Fat Jokes

Chris Clarke, eloquent fella that he is, puts into words several things I’ve been thinking about the kinds of insults that liberals will unthinkingly throw at conservatives:

A reader, after considering my post on civility, sent a note asking whether the notion of justifiable incivility might not pose the threat of blowback, of giving some in the left camp perceived license to offend the usual victims of ridicule in this society. The reader pointed out the recent rise of the cliché “clutching [his/er] pearls,” used to signify either feigned or exaggerated outrage, usually targeted at a male in an attempt to mock. There is, after all, nothing men consider a greater insult than being called a woman. Witness the continuing use of the word “pussy” as a synonym for “coward.” Gay men and lesbians come in for their unfair share of abuse by metaphor, and transgender people fare worse: Google on “Ann Coulter” and “Adam’s apple” for examples of that latter one. I’ve written before about using slurs against the mentally disabled. And the racist invective unleashed by a few scattered blog commenters against people like Michelle Malkin — when there are so many other hammers she hands people to hit her with — continues to astound me, if only because she plays it to her advantage every time and the anti-Asian racist commenters still never learn that they’re helping her.

These kinds of insults are just lazy, and when the insult is a direct one, as with the case of Asian slurs against Malkin, let them say that liberals are the *real* racists, intolerant, etc. Plus, they’re a distraction. They’re also the kinds of things that insult people on the left as well, and piss off certain constituencies — often quite large ones — that are useful to your cause (this kind of thing was demonstrated vividly with the hissy fit John Aravosis threw after some commenters objected to his use of the term “Big Girl” to describe Sen. Pat Roberts; he tried to defend it as a use of “gay vernacular,” then started deleting comments and banning people, and has now put up an invitation to leave if you can’t slavishly agree with him). I do have to say that I disagree with Chris about the pearl-clutching being a feminizing insult because it’s increasingly applied to men — I, personally, use it regardless of gender because it so perfectly captures faux-outrage.

But Chris points out an insult that’s employed quite frequently that doesn’t always get questioned, even though people like him (and me) are alienated and told that we’re Less Than as a result:

And my reader sent me a link to this as well. It’s not particularly unusual, as offensive tropes go. The person they target has earned his measure of insult for his absurd and abusive politics. But what the posters decide to deride is the man’s weight.

I see this frequently, even with bloggers I like, enjoy and usually find amusing. Kathryn Jean Lopez is a favorite target, as is Jonah “Doughy Pantload” Goldberg, John Podhoretz, Hugh Hewitt and the like. In each case, their politics and personalities provide plenty of fodder for hurling insults at them, so that resorting to making jokes about their appearance and/or weight is just a cheap shot. For one thing, unlike someone like Ann Coulter, who uses short skirts and thinness and blond hair as part of her schtick, and who has made her appearance — and the appearance of other women — part of her politics, none of these people make their own appearance or those of others into an issue. So it’s unfair to attack them on that basis, just as it’s unfair to make racist comments about Michelle Malkin (not because she doesn’t make race an issue — oh, she does — but because the racist comments inevitably revolve around Asian hooker stereotypes and thus have no relevance to her personal racism, which centers on propensity for terrorism. So, pointing out that by her own logic, she, being a Filipina, should be racially profiled because of the existence of Islamic terror groups in the Philippines is fair play; making “fuckee suckee” comments is not. See how that works?).

Chris samples some of the more odious comments generated by the Sadly, No! post, and makes the following observation:

And you know what? That thread is mainly remarkable for the number of people who spoke up to proclaim that they, or the people they loved, were fat. There is much worse fat abuse to be found elsewhere in the left online world. Atrios’ comments come to mind.

While it’s a good sign that there are so many people calling out the fat bashing in that thread, the fact that Chris finds this notable is a sign of how pervasive this kind of thing is and how it usually goes unchallenged. Chris reluctantly posts a (very cute) picture of himself with a jackhammer to make the point that “fat”does not automatically equal “weak,” or “lazy,” or “morally unfit.” The reluctance comes from an awareness that by posting his photo, he’s opening himself up comments by the kind of people who will make judgments about “my character, my habits, my physical strength, my libido, and my intellect with one glance.” And what’s hurtful is that that “kind of people” can also be the kind of people who regularly participate intelligently in comments to liberal blogs and who show awareness of other kinds of abuse, discrimination, and the like. I’ll be honest, that’s a very big reason why I don’t post my photo on the blog, particularly considering the kinds of comments that Jill and Lauren have gotten about their pictures; a bigger reason, of course, is that I want to preserve my anonymity.

