Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Rage about Reed

I met John Candy once.

He wasn't who I expected him to be, and I'm sure that's a common experience for actors, because, that day, he wasn't at all funny. I met a man who was writhing with self hatred. He hated being fat. He hated what his weight had done to his career. He perceived of himself as considered less because he was considered more. Now, I wouldn't want to say this is how he was all the time, or even some of the time, but that day, I met a man in pain.

I thought of John when I read about the controversy regarding Rex Reed's review of the movie 'Identity Thief' and particularly his attack Melissa McCarthy's weight. I've taken a section from the Hollywood reporter here to give you an idea about what's being said about what he said:

In three paragraphs, Reed manages to shred the Oscar-nominated actress for her weight four times, calling her "tractor-sized," a "screeching, humongous creep" and a "female hippo." He dismisses her career as a study in "being obese and obnoxious with equal success."

Rex Reed has been an incredible success as a movie reviewer and once held a lot of sway. He is now taking heat because of this review. And well he should. His words were an attack on an actress, not for her performance, but for her looks. Not fair and not appropriate.

I want to weigh in on the controversy. Not so much about what he said but about what people are saying about him and how people are framing this discussion.

Much has been said about how Reed would never have said the same thing about a male actor. This attempts to limit the scope of the bigotry about weight to only one gender. I'm not sure if any of you have heard the 'fat Elvis' jokes, or the remarks about Marlon Brando being a whale ... I've heard them. It wasn't long ago I heard a reviewer speak of John Travola's role in a movie, I forget which, in which SHE went on about his weight and appearance. Anyone who thinks that John Goodman's weight hasn't had an effect on his career is kidding themselves.

Here in Toronto we have a fat mayor, Rob Ford, who's politics I despise but I despise even more those who oppose him constantly going on about his weight. Really? That's political debate. Really? You'd like him if he lost a bunch of weight? One of the local papers put on their front page a photoshopped picture wherein they put Mr. Ford's face on the body of a nearly nude fat man. They expected cheers, and for the most part got them. They never for a moment thought about what that image would do to men and women with large bodies. They didn't care - and why should they, it seems few people do.

I remember seeing the book 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' and thinking to myself, 'To hell it is.' Fat is a broad based category of discrimination that hits all genders, all races, all ages. I am a fat man. I know that I face bigotry and stereotyping all the time. I know that I have to fight for respect in many social engagements. I was once bluntly told by an organisation that holds a huge international conference that the reason I have never keynoted for them was because of 'how I look.' They didn't want someone 'like me' on the main stage. They wanted me to be there and present to pull in 'my audience' but they didn't want ME big ME on the main stage. This happened less than a year ago. I can't tell you how this hurt. I don't go there any more.

Years ago I had my first really big interview with a newspaper, I was excited. The reporter had come to see me work, had seen me lecture, had asked me a lot of questions. When the article came out the very first line, THE FIRST LINE, was, "Dave Hingsburger is an extraordinarily fat man." I didn't read the rest of it. I shouldn't tell you this but it's time for honesty, I sat on the couch and cried. I was not then, who I am now, and I was devastated that after all that time, that's how the reporter chose to begin the article.

John Candy was devastated, that day that I met him, by his weight and full of self loathing because he couldn't seem to control it.

So, I'm disturbed by the fact that there is an attempt to rein in the prejudice and make it about gender rather than about weight. Is there a gender bias? I think there is, but it's less now than it was even 5 years ago. Boys are horribly concerned about their weight and six pack abs and their looks. Instead of liberating one gender, we've chosen to enslave them both. Reducing this to solely a gender issue dangerously misses the point.

But wait!! I'm not done.

What also concerned me was the way that people responded to Mr. Reed ... in various places I saw him referred to as ...

an old man
an old queen
a talentless hack

Others have suggest that they want him to ...

drop dead
die sad and alone
be stoned to death

All of them agree that he, in the article, used his power and his words to bully Melinda McCarthy. I agree, that's what he did. But it seems odd to me that the way to deal with his bullying is to bully him back. If you want bullying to stop, if you want name calling to stop, shouldn't you, actually, stop.

There are ways to disagree with people who bully.

I was disturbed, upset and angered by Mr. Reed's attack on Melissa McCarthy. But I don't wish him dead, I wish him transformed. I don't want to call him names, I want him to stop name calling. Those are my goals. I felt that Mr. Reed's review and the response to it has lead to a banner day for bullying.

And that to me, a fat man who wants simply a world where respect and dignity is the experience of all, is the tragedy in all of this.


Jayne Wales said...

