“Modern” means all the baby fat is stripped away — and the sexiness is dialed up. Is it because figures like Rainbow Brite are now supposed to be aspirational, which means bringing them into line with beauty ideals? Has the “obesity epidemic” rhetoric sunk in so much that children can’t bear to look at a round-cheeked protagonist? Do animators just not know how to draw anything else?
Sadie at Jez says “I’m braced for a modernist Sylvanian Family housed in Frank Gehry.” I don’t foresee a change in architecture — I think the new Sylvanians will just look like this.
Quick hit so we can talk about something other than how I’m a humorless, comics-hating, loveless feminist who thinks men should be arrested for talking to women in public: Feministing points to Spike TV’s utterly appalling feature, “The Top 10 Actresses Past Their Expiration Date.” Get it? Like milk! Ha ha!
If you can stand to look at the list, you may note, not without some bitter chuckling because that is the only laughter produced by feminist bodies, that what most of these women are criticized for are actually measures that they have taken so as not to look older. Thus the beauty ideal eats its own tail: age naturally, and you’re a wrinkly hag; attempt to fix your haglike wrinkles and you’re “a scary mix between Michael Jackson and the mummy of King Tut.”
Here’s the main complaint for each of the 10: too much Botox; too skinny; too chubby; too skinny; too squinty (?); too wild; too mannish; too much Botox; too much makeup; too old. So, there you go, Hollywood Ladiez, it’s easy: just don’t be any of those things, and the dudes at Spike will grace you with their hard-ons forever.
We’ve been talking about rape culture and myths about artistry (or, perhaps, artiste-ry) for the last few days, and god help us but it’s been depressing. I want to continue the conversation a bit but shift it to the somewhat less eye-gougingly bleak realm of the Nice Guy TM, specifically how it relates to geeky guys and girls.
I’m prompted by this post (on SP fave Sociological Images) about a recent xkcd strip. Now, xkcd has done some instant classic antisexist strips in the past, like this one and this one. In fact, xkcd even has a strip that handily illustrates Nice Guys TM. In other words, xkcd often serves as a kind of Feminism 101 for nerds, which is why it’s extra disappointing when the strip has its rare excursions into “woe is the geeky boy, who shall never get pussy” territory. The strip in question starts with a spot-on confrontation between a woman on a train and a strange man hitting on her, in which she firmly tells him that if she wanted his attention, she’d have shown it. It’s the conversation you always wish you would have with skeezy dudes on the train, if you weren’t worried that they’d retaliate in some way. The punchline of the strip is — haha! — the chick wanted it all along! She’s aching for some sweet sweet cock! If only men hadn’t been so paralyzed by feminist talk about rape culture and personal respect, she’d get hit on by more men, which is exactly what she wants on the train! (ETA: The mouseover is: “And I even got out my adorable new netbook!”) It’s funny because it’s true, and it’s EXTRA funny because she brought her cute netbook specifically so men would hit on her, just like when you wear a low-cut shirt it’s because you really want men to comment on your hot tits. Geeky girls are so hot! They’re so hot for you, geeky boy!
Look, I really love xkcd 95% of the time. But just as surviving violence doesn’t make it somehow totally cool to rape people, not meeting cultural standards of he-man masculinity doesn’t make it just fine to perpetuate rape culture. That’s what the Sociological Images post* gets at very clearly:
So this is the crux of the issue for me: nerds really are members of a subordinated masculinity, and from within that viewpoint it’s easy to dismiss anything which says that you are privileged and not downtrodden. Once you’re in that space, it’s really easy to start thinking in a certain way that says you’re not privileged just because you’re a man — and I think things like this XKCD strip can contribute to that way of thinking.
Of course, any man who falls farther from the pinnacle of hegemonic masculinity is less privileged than his more “masculine” counterparts, but he’s still a man. Nerd discourses sometimes let us forget that, and let us think we operate outside the system, because we’re not like those other, sexist guys — but it’s a fantasy. We can be better than that, but it means telling ourselves the truth, and not pretending that our interactions with women — even a simple conversation on a train — aren’t influenced and structured by the patriarchy.