Chris again:

Holly mentioned in comments to the FAQ post that she’d like to see me in a moment of sheer incivility. She almost got her wish in this post. There is part of me that wants to react with outrage at the insinuations that obesity necessarily means weakness, most of them surely leveled by people who have never once flung a 60-pound jackhammer around for two and a half days. In fact, I will go so far as to invite any of the fat-bashing “Sadly, No” commenters to accompany me on a Diablo climb. It’s only 3700 feet or so total climb, and 13 miles. And it takes me five and a half, six hours to do it. Counting the usual half hour or so of resting that includes, that means an average speed of just over two miles an hour. Surely they can match that pace up all those switchbacks. And then back down. And then again the next weekend. With six or so miles run during the intervening week. That’s not much exercise at all. They couldn’t possibly have as much trouble keeping up with me physically as they would intellectually. Could they?

But I won’t be that uncivil. (Or I won’t continue to be, anyway.) For one thing, all that exercise has gotten my blood pressure down into the low normal range, and I’d hate to mess that up. For another, my sense is that most of the really inane anti-fat slurs are written by the young, and I have the wisdom that comes from perspective, and I know that when most of them reach, oh, say, 38 or so a new generation of jerks will be saying similar things about their fat asses. And the painted ponies go up and down, though not without complaint if I’m sitting on one.

There’s more in Chris’s post, but I want to discuss that separately. I hope to have a post worked up tomorrow (really, later today).


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21 comments for “Fat Jokes

  1. May 21, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    Yes, Yes, YES! Great post, Zuzu.

  2. BEG
    May 22, 2006 at 12:15 am

    I have to admit the “pearl-clutching” is a new one on me, and to me applying that to a guy evoked a picture of his clutching a pair of them. With a not-so-subtle passing reference as to the size of them. Heh.

    Interesting post all around. Thanks.

  3. May 22, 2006 at 12:24 am

    Thank you soooooo much for this post.

    I’ve always said that fat hatred is the dirty little secret of the liberal mindset. I’ve read things from Mark Morford on SFGate and articles from Mother Jones where I’ve thought, “All I have to do is replace the references to fat with ones for gay or black and, Voila! Instant hate!”

    Over on the Fat!So? Gabcafe, I throw this idea around once in while. It seems that many liberal writers equte fat with an overcomsumptive ugly American. I gave up listening to Randi Rhodes on AirAmerica because she just cannot resist maligning any conservative who is fat specifically for that.

    Sigh.

    I may be fat but, damn it, I can still hug a tree!!!!

    Thanks again for making my day. Thanks to Chris Clarke too.

  4. May 22, 2006 at 1:09 am

    Chris was really eloquent. I wish he had picked a different bloggo to mention. Obviously stuff can get out of hand sometimes at S,N! but it is a good crowd, and I wouldn’t want them to get a bad rap. Part of dealing with people that say evil things and do bad stuff is wanting to diffuse their power by ridiculing them. I realize that there are lines that get crossed. I find that Hugh Hewitt’s m’oobs get mentioned a lot. we just have to try to be better, but I think you can see the trying going on with most of the S,N! commenters. Where people are free to speak their minds, but someone will say “that’s not cool” as well.

  5. May 22, 2006 at 2:02 am

    Does Ann Coulter really use her thinness as part of her schtick? I’ve never seen her on TV, so I don’t know. I have a similar body shape, and when someone on Shakes Sis posted a photo of her (it could have been me with different hair color) I was horrified to read the insults that followed.

    I heard all this growing up, and if you don’t think thin people take their share of abuse, there are a couple of 7th grade girls I’d like to introduce you to.

  6. May 22, 2006 at 2:41 am

    I’m a skinny 12 lb weakling type myself, so I have totally been there. My particular self-image is that I may find use of the terms offensive (meaning I would define them as such) but I wouldn’t feel personally offended. This is not a normal response, I know. For example, if someone looked a lot like me, but was entirely evil, was being insulted based on their physical attributes (meaning my physical attributes) but because of their evilness, I know I wouldn’t feel the same as if someone were directly insulting me. I would see that person in a different light. My visceral reaction to them would taint how I see the person, even though that person might look like me. This is not at all an excuse for offensive language, nor an argument based solely on the intent of the words. I just want to point out that words describing an attribute that may be exactly the same between two people may not actually be describing the same thing. I’m not defending anything, just pointing out a subtlety that exists, I think, but is not necessarily conveyed in the language. Does that make sense at all? It is late and I do not know if I am explaining myself properly.

  7. Fairweather
    May 22, 2006 at 3:30 am

    “I heard all this growing up, and if you don’t think thin people take their share of abuse, there are a couple of 7th grade girls I’d like to introduce you to. ”

    I hear that, Kathy, but it’s really not on the same level as fat hatred, any more than how the patriarchy hurts men (which it does) is the same as how the patriarchy hurts women.

  8. May 22, 2006 at 4:03 am

    Kathryn Jean Lopez is a favorite target […] none of these people make their own appearance or those of others into an issue

    I’m too lazy to dig up the links but I have read comments from K-Lo making an issue of other women’s appearance.

    Obviously I think the points raised (by you and Chris) are much more important than this minor quibble, but I’ll have to get back to those once my workday is over.

