Monday, November 29, 2010

Fat-com: Is that a thing?

Sparked by the debut of "Mike and Molly," a CBS sitcom about an overweight couple, today Slate posted a slide show detailing the history of what they are calling the "fat-com" or comedy show featuring overweight actors. For a country with a more than 30 percent obesity rate, America sure has strange ideas about fat people. Although we encounter fat people living normal lives daily--in our families, among our friends, at work, at the mall, at the the mirror--there is this sense that to feature an overweight person on screen doing normal things reflects some unique act of bravery. That the presence of a large person in the media needs to be explained and deconstructed. I mean "fat-com"? Is that a thing? I thought Roseanne was about a blue-collar Midwestern family, but apparently the point of the show was that Dan and Roseanne Connor were a couple of fat asses. At least that's what coining the term "fat-com" implies.

It seems some folks, many of them writing for magazines and TV shows, aren't quite sure that fat people are people with normal lives and relationships. It brings to mind a business trip to New Orleans I once took with another woman. At a (pretty damn cute) size 16, I was likely three times the size of my colleague. Throughout a busy work day that left little time for lunch, she would put her hand on my arm "You must be really hungry." Apparently, big girls must feed on the regular lest we lose control and begin chewing on our own limbs. It was just so odd, as if she wasn't sure I was human. A show like "Mike and Molly" that centers on food and weight and fat jokes is hardly groundbreaking. What would be groundbreaking is if TV creators cast people of all sizes in shows and made no special mention of it. It would be groundbreaking if we saw fat people falling in love and solving crimes and working in politics and heading companies, y'know, like fat people do in real life.

But we are a fat country that is oddly fat phobic. By now, you probably know about the furor caused by that Marie Claire article penned by a writer with food issues who disdains "Mike and Molly" because she is grossed out by watching "people with rolls and rolls of fat" doing anything. And then there are the concerned folks who wonder what "message" featuring a fat couple on a show might send to the masses about health. I wonder where these concerned viewers have been during the seven-year run of CBS' "Two and a Half Men," a sitcom that features a real-life serial womanizer and abuser playing a cuddlier version of himself. Or, during the run of "The Sopranos," a show that humanized a murderer, philanderer and crime boss. If the moral fiber of America can survive these things, then the sight of someone with a BMI over the norm shouldn't shake us.

With so many Americans "overweight" how does this notion of the fat person as something dehumanized still persist? (And I should note that I find this idea more pervasive in the mainstream vs. the African American community.)

Photo: Streiber/CBS


blind irish pirate said...

"What would be groundbreaking is if TV creators cast people of all sizes in shows and made no special mention of it."


Kelly Hogaboom said...

Tami, what a great post: succinct and on-point. Audiences don't need to continue to be insulted (fat jokes are rarely funny anyway); fat/overweight/obese people dont' need to be constantly dehumanized and debased (which is not good for their health or happiness).

I had a laugh at your friend who thought you were always hungry. I'm not sure if you found the situation humorous or not but thanks for sharing.

The New Black Woman said...

I've noticed this as well. It's ironic that we all know people who are overweight are are normal and have healthy lives. However, when we see fat people on TV, they are portrayed as gluttonous individuals who will eat anything with barbeque sauce on it.

It's sad that as a country that, as you said, is fat phobic, we continue to shame and stereotype overweight adults.

It's almost like we are in a love-hate relationship with ourselves as an overweight nation. We love the idea that big is beautiful and that we don't have to be a size 0 to be considered healthy, but we hate ourselves so much that we degrade and stereotype fat people in our media.


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