This is how privilege works: you have less of it in some areas, and more of it in others. That’s how it works for everyone. This is why it’s important to think beyond yourself: not in some self-abnegating “I can never talk about my own problems” way, but in a way that understand that some forms of your own behavior contribute to a culture that hurts you too. (This is, for instance, why we don’t bash thin bodies to promote fat acceptance — because “fat acceptance” and “body acceptance” are really the same project.) So talking about geekery is actually one of those scenarios in which saying that patriarchy hurts men, too, is not a strategy to distract from women’s issues. But the xkcd strip is the fantasy of a Nice Guy TM: if only he weren’t so gosh-darn nice to women, he’d get some tail. The Nice Guy TM blames on feminism what is really the fault of sexism, thus imagining himself the True Victim of both.
I do think this particular comic may have worked fine if the same scenario were played out by known characters, instead of xkcd’s generic boy-and-girl stick figures. What’s so powerful about the “How It Works” strip is that very generic-ness: the joke is just that, that men are assumed to be individual human beings and women are not. But that’s also what’s happening in the male fantasy in the “Creepy” strip: the man is an (oppressed) agent of his own desires, while the woman is a mess of contradictions and unreadability.
All of which brings me to what is perhaps my favorite Nice Guy TM lament of all time, as well as the perfect cap to a post about geeks and rape and entitlement: Jonathan Coulton’s great song, “Skullcrusher Mountain,” about a mad scientist “in love.”
What I love so much about this song is that the creepiness builds from verse to verse (never disturbing the sweetness of the melody), so that what starts with “Welcome” ends with the most passive-aggressive murder threat ever:
You know it isn’t easy living here on Skullcrusher Mountain
Maybe you could cut me just a little slack
Would it kill you to be civil?
I’ve been patient, I’ve been gracious
And this mountain is covered with wolves
Hear them howling, my hungry children
Maybe you should stay and have another drink and think about me and you
Nice Guys TM, you see, pretend that we don’t live in a culture that systematically deprives women of power; they think (or rather, they pretend to think) that interacting with women is just a matter of being civil. I’m so nice, but women don’t like me! They say “think about me and you” as if we didn’t know that they could unleash the wolves at any second. They think women on the train are secretly doing everything — using a cute netbook, sitting there looking pretty — in order to snag their attention. They’re nice, not like those other guys — how dare you lump them in with the worst of their gender! You’re just like all the other girls.
*Note ableist metaphor in title. Hello there, privilege!
That has been my entire week. Since my first post about it here got a lot of responses, I figured I’d share everything I’ve been doing on it in one place. (Trigger warnings on pretty much all of it.)
But before I get to that incredibly depressing shit, please go watch Chris Rock going off on Polanski on Jay Leno last night. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing an actual big-name celeb I like join Team Child Rape Is Bad (see second Thursday post below). The clip is both painfully (and I mean that) funny and quite satisfying if you’ve been waiting like I have, though not perfect. In any case, it’s ABOUT FUCKING TIME.
Oh, and Thursday was also the day I appeared on The Today Show to talk Polanski, because that’s just how bananas shit had gotten by that point. (If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t get excited. They literally left in one sentence of my 15- or 20-minute interview.)
Speaking of shit being bananas, I was also on Nightline last night, though that was not Polanski-related. They finally aired a teeny part of an interview I did weeks ago (I got like two sentences in that one!), squished in among Crystal Renn, Brooke Elliott and headless fatty B-roll. Woohoo!
Caught up on the last few episodes, and wrote about them over at Jezebel. Conclusion:
But I can get past it enough to enjoy Drop Dead Diva for what it is — a fairly typical Lady Network show with a lot of atypical, unprecedented, truly body-positive twists. It’s not 100% PUF-approved, but holy crap, it’s a better portrayal of a fat woman than damn near anything I’ve seen since Roseanne, so I would really like to see this show do well. Since they already seem to have cut down on the binge-eating gags in recent episodes (THANK YOU), and they can only do so much about the premise, all I can really ask for is a little more sensitivity to the pitfalls of having Deb learn shit in Jane’s body that should be obvious to any thinking person, fat or thin. Oh, and more Fred. For the love of all that’s holy, do not take Fred away from us again.
