I don’t know when it happened, if it was them or me, but I’ve kinda lost my taste for NPR.
It’s been so long since I was a regular listener to commercial radio I can’t even remember — 35 years? Forty? A long time. Obviously nothing should stay frozen in time, especially not a journalism outlet. I don’t miss Bob Edwards, but I miss the personal essays they used to run. I miss the offbeat stories from corners of the world I’ll probably never visit. They’ve been replaced by sometimes painful, flop-sweaty pieces to satisfy someone’s diversity agenda, and what’s worse, they’ve elbowed out actual news.
The other day Alan remarked that one of the January 6 hearings had gotten 30 seconds in the top-of-the-hour news roundup, while a stupid feature on a group called the Lesbian Avengers had gone about eight minutes. What are the Lesbian Avengers? “…An organization that focuses on lesbian issues and visibility through humorous and untraditional activism.” Thanks, Wikipedia. Alan only remembers that they sometimes pass out Hershey’s Kisses with notes attached: “Smile, you’ve been kissed by a lesbian.”
OK, then. Today the story was about Brendan Fraser’s six-minute standing O at the Venice Film Festival, where his latest film debuted. Called “The Whale,” it’s (quoting from the NPR story):
…about a reclusive English teacher (Fraser) who weighs 600 pounds, and as he struggles with his health, tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. A combination of prosthetics and CGI help Fraser as he portrays this character.
The first half of the story was about how beloved Fraser is, by fans and colleagues alike, and how recent years have been rough on him, for a variety of reasons. He’s had some health challenges, and gained weight, although nowhere near 600 pounds. Maybe 40. He’s no longer Hollywood-slender and matinee idol-handsome. He looks like a Green Bay Packers fan. So what, though. In Darren Aronofsky, he’s probably found the ideal director for his comeback. (Remember what he did for Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”) So why does the headline for this story read Why Brendan Fraser’s Hollywood comeback story is both warming hearts and raising ire, hmm?
Because an advocate for fat Americans is miffed, that’s why:
Indeed, critics have turned to social media to say that the movie’s premise is inherently dehumanizing. There’s a question of whether it should have been made at all.
Aubrey Gordon, an author and co-host of the Maintenance Phase, a podcast focused on debunking health fads, took to Twitter to call out the movie’s aim.
“It’s so telling that so many only see fat people as ‘humanized’ in media that shows us doing exactly what they expect: living short, small lives; ‘eating ourselves to death’; feeling sad & regretful. All reminders of how tragic it is to be fat, and how superior it is to be thin,” she wrote.
This kind of media just “reinforces viewers’ anti-fat bias,” she wrote.
Gordon is smart, and I’m with her on the inherent societal bias against obesity. (She’s fat, if you haven’t guessed.) Fat acceptance, sign me up. Different-size models in advertising? Yes, please. Fat doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy. But 600 pounds? Any way you slice it, that’s pretty damn unhealthy. One of the undone stories of my career, one I wanted to do for Bridge but left before I could put it together, was on super-obesity, those whose weight has passed the quarter-ton stage and suffer mightily as a result. I met a doctor who paid house calls on those patients, and told me what it leads to, i.e., a spiral. The bigger you are, the harder it is to move, the harder it is to move, the less you move. The less you move, the worse you feel. Which leads to more eating, weight gain, etc. Most of his patients that size were virtual shut-ins, afraid to get out much in the world, for all the reasons you can imagine. Needless to say, everything hurt, especially hips and knees.
Tommy Tomlinson is a gifted writer, a former columnist in Charlotte, married to a former colleague of mine in Fort Wayne. At his heaviest, he weighed 460 pounds, and his memoir, “The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America,” was full of excruciating detail about the million calculations one has to make when you’re that size: Will that chair hold me? Will any other furniture hold me? If I’m not sure, can I stand without social awkwardness? And so on. I read excerpts and felt not anti-fat bias, but deep empathy – we all have our addictions, our weaknesses, and the idea of seeing an actor as talented as Fraser bring this complicated emotional stew to life sounds pretty great to me.
I’m reminded of the backlash to “Fatal Attraction,” the way feminists hollered over the idea of a crazy spurned lover, that it dehumanized single women, etc. As a sane single woman at the time, I didn’t feel dehumanized.
So while I appreciate that NPR is stretching like Elastoman to include the fat person’s perspective, I think this is fairly ridiculous in this context, and if it weren’t for the musical weekends on WDET, I probably wouldn’t give them another dime. There’s a question of whether it should have been made at all! Mercy.
It was a pretty fun long weekend for us. We saw Kate play in both of her bands, at the Hamtramck Labor Day festival, and both performances were pretty great. The second band, the side project, is GiGi, which got a little ink ahead of the fest, and I had NO IDEA it had appeared, which shows where my head’s been of late.
A local theme park, Cedar Point, announced it was retiring one of its very edgy coasters, following the injury of a rider a couple years back. The park was not held responsible, for the record. I always thought there was a book in the development of a modern roller coaster. When I started taking Kate to Cedar Point, I was amazed at how high-tech and insanely scary they are, yet still (mostly) safe. They gave me heart palpitations just to look at them, honestly. But I’d read a book like that. Cedar Point, hire me! I’m a good explainer.
Finally, in the bottomless pit of indignities our former president has visited upon our land, here’s this: He tried to pay a lawyer – a Jones Day lawyer, no less! – with a horse.
That’s a good note to end on. Happy Wednesday.