  9. May 22, 2006 at 4:16 am

    Pinko, I’m normally not that thin skinned, but these insults were directly aimed at her body shape, which seemed exaggerated in the photo. But it looked pretty much like mine, and the comments sounded like what I used to hear in seventh grade. They were uglier than the photo.

    Let’s just stop with all comments directed at someone’s physical appearance. Maybe our 12-year-olds will get the message when no longer see grownups acting the same way.

  10. May 22, 2006 at 6:02 am

    This Chris fellow is a perceptive guy, and I salute him, as well as you, Zuzu, for pointing this out.

    We live in a culture where meaningful dialogue often falls by the wayside in the name of emotional overreaction. While I understand the desire by some to launch into people like Malkin with all the invective they can muster, such hidden bias and lack of integrity can ultimately only soil a meaningful conversation–even for those who agree with a given individual. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to police these sorts of actions by our own, and act against such counterproductive responses in a gentle but firm manner.

    People are naturally disposed to favor certain groups of people over others. Unfortunately. this sometimes means that we, for all our posturing about our own open-mindedness, still fall victim to our own prejudices. For all the progress we’ve made with other groups, we continue to treat obesity as a character failing. And Chris is right to be angry about that.

  11. May 22, 2006 at 8:30 am
  12. Jon C.
    May 22, 2006 at 9:32 am

    . So, pointing out that by her own logic, she, being a Filipina, should be racially profiled because of the existence of Islamic terror groups in the Philippines is fair play…

    Actually, Malkin has freely admitted that she has no problem with Filipinos, even herself, being subjected to heightened scrutiny for security purposes. See here for an example.

    Oh, and ditto the recent condemnation here of racist slurs made by the left. It’s good to see you guys owning up to the intolerance on your own side for a change.

  13. May 22, 2006 at 9:35 am

    It’s good to see you guys owning up to the intolerance on your own side for a change.

    Jon, I’ve been saying shit like this since the early 1970s. Peddle your talking points at someone who’ll buy them.

  14. Jon C.
    May 22, 2006 at 9:37 am

    Not peddling anything, just giving credit where it’s due.

  15. zuzu
    May 22, 2006 at 9:46 am

    Chris was really eloquent. I wish he had picked a different bloggo to mention. Obviously stuff can get out of hand sometimes at S,N! but it is a good crowd, and I wouldn’t want them to get a bad rap.

    We should be able to turn a critical eye on ourselves and our friends, and we should be able to know that our friends are also our allies — that they will listen to our objections and try to understand them and try to change their assumptions. The lack of that was what made the Kos pie fight and now the Aravosis “big girl” thing so frustrating — in both cases, it would have blown over had the person being challenged acknowledged the legitimacy of the complaint (even if he didn’t agree) rather than simply get defensive and lash out at the critics while minimizing their issues (i.e., making statements that “I can’t believe there are all these *important* things to talk about and you want to talk about sexism”).

    I’m too lazy to dig up the links but I have read comments from K-Lo making an issue of other women’s appearance.

    And in that case, she makes herself fair game. But when she talks about abortion, or religion, or what have you, why is the first weapon in the arsenal a fat joke?

    Squid2, I find both of those examples objectionable. Why reduce women to whores and skanks? The second one is a bit better than the first, because it does directly deal with the way that the right-wing noise machine gets its odious messages out by putting them in the mouths of Right-Wing Barbies, but is it really necessary to call them skanks — and then to suggest we need skanks of our own?

  16. May 22, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    But when she talks about abortion, or religion, or what have you, why is the first weapon in the arsenal a fat joke?

    Hmm, I’m not sure the K-Lo “fat joke” is the “first weapon” on S,N!, though I’d have to read more of the archives than even I’m willing to do now to determine whether that’s true or not.

    and then to suggest we need skanks of our own?

    You can’t possibly think Brad was seriously suggesting the left needs to do this.

  17. zuzu
    May 22, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Of course I realize he wasn’t being serious. But I am questioning his choice of terminology, and the unexamined assumptions behind them.

  18. May 22, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    How about the argument that some of the people who the right trots out to make arguments against abortion and contraception, in favor of sodomy laws, against gays having sex with each other, against anyone having sex with each other outside of marriage, etc., are people who may not get too many opportunities to do such things anyway and are basically intent on ruining it for the rest of us? (George Carlin, I believe, has a more vulgar and funny version of the same point.) Someone like Maggie Gallagher comes to mind.

    Is that argument out of bounds?

  19. May 22, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    This post is great. I bristle when I hear people call Rush Limbaugh a “fat slob” or insinuate that Ann Coulter is a hermaphrodite because a.) we shouldn’t put people down for people overweight or being of indeterminate gender in the first place and b.) of all the things to latch onto and criticize, why not intelligently counter a specific argument that they’ve made and maybe actually influence a few people?

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