To see what I had to get past and what PUF stands for, among other things, go read the whole (long) thing. Then discuss.
Behold! The Queen of the Fat-o-sphere and the, uh, Fairy Princess of Plus-Size Modeling have combined powers! Kate interviews the lovely Crystal Renn for Salon. They talk about eating disorders, the treatment of models, and Crystal’s new book (cowritten by Marjorie Ingall, who delurked here recently — hi Marjorie!). It’s a terrific interview, and I for one am delighted to hear what Crystal Renn has to say, so we can put a voice to that gorgeous face.
I’ve got a feature about “More to Love” and “Drop Dead Diva” up at Salon today, and since I’m not putting myself through the agony of dealing with comments there, I’d love to hear what you guys think here.
I had to cut a lot of things out of that because I am so long-winded it’s not even funny, and I worry a bit that my argument ended up muddled. (Also, it started as a trend piece on how I actually am seeing little positive signs that pop culture is getting fat-friendlier, but once we decided it should be pegged to “More to Love,” that kind of went out the window.) Basically, the question I was dealing with was: Is some representation better than no representation? And I’m inclined to say yes, even if the representation we get is loaded with negative stereotypes. It seems to me that getting fat people on TV in noteworthy numbers at ALL is at least a step in the right direction, and given how much fat hate permeates our culture, I am so utterly unsurprised by the shitty parts that I can’t even be outraged. So I’m not as interested in how these particular shows are representing fatties as I am in what will come next, based on how they do. Will the point-and-laugh market get priority, so we’ll see yet more humiliation of fat people? Does simply having more fat people on TV humanize us a bit — in that at least we’re seeing fatties as different individuals with their own personalities — or are the stereotypes and nasty editing in the reality shows just dehumanizing us in larger numbers? Will these shows tank and only reaffirm the idea that no one wants to watch fat people on TV, for reasons positive or negative? I don’t really know yet, but I know that before this fatty programming boomlet, there was no opportunity to even ask those questions.
As to the specific shows, having watched 2 episodes of “Drop Dead Diva” and one of “More to Love,” I’d put the former at about 70% fat positive and the latter at about 20%. But shit, the fact that the 20% was even there in “More to Love” surprised me. One thing I ended up cutting in the Salon article is that in the introductory interviews, some of the women espoused basic fat acceptance principles. One talked about how she realized that she had to learn to love her body in order to be ready for a healthy relationship. Another one, identified as a fitness trainer, was like, “Look, some people just aren’t going to end up thin, no matter what they do” — and she said it in a very “whatever” way, not a “woe is me” way. HAES 101 might have just slipped into Fox prime time! Granted, more women than not cried about all the romantic disappointments they attributed to their weight, one wished she could lose 50 lbs., one said she rejects the label “fat,” one has some fucked-up antifeminist fantasy of being appreciated for her “wifey-mom skills,” and some of the ones who express confidence seem like they’re posturing. The flipside of 20% good is, of course, 80% suck. But I was so primed for 110% suck, the parts that didn’t make me cringe were actually impressive.
One thing I did say in the article, but wish I could have elaborated on, is that it’s a little mind-blowing to see the “star” of the show going on and on about how amazingly beautiful he thinks all these women are — and even just getting to see 20 fat women who do, in fact, look fantastic on a television screen. Unfortunately, being objectified just like thin women can’t exactly be considered a victory, and they’re all made up to conform to conventional beauty standards as much as possible, and yes, some of the audience will not only mock the fat girls in their pretty dresses but the dude who actually thinks they’re hot. Despite all that, it’s something we’ve never seen on TV before, so I think there’s at least a modicum of value in it.
As for “Drop Dead Diva,” I think my biggest problem with it is that it’s a pretty standard Lifetime show. (I may belong to their target demographic, but I’m not really who their programming is made for.) But even with the stereotypical bullshit regarding food and exercise, by the second episode, I was convinced that they’re genuinely trying to do something positive here, and at least partially pulling it off. This is one where I think feedback could actually have an effect — if we tell them we’ll watch and promote it if they axe the fucking donut and easy cheese jokes, they might actually listen. Unlike “More to Love,” which really only gets points for not immediately sending me into a blind rage, I think “Drop Dead Diva” actually has potential.
