So, I guess "Mike & Molly" is starting

Among the two fat-themed shows debuting this year, I was always a bit more curious about "Mike & Molly". I'm something of a sitcom afficianado to begin with and I recently got into "The Big Bang Theory" which shares a producer with "Mike & Molly". Chuck Lorre is something of a sitcom dynamo, too, and his involvement suggested reason to think the show might be a hit and all the positives and negatives that would incur.

Lorre, also, has a track record of nuanced portrayals of fat people on shows. He actually got his start as a writer and co-producer on Roseanne relatively early in the show's run, so his background with fat characters in love is about as good as it gets in Hollywood, albeit largely by default. He went on to create a number of interesting if somewhat disposable sitcoms until creating the juggernaut that is "Two and a Half Men". I don't watch the show or get its appeal, but I have noticed Conchata Ferrell in the cast. She's long been one of Hollywood's go-to fat women for character work and she always does an exceptional job, even earning an Emmy nomination for a one year stint on LA Law. From what I can gather, her character on "Two and a Half Men" is not particularly defined by her size, which is refreshing if true.

"The Big Bang Theory" has also dipped its toes on the topic with relatively good results. I can think of a couple of sight gags over the show's run with a fat woman as the punch-line, but even then there was a little nuance. One scene is shot for shock value with a character waking up next to a fat woman he met at a bar the night before. It teases the notion that this is a bad situation but the character himself actually happily embraces it. Its nothing I'd give an award for, but I've seen that gag plenty of times without the switch so it was largely playing on expectations. More substantively, though, the show featured a short-sting by pre-diet spokesperson Sara Rue in a role which made utterly no distinction of her size and indeed treated her as obviously sexual and an obviously desirable partner. She dated one of the show's leads for several episodes (actually starting out being chased by two characters) and at no point did the show suggest this was anything but a happy situation for him. He wasn't settling or unhappy. While not exceptionally fat, she was still unmistakably not skinny and most shows would have at least commented on it. This time, it was trusted that the audience would accept her as a potential and entirely welcome mate for a lead character. Sure, the lead was a "nerd", but the lack of commentary is still there. Or not there to be accurate.

So, I have some reason to be hopeful of "Mike & Molly". However, like "Huge", the premise is setting off huge warning signals. The titular characters meet at an Overeater's Anonymous meeting. As with "Huge", I get that this is sort of realistic but it still concerns me. You worry that its going to be a show mocking fat people at worst and about diet buddies at best and suffice to say I'm not sure we need that. Still, these are actors we're dealing with here, not sequestered reality show contestants. They can't make them lose weight to serve the story. The Molly of the duo, Melissa McCarthy, has already dieted in the public eye AND regained the weight. At the time, she was on "Gilmore Girls", which I recall steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any of that in the text of the show. Roseanne, if I recall, also did little to draw attention to the actors when they regained weight loss in high-profile cross-marketing campaigns. Other shows haven't been as good and with it being the purpose of this show, I'd worry about its sensitivity if one or both of the actors did lose weight only to gain it back later in the show's run. There is little precedent for how to handle that.

The AV Club reviews the pilot and both reinforces my fears and hopes. They describe a show that is literally one half sweet romantic comedy that just happens to feature two fat people and one half cascade of fat jokes. The show is going to need to find its balance. Over the summer, Chuck Lorre made a remark that stressed that the show will need to move past commentary on the character's weight pretty quickly. I don't expect them to be there in the pilot, but if there could be a show with a minimum of fat hostility that treated fat characters as humans capable of love (shocking, I know), that'd be a good thing. "Mike & Molly" has a much better chance of success than its peer fat shows (toss "Drop Dead Diva" into the pile) but in a lot of ways that makes it the biggest risk. If its a hit, the marketing departments of Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Nutrisystem will be out in force trying to capitalize and that alone would be a major blow.


Let Them Die

I hardly know how to respond to this.

Glenn Beck thinks fat people should be denied medical care and simply left to die. That is his reaction to the Michele Obama anti-obesity program. I always hate it when I see people arguing about best to hate fat bodies.

Beck, obviously, doesn't even care about fat people. This is just the next thing on the list to flip out about from the Obama administration. He even self-servingly defines an exception for his kind of fatness. Oh not him. Just those other fat people.

What's unnerving, though, is that fat acceptance makes a very nuanced response to the "Let's Move!" program addressing how even good measures can be undermined by a flawed purpose and I feel like a lot of FA critics just stare back blankly and decide we're just saying we should let fat people die. But we here we have someone outright saying it. Probably going to be cheered for it, too. I'm sure folks on that side were just staring at FA blankly and deciding we were just saying the opposite. I don't like feeling the only acceptable positions on fatness are "Let 'em die!" and "Thintervention!" When we try to argue from something truly balanced, both extremes just label US as extremists and keep on gravely shouting about what to do about all the fat people.


