with teh gays.
While I’m ranting, it was suggested in the Shakesville thread — among many, many other places, no doubt — that Ricki Lake would have made an ideal (if slightly young) Edna for this version. I’m not convinced. I mean, in the happy, imaginary world in my head, in which Ricki Lake is forever Tracy Turnblad, it’s a fantastic idea; I’m just not sure about it in this world.
The 1988 Hairspray was the first remotely fat-positive thing I can ever recall seeing. I remember reading an interview around that time with Ricki Lake in (I’m almost certain) Sassy, titled “Ricki Lake Has Two and a Half Boyfriends.” It was the first I’d ever heard of her, and I vividly recall looking at the pictures of her Hairspray-sized self and thinking, “She gets to date? There are men who would go out with her? SERIOUSLY?!? Is that POSSIBLE?”
I was 13, and I had literally never before encountered the idea that a fat girl could be happy as-is and/or consider herself attractive (let alone be judged attractive by other people). What I knew was that fat was ugly, bad, depressing, miserable, shameful. That no boy in the history of humankind had ever found a fat girl hot. That fat was not something you could ever be comfortable with; that you were required to spend every day of your goddamned life trying not to be fat, and if you failed, you would not deserve love. Those were, after all, the messages my fat family kept giving me, in addition to the whole rest of the world.
And then there was Ricki Lake. And her two and a half boyfriends. And Hairspray.
I haven’t seen Hairspray in years, and I suspect there’s a lot in there that would make me cringe now. And it took me about 15 more years of self-loathing before I really started to embrace the concept of fat acceptance. But still, when I think about where I first encountered the concept at all, that Ricki Lake interview was it. She didn’t (apparently) hate herself. She didn’t hide. She didn’t assume she had no shot with men. She was just her fat self, and that was that. It blew my adolescent mind.
Then she got famous. Then she lost weight. Then she gained weight. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ricki Lake was, as it turned out, not some kind of Fat Supergirl who could let all the hatred bounce right off her big ass, but a fat girl just like me — and just like Oprah, just like Carnie Wilson, just like most of them. A fat girl who wanted more than anything to be thin. “Love yourself the way you are” morphed into “Love yourself enough to get rid of all that odious fat that’s holding you back.” And for a long time, I didn’t even see anything wrong with that.
Recently, Ricki’s been in the news because she’s once again lost weight and is currently thinner than she’s ever been. Here’s what she has to say about it:
“I have become a little obsessed with the scale. I get on the scale every morning to make sure I didn’t gain any weight or maybe I lost more. You want to be well adjusted and not get too extreme.”
Yeah. You wouldn’t want to get too extreme or anything.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t hate Ricki now, I’m not mad at her for letting the fat girls down, and although I’m disappointed, I’m certainly not confused about why an actor would spend 20 years struggling to lose weight, even after going on the record as being fine with her fat. It is what it is.
But I also really wouldn’t want to see her as Edna at this point (unless she were the only alternative to John Travolta). And frankly, I wonder if she would have taken the role if she’d been offered it. (Maybe she was, for all I know.) Putting on a fat suit would have to be quite the head trip for her these days — not to mention, she’d run the risk of people not even realizing she’s no longer fat (for now), something she seems rather keen to point out.
And again, it’s not like I don’t understand that. She’s an actor; in her field, this is what passes for an important commitment to your career. And substantial weight loss is a very difficult thing to achieve, even temporarily, so I totally get being proud of that accomplishment — lord knows I was, both times I did it — however ultimately counterproductive I believe it is. I also get that even if she were trying to do this only for herself and avoid dwelling on it publicly, every reporter she got within a mile of would still start off with, “OMG, how’d you lose the weight??”
But it’s a huge bummer nonetheless that the first woman who ever made me consider the possibility that fat girls weren’t all doomed to miserable, loveless lives is now, in her own words, “obsessed with the scale.”
And much about this new Hairspray seems like a bummer, although I will probably pay money to see it anyway, just to appreciate Nikki Blonsky.
Also, John Travolta is a fucking tool. That’s all.