Shapelings, what do you think about all this?
Update: Forgot to mention Marianne did a fab review of “More to Love” for The Daily Beast, and Lesley will be recapping it at Fatshionista, which I am so excited for, I can’t even tell you. (Also, I added the subtitle to this post after recalling a conversation with Marianne regarding her comments about the connection between Luke’s barbecue lust and the likelihood that he’s into BBW porn.)
Whatever your thoughts on Michael Jackson, his fame, his music, and his troubled life, I think we can all agree that the songs from Thriller were pretty much the best thing to ever happen to music videos.
What I can’t help but think right now is that Jackson’s strange life demonstrates that it is possible to be one of the most talented, most loved people on the planet and still hate your own damn face. Embracing your body is an endless challenge in a culture that tells us certain bodies are more worthy, more valuable, more human than others.
Ah, the New York Times. The old gray lady, the paper of record, the practice workshop for standup comedians. If the latter strikes you as out of place, just check out this article (title: “What’s the Skinny on the Heftier Stars?”), which basically amounts to the author, Michael Cieply, saying “Fat actors! What’s the deal with that?”
Honestly, I have no analysis of this one; I’m just here to mock it. It was apparently written by a man who has literally never once thought about body size before in any context, much less film. We start off with obligatory fatphobia, which Cieply assumes is shared by all his readers:
Two men. One notebook. Four chins.
Hollywood’s pool of leading men is getting larger — and not necessarily in a good way.
Cieply goes on to note that some male film stars, like Russell Crowe, John Travolta, Hugh Grant, and Denzel Washington, now appear to be bigger than they once were. It’s crazy because they’re only around 50! How could this happen? Tom Hanks was totally skinny in Castaway when he was playing a man stranded on a desert island, but now he looks different! He doesn’t have a beard or a volleyball or anything.
My absolute favorite sentence of this article is about The Ladies.
Hollywood’s women may have weight issues of their own. But it is somehow less noticeable, possibly because actresses who expand do not often get roles to showcase that growth.
This honest to god made me LOL. This right here is a stunningly great example of the male gaze and how it is founded on male privilege. There are two parts of this sentence that are more or less factual: 1) “Hollywood’s women may have weight issues of their own” (depending how you define “issues,” of course), and 2) “actresses who expand do not often get roles to showcase that growth.” But it’s the hinge of these facts, that wonderfully clueless phrase “But it is somehow less noticeable,” that makes me want to put this article in a textbook under “Male Gaze 101.” See, there’s a phrase missing from this sentence, an important one. The sentence should read: “It is somehow less noticeable to me.” I guarantee Michael Cieply that the absence of fat women, or even size-6 women, or even very thin women who are not shockingly beautiful, onscreen is eminently noticeable to women moviegoers. To girl moviegoers. To fat moviegoers. To anorexic moviegoers. To flat-chested moviegoers. And so on. Behold the grammar of privilege: it rests in the absence of the phrase “to me” and the presence of the word “somehow.” The “somehow” is the male gaze. If you are a straight man, women onscreen are selected for your visual pleasure, and the camera acts as a proxy for your point of view.
“Desire […] is a property of men, property in both senses of the word: something men own, possess, and something that inheres in men, like a quality.” –Teresa DeLauretis, “Through the Looking-Glass: Woman, Cinema, and Language”
The reason it is “somehow less noticeable” to you that there are no fat women onscreen is that the entire history of cinema is designed to reassure you that you don’t have to look at fat women. Thin women are the default; they are how the cinematic world is populated, so they look normal to your eyes. You don’t notice the absence of fat women; you notice their rare presence, when the camera deviates from your point of view long enough for you to say “Whoa, fattie!” But every single woman who sits in a movie theater is forced to inhabit that male gaze, too, forced to watch how the camera treats women of rare beauty and slenderness as the only kind of women who exist. This is how it is possible for women as small as Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Simpson to be “Hollywood fat.” For women moviegoers, the “weight issues” of “Hollywood’s women” are one of the *most* noticeable things about movies — sadly, for some of us, the primary fact of movies.
