28 April 2010

Media: representing deathfat through terrorism and suicide

I was looking through an old children's encyclopaedia at the weekend and was intrigued to read a section about whaling which supported the then whaling industry. Accompanying the piece were a series of illustrations of whales being slaughtered. What surprised me was that the whales were depicted as quite evil and mean, sneering at the whalers, as though killing them – gentle giants of the ocean! – was entirely justifiable, necessary even. How times change.

In a similar vein I've been startled by a bunch of recent depictions of fat people and fatness which, like that representation of the whale, show us as necessary targets for a carefully-aimed harpoon. It's tempting to get all outraged about these images but I don’t know what that would achieve. I don't want to ban anything, I oppose censorship. These pictures are so far away from anything I know about being fat that I cannot dignify them with any authority. I think a more useful strategy is to ridicule.

First up is Bye Bye Burger Boy, an idea for a sculpture mooted and then abandoned by NHS Barnsley. What was originally a terrible concept got picked up and torn down by the press, though for the spurious reason that humiliating fatties is not the best way to help us lose weight, our only goal in life, apparently.

Whilst I think the project sucks and am glad it never happened, a tiny part of me can't help wishing that it could have been realised too. Regardless of its misguided didacticism, I'd love to see a flaming statue of a fat boy stuffing his face. Actually, seeing anything on fire makes me feel happy, especially when it's a police car. I think of a flaming burger boy as a big, kitsch Fuck You to every narrow fuck that ever walked the land.

Next up is the British Heart Foundation's Active Fat campaign (thanks for the alert Karen). I love these folks! They look like little anarchists, sabotaging, making bombs and fucking shit up. My favourite image has the alt tag "Fat cells causing toxic damage". This does not make me want to become less fat in any way.

This campaign reminds me of other misguided anti-obesity public health crusades that backfire before they even get started because their depictions of deathfat are annoyingly cute. The manatee and the obesity monster come to mind, not to mention the big bellied hunk I spotted a while back.

The last images are more hardcore. They're old, but new to me, produced by Brandon Knowlden, an 'Art Director' from Salt Lake City, and they're mock-ups that form part of his portfolio. I wonder if he recognises how problematic his work is. Maybe he doesn't care.

Knowlden uses the copyline Obesity is Suicide. I would be very happy to wear a t-shirt bearing this slogan, it's really punk. The ads point punters towards weight loss surgery. Unfortunately I can't help thinking that 'Weight Loss Surgery is Suicide' might be a more appropriate use of the copyline.

The images blow my mind! Suicide girl is the least memorable, though has a certain Jacqueline Susann/Neely O'Hara glamour about it, in fact I'm inspired to call Smarties, Minstrels, Maltesers and M&Ms my Dolls from now on.

The guy hanging by a sausage noose is more full-on. Commentators elsewhere have compared this image to a lynching, and as a hate image. I'm not sure about that. I think it's more like a still from some kind of fatty-zombie hybrid exploitation flick. Imagine, too, death by sausage! It beggars belief. I am not suicidal in any way, but if I were I might consider topping myself by hanging from a string of vegetarian sausages. Classy, no? In the unlikely event that I am ever on some post-obesity-revolution execution squad of radical fatties, I might demand that the counter-revolutionaries I'm required to dispatch be hanged by sausage. It seems somehow appropriate.

I've saved the best until last. The fat suicide bomber, here to blow you limb from limb with an explosive vest of butter. I hope that the cultural studies/fat studies people are excited about this image because I literally cannot wait to read some heavy-duty analysis of it. (Rachel White, this looks like one for you!). Not only is obesity suicide, it turns you into a suicide bomber. There is nothing funny about suicide bombings in real life, but this image is plainly ludicrous, verging on Chris Morris territory, as my partner just said.

When I look at this image I think that people who think that weight loss surgery is a viable answer to the problem of obesity should be afraid of angry fat people. We are the kind of people who would actually like to see a weight loss clinic blown to pieces, though perhaps metaphorically, and we are developing the tools and means to do that. When I look at this image I think: too right, we are amongst you, we recruit, and we will fuck you up. The obesity timebomb is ticking. Watch out.


Anonymous said...

The toxic fat cells look like the evil version of the Adipose aliens from Doctor Who. So much in fact, I wonder if that's where the got their "thinspiration" from. It just makes fat look a whole lot cooler if you ask me.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Oh, I don't watch Dr Who. Interesting.

I think it makes fat look cool too.

Anonymous said...

I wanna know why Burger Boy is "mounted" on an ash tray. That's just totally bizarre.

Charlotte Cooper said...


LottieP said...

I don't know what to think about these images. They are risible and sad at the same time. I just can't imagine what impact they could have, other than to induce either laughter or despair. They're not meant to be a joke, are they? No, I think they are just as po-faced as they appear to be.

The sausages one - blimey! Mindboggling.

Charlotte Cooper said...

No! Not meant to be funny at all. Meant to scare you skinny.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the exercize song they played when I was in grade school gym class. We had to do the usual pushups, squat thrusts, etc. to a perky tune, the chorus of which was "Go! you chicken fat, Go!" Way to make the chubby kids feel like garbage. I trace my life-long aversion to any kind of group activity to that song.