I don't think this is a gender issue.it seems to me that people like him are scared of difference so they have a norm and if you don't conform they will bully you. To bully him back is counter productive and why would you sink that low. A cliche but 2 wrongs don't make a right. Better to stand up to him with dignity and intelligence. His attack is scathing and cruel and I am sure this is not unusual for anyone who has the guts to be different and proud of it. How quickly that hurtful person can make another who is proud feel lousy and worthless. I wonder how someone can do that to another person and feel good about it?

CL said...

I see what you're saying, but I disagree somewhat. I think it's absolutely true that fat men are treated badly, and that there should be more attention on this. But I also believe that the experience of being a fat woman is different -- and in many ways, worse.

Some chubby male actors are given a pass, where any female actor above a size 4 faces constant discussion of her weight. Studies have found that women face discrimination for smaller amounts of weight gain. Research also shows that fat women are more likely to face discrimination than fat men when it comes to employment, health care, and (recently) as defendants in court. So on average, fat women face discrimination more often.

I think it goes back to intersectionality -- the experience of being fat and female is different from the experience of being fat and male. Just as the experience of being fat and disabled is different (and worse ) than the experience of being fat and able-bodied.

So, I do think it's important to discuss fat as a feminist issue, and to talk specifically about the experience of fat women. This is because fighting weight discrimination for women requires special attention to certain women's health issues (pregnancy) and also gender discrimination in employment. This is for the same reason that it's important to discuss, specifically, the experience of fat disabled persons.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not just as interested in combating discrimination against fat, able-bodied men. I've seen fat men feel horrible about themselves for decades because of their size, and it's absolutely important that we talk about this too. But I don't see a problem with pointing out that overall, female actresses have it worse when it comes to weight expectations, because it's just the truth.

Anonymous said...

This came up the other day, and someone said that people were just as rude to thin people.

I said "don't take this wrong, but has anyone accused you of causing global warming. Of being the cause for the deficit? Of being the cause for the crisis in health care? Of being just too ugly to be with other people? Can you walk into a store and find something to wear that fits and doesn't look like a couch cover?

But its not about which is a worse thing to be called, why do people think it is any of their business how much or how little someone weighs?

Anonymous said...

I had been saying for years that fat is the last prejudice that is applauded. I'm overweight. When I missed a day of work - I was challenged on my eating habits or exercising routine. If a colleague was ill, they got soup and told not to rush back. All the group I worked with were runners - some even ran marathons.

My mom never believed me about the predjudice against me (and other heavy folks). I proved it to her this last summer. I had her approach an info desk in the mall and ask about a store that use to be there - I wasn't sure if it was gone or just moved. Mom was addressed nicely and even asked if there was anything else they could do for her. I approached a few minutes later, with my mom just out of sight. I asked the same question. I was given a curt answer and told there never has never been such a store. I assured the lady there was. She looked me in the eye and replied with a tone that would wither grass and said "I've been working here for almost 5 years - I'm sure I would know if there was such a store." I admit - my dander was up. I replied, "Well, I shopped there for 25 years and I assure you there was a store by that name here."

People think you are ignorant if you are heavy - if you weren't ignorant, you wouldn't be heavy. You are under-educated, unmotivated, lazy...the list goes on. I have to work at least twice as hard as skinny folks to prove myself. Ticks me off.

Sad about John Candy. I like his body of work - and I'm not trying to be cute.

Anonymous said...

I admit - I couldn't help but flashback to a year or so ago when your readers were very hard on George Clooney for what he said while acting a part in the movie "descendents". It seems like they too were excessively cruel - not seperating the person from the role. It was over the retarded word. George's performance in that role was wonderful - yet he was attacked by the blog viewers. Hmmmm.....

Feminist Avatar said...

Just because fat is a feminist issue doesn't mean that it's not also everybody else's issue. Race is a feminist issue; disability is a feminist issue; sexuality is a feminist issue, but clearly these are not just categories that affect women. Intersectionality matters. But just as importantly, feminism is also for men. Feminists want equality - that benefits everybody.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon at 2:15, After reading your comment I went and looked at the blog post that you mentioned, there were 10 comments and I didn't see a single personal attack against Clooney ... there was dicussion on both sides of the issue. I don't think you can consider a single remark bullying ... http://davehingsburger.blogspot.ca/2012/02/decendants-word-change.html

Anonymous said...

I am fat and I don't think anyone externally could abuse, bully and ridicule me as much as I do myself. I hate being fat and I look at people who say who cares, I am proud of who I am, blah, blah and think, really?, really? I am uncomfortable, unhealthy and miserable and its not about buying cute clothes. I think Rex Reed is a bully, I think Melissa McCarthy is amazing but she has built a major career on being fat or nerdy, it perpetuates those myths. Wish it were different. Nitpicking about gender seems rather pointless. It all depends where you are sitting. I don't care if YOU (the generic YOU, not specifically Dave) are fat but i wish I wasn't and if anyone says you don't have to be then you just got outed as a skinny person.