On dieting and the illusions of common cause

As the debate over Fat Acceptance continues to roil at Feministe and less Sanity Watchers friendly destinations, I've been really troubled by what strikes me as concern trolling from a lot of quarters about how fat acceptance is too intolerant of dieters. There is always an example of some dieter who was attacked by fat acceptance. I've blogged about this form of self-made martyrdom in the past and its distressing to be reminded of how they are using the privileges of the status quo to make an absurd point and being taken seriously. What they are out to do is push the buttons of people unsure of what to think about fat acceptance. They craft a false "backlash" narrative to fits into people's expectations of fat activists so few question it. Of course we're attacking dieters. I mean, we aren't celebrating them, right? So we must be meanly attacking people for just discovering that they shouldn't be fat. The credulous never stop to realize that this backlash is already being described from the moment the diet martyr speaks out on the matter. That when criticism does come, its for the attacks the dieter makes on fat acceptance, not for their personal choice.

I think people are free to make common-cause with Fat Acceptance on the issues they agree with while reserving the right to disagree on other issues, but over the years the people who have this split view on fat acceptance have often spent far more time attacking FA over what they don't agree with than allying with it on what they do. I feel like many just give lip service to opposing fat discrimination while their only expressed interest is in demanding Fat Activists celebrate dieting. Its like they want to propose to agree to disagree but then only care about the disagreement. I've often seen this as proposing Fat Acceptance become a movement of the lowest common denominator. Anything too challenging shouldn't be expressed because it will upset the sensibilities of those who disagree with us.

Isn't that what we want, though? I'm not saying tone isn't a valid concern, but at the end of the day, challenging the status quo has to be a core part of our purpose. I'm reminded of gay activists who pressed on issues of gay marriage while many people would express "concern" that this wasn't prudent and they should limit their advocacy to smaller goals. I was one of those people 15 years ago. Today, I feel I was utterly wrong and am extremely grateful that the gay rights movement didn't listen to those voices. That instead, they challenged people to think differently.

If FA abandoned its stance on dieting, it would no doubt win many converts but if we aren't challenging them to go further what progress can we win? I think the reason FA focuses so much on personal acceptance over political acceptance is that one must come before the other. By the time the gay rights movement was focusing confronting social and legal boundaries, there was already a significant threshold of personal acceptance within that community. Especially among those politically motivated. I'm just not at all convinced that fat acceptance can get to that place without advocating for acceptance on the individual level. Its nice to say in theory that discrimination is wrong no matter what and I certainly agree, but we aren't the architects of the prejudice against us. On some level, we must confront the internal justification of the stigmatization of fat people. I'm happy to find common cause with groups that think that anti-discrimination efforts need not be joined with self-acceptance and even those who outright oppose self-acceptance. I still think it is important, though, for the common cause not to be the only cause. I don't expect the common causers to agree with me, but I don't think its wrong to expect them to respect that I will disagree. Otherwise, I have to question if they seeking common cause or just trying to be reductive towards my beliefs.

The idea that fat activists are marginalizing anyone is a tough for more to respond to because it strikes me as a bizarre inversion of the power structure in our society. I think its a reminder of how far we still have to go but also of how important it is to maintain our struggle. We may be powerless, yet others still feel the need to fear us. In a way, I almost find that encouraging. No matter how stigmatized and marginalized we are, the status quo remains ill at ease with us. We'd be doing something wrong if the status quo didn't find reason to keep pushing back against us. We just have to keep pushing right back against them.


Push Back

I find myself in complete agreement with Maia at Alas concerning the kerfuffle that erupted at Feministe over a guest blogger. (And seriously, how often has that phrased been uttered this summer?) The guest made a post positively coated in fat shaming. It largely comes from the "Yeah, but you don't really mean that" school of responding to fat acceptance. The author is simply dismissive of the notion that someone could believe that. OBVIOUSLY fat people are unhealthy and OBVIOUSLY we should pressure them to lose weight because OBVIOUSLY they are eating too many donuts.

Yes, the author really "went there" bringing up donuts.

Its all very scoldy, bringing nothing new to the discussion beyond telling people they are OBVIOUSLY wrong. But like Maia, what I see as progress is the reaction which is darn near universal in calling out the author on her sizist attitudes. That really isn't something you see even on progressive websites filled with people who ought to be our allies. Fat shaming enjoys such privilege that few people ever examine it and instead knee-jerk defend it. That so many people are pushing back so unapologetically is very encouraging to see. Even on fat accepting sites not very long ago, commentators harping about people eating too many cheeseburgers could be excused for their concern trolling and pushing back against them discouraged.

But we need to push back. When people adopt the attitude of "You can't really mean that" we must be there to say, yes. We do mean that.