The best kind of cultural debates and fracases are the ones in which everyone involved is clearly terribly wrong.
Such a scenario unfolded this week over the dreadful CBS sitcom (yes, yes, redundant, I know) Mike & Molly. You know, the show about fat people.
Maura Kelly wrote an online piece for Marie Claire, the point of which seems to be that the show Mike & Molly should not exist because fat people are disgusting, particularly fat people in love.
The money quotes:
My initial response was: Hmm, being overweight is one thing – those people are downright obese! And while I think our country’s obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it’s at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity! Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny. No one who is as fat as Mike and Molly can be healthy. And obesity is costing our country far more in terms of all the related health problems we are paying for, by way of our insurance, than any other health problem, even cancer.
So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.
Ha ha ha ha. Delightful!
Predictably, a lot of people, fat and otherwise, are outraged at Kelly’s insensitivity. Marie Claire commenters are up in arms. Other women’s Web sites are wielding pitchforks.
And everyone is wrong. And everyone is missing the point.
Lost in the back and forth about anti-fat bias and whether or not obesity is an eating disorder is the fact that Mike & Molly is a fucking terrible show. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
Like Outsourced, Mike & Molly wants it both ways. It wants to give us permission to laugh at the fatties (or the foreigners, in the case of Oursourced) while at the same time claiming to represent diversity on network television. It’s tubby minstrelsy. It’s a fucking joke that the show is becoming a cause célèbre because some dimwitted Trixie from a lady magazine criticized it.
And here’s the thing: Maura Kelly wasn’t wrong. She was stating an opinion, an opinion I happen to share: watching fat people kiss and make out repulses me too. I’m guessing it repulses a lot of people. Of course, we can’t say so anymore because it isn’t politically correct. Somehow, in the truly just and righteous movement to end public bigotry based on race, religion and sexual orientation, weight has gotten lumped in with that group. And that’s fucking ridiculous.
Weight is something that can be controlled, a large percentage of the time. I know there are exceptions: people with legitimate eating disorders, people with glandular problems (like Andre the Giant), etc. But most people don’t have to be fat. Sure it might be hard to maintain a healthy weight, especially given American culture. Yet it is possible for the majority of people. So it’s inane to suggest that we can’t publicly criticize fat people in the same way that we shouldn’t publicly slur people for their race or gender. Making fun of fat people might not be nice or moral, but it’s not even in the same ballpark as anti-gay or anti-minority hate speech.
Unfortunately, a writer for Marie Claire is not the ideal candidate with which to prove this point. Kelly’s “eww, fatties are gross!” rhetoric only reinforces the notion of women’s magazines as a wasteland for people desperate to reinforce common beauty myths. Also, Kelly immediately backed down and apologized in the face of growing criticism:
I would really like to apologize for the insensitive things I’ve said in this post. Believe it or not, I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed after reading this, and I sorely regret that it upset people so much. A lot of what I said was unnecessary; it wasn’t productive, either.
She also blamed her anti-fat comments on her own borderline-anorexic body issues. Sigh.
So the end result is that Mike & Molly wins. Not wanting to watch fat people on TV is, believe it or not, a perfectly valid criticism of the sitcom and of CBS itself. A better criticism would be that the show insults what it pretends to celebrate, but that’s not even part of the discussion.