(This matter of gaze and representation, incidentally, is why so many fat people and fat allies were angry about Wall-E. Here is one of the very very very few instances where the world is not populated only by very thin people… and it’s the dystopic future of the human race.)
Okay, it turned out I had some analysis in me after all. Back to mockery!
Cieply points out that the male actors of yesteryear, like Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, stayed skinny well into middle age. Of course, they smoked like chimneys and also survived the Great Depression… but seriously, you didn’t see them letting themselves go! That Denzel, he just needs more self-discipline.
Cieply saves the biggest laughs for the end, though, like any good comic.
He might want to get some diet advice from Jason Segel.
Mr. Segel, 29, was fairly hefty in “I Love You, Man,” a comedy released by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks in March. But his face looked surprisingly thin on billboards advertising the film.
The advertising photos were done some weeks after the film shoot, with a slimmer Mr. Segel, said Katie Martin Kelley, a publicity executive with Paramount. “There was no retouching done,” Ms. Kelley said.
There is nothing I can say about this that would be funnier than it actually is. Noretouching!
Since Mr. Cieply and his editors at the NYT clearly need a lesson in human biology as well as rhetoric, feminist theory, and film studies, I am offering myself up as an object lesson. Shapelings, I, like poor John Travolta, have gotten a lot bigger in the last 20 years. A LOT. It’s like my whole body has just ballooned outward in every direction, and I can’t control it, and no matter what I eat or how much I exercise, I just can’t get back to my old shape. I think you can see what I mean. (Edited to include funnier picture.)
As an American who never got into reality shows, I don’t know much about Britain’s Got Talent. I know people show off their talents in a number of different categories (when I’ve seen references or clips they’ve mainly been dancers, but there are singers too), and that Simon Cowell is on the board of judges because he’s made it his mission to tongue-lash every aspiring performer on two continents.
I also know that this clip made me blub like a maniac. (They’ve disabled embedding but you MUST click that link.)
In a culture that values youth, wealth, and carefully-maintained femininity, this woman is like a cheat sheet for “don’t take me seriously” signifiers. She’s over 40, she’s ungroomed, she’s on the fat side, and her accent denotes low class . As it turns out, she also has learning disabilities and has never been on a date. She flies in the face of what we expect out of a performer and what we, as a culture, esteem in a woman. The judges respond accordingly: they snigger and mock, and her confident posturing just makes her (in their eyes) more ridiculous, more dissonant. Dissonant because confidence and sass don’t compute from a woman who falls so short of the ideal.
And then she KICKS THEIR FUCKING FACES IN.
Check out the look on Simon Cowell’s face when she sings. He looks positively transported. They’re all so overwhelmed they don’t even taste the crow. Because as it turns out, being low-class, being older, being unfeminine, being any number of culturally downgraded things don’t actually keep you from being fucking extraordinary.
Folks, we are all Susan Boyle. Fat or thin, pretty or plain, butch or femme, old or young, abled or not: people will judge us and find us wanting. You can posture all you want, out of genuine confidence or bravado; you can insist that the ideals are wrong, that the goalposts need to be moved, that rational humans can shake off the shackles of cultural expectation. You can talk big and wiggle your hips — for some people, that’ll just make you more of a joke.
What makes people stop laughing — or at least, what makes you stop caring if they do? The discovery that something about you is utterly remarkable. Because it is. It might not be an angelic voice or some other showy talent. It might be humble, even difficult for others to notice. You might not know what it is yet (lord knows I don’t). You don’t even have to realize, right off the bat, how your remarkable qualities elevate you past any backwards beliefs about who you should be or what you should look like — apparently Boyle herself saw that clip and what she saw was “I looked like a garage” (which at least gets points for being an awfully humorous self-putdown). It’s an arduous process and goodness knows we’ve never said otherwise. But whatever it is, once you really know it’s there, once you know how much that means, a smirk from Simon won’t change a damn thing — and you’ll slap that smile off his face when you bust it out.