Anonymous said...

At 21 I was 370 ponds people laughed at me at the movies when i got stuck in my chair...heard grumblings when i sat next to someone on an airplane...I lost 170 ponds over the next several years and at 30 I am 200 ponds and how the world has changed the way people look at me, treat me it is as if i am a different person...However i am the same person that i was then...people see me now...But to this day when i hear someone laugh as i walk in somewhere I feel like they are laughing at me...Bullying is a one of the crulest parts of our society and if you have been bullied sometimes it never goes away.....to your point Dave of bullying a bully i use a Martain luther king jr quote at the end of one of my trainings it reads "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." i find these words to help whenever there is a battle to be fought.

wendy said...

This is such painful stuff. I'm so sorry, Dave, that you have had to put up with such incredible bigotry and insult.
I agree...this is one of the areas that seems to have gone untouched by enlightenment or criticism.

GirlWithTheCane said...

This isn't solely a gender issue, no. I think that CL is right that it operates differently for men than it does for women...but that still doesn't, in any way, make it right. Men certainly do experience prejudice based on their weight. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is getting a whopping taste of it in the US right now, with so much focus on whether his weight would compromise his ability to be President.

As for the bullying you talked about...commonplace on the social media sites, unfortunately. It's one of the things that I really dislike about them.

Fatism is a terrible thing, and can have dire consequences - I've heard of people going without needed medical treatment because of a doctor's prejudice against size. I'm glad that so many people spoke up about Reed's review...hopefully the tide is turning on this.

Jeannette said...

Yes, I was one of those people who used bullying words. I called him a "stupid, nasty, little man". And now you've made me reflect on what I said. I would still call his review -- and that kind of thinking and writing -- "stupid, nasty, and small-minded." At what point does an angry response become bullying? At what point does an angry response become not bullying? I'll be chewing on this cud for a while, I think. Thank you, Dave.

Louna said...

Jeannette, I believe the difference between bullying and criticizing is exactly the difference you make between your two comments. In the first, you call Reed a "stupid, nasty, little man", and in the second, you call his comment "stupid, nasty and small-minded". In the first you attack a person as a whole, and in the second you attack a specific action or, in this case piece of writing. That, for me, is the difference.

Rickismom said...

I am not at all sure that " fat is the last prejudice that is applauded".Because, unfortunately,"retarded" etc and discrimination against those with intellectual disability is still quite alive. But the predujice against those who are overweight is tremendous. (And, I must say, the predudice against overweight women is even more rampant then that against overweight men, but not by much.
As such, while I enjoy(usually) getting compliments on my weight loss.. I often feel upset at them, feeling that I am reinforcing the prejudice:


amber york said...

Great post, and great comments!

Moose said...

Fat IS a feminist issue.

Fat is a male issue.

Fat is a racism issue.


Of all the *isms out there, fat is one that's among the most socially acceptable. We call people "big fat liars", we sneer at what people eat, there are often legislative attempts (and, NYC, success) over playing the Food Police. Fat jokes are a regular part of daily life.

There are tons of well-meaning yet completely condescending excuses given for fat related bigotry, the most common is: "Being fat is a drain on the health system". The "proof" of this is always given with diseases that have obesity correlations. Correlation are not causation. If fat people have something that doesn't mean being fat causes it.

I could go on and on (with proof, using real studies, not mass media articles) about how all the frenzy over how fat people are all "unhealthy" and the like is all hogwash, but the important part of it is this:

Obesity is no more a guarantee of bad health than driving a car means you are guaranteed to have an accident.

The number one and BEST predictor of health is exercise. Fat or thin, move your butt. If you can't move your butt, move whatever parts of you moves!

You may not change your weight. You WILL make your body happier, and you will probably also improve your mental health as well.


Jayne Wales said...

Depending on which way you are looking at it fat remarks can be an issue for all people regardless of gender. I do agree when a patriarchal society dominates the ideal of beauty in a woman and a capitalist society makes money out of her insecurity and need to buy thin products then time has not moved on much! Movies such as Bridget Jones and Shrek make it look as though fat women can find love despite being ugly but perhaps amusing dont help at all!
So if I am being thoughtful in my response I would have a big point to make about fat still being very much a deep rooted feminist issue and a hugely political matter.
But I am going to leave it for now as rude, ill mannered drivvle because sometimes rather than have to think too hard I just want to call peopleig ignorant. Sorry to the pigs. However I do agree with the more thought provoking words of the women on this page about it being very gender specific.

Jayne Wales said...

Sorry ignorant pigs I meant to say which is why I apologised to the poor pigs!