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 ...
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.