Our culture’s current obsession with fat people is deeply intertwined with, among other things, our fear of modern life. Conservatives and progressives alike imagine fat people as the archetypal modern people-people who are lazy, shallow, of lower intellect, and who don’t care about anything. They are represented sitting incessantly in front of the TV absorbing all its messages with nary a protest. Fat acceptance advocates do not appreciate the use of fat people to present this message but they more often than not agree with the message. Of course modern people are all of the negative adjectives offered above and of course the garbage that calls itself modern entertainment is to blame for that! The problem is that it is not just fat people who are victimized by this mentality but thin people as well Thin and fat people alike would benefit from watching fewer movies and reading more classic novels.
As a lover of modern entertainment and classic novels, I have an issue with this.
Just for the record, I feel that TV, movies, video games, etc. can be just as intellectual and artistic as more traditional media. Just because it is written or expressed in some other “legitimate” medium doesn’t mean that it is automatically good. That is a rant for another day, though, and I am not interested in arguing the fine points of that position here. My issue is that in the interest of finding common cause with fat hatred, many of us have decided to agree on the issues of the evils of modern life. Such a position is often taken in a way that reveals the personal prejudices of those taking it.
Without the tie-in to fat, you have accepted the idea that people who prefer visual over verbal communication are stupid and lazy. You might not have intended to communicate that message, but it comes through loud and clear nonetheless. Actually, thin people are hurt by this prejudice as well, particular skinny boys that are seen as too nerdy, geeky, or gawky to have real lives, athletic ability, or girl friends, so they resort to creating digital lives instead. But I digress.
Not everything on TV or the silver screen is particularly artistic or intellectual (in the broad sense of those terms.) Neither is everything that has been written. The point is that people automatically assume that the verbal is superior to the visual. You hear it when they proudly proclaim that their children read books rather than watch TV or that you won’t allow them to play video games as it stifles the imagination.
I read and write at an advanced level. I am an honor student with research skills and an appreciation for the written word. I also love, and in some respects, prefer visual media like TV.
Funny. We think TV is anti-intellectual, but that plays and paintings are mentally stimulating. We think video games undermine imagination, but we do not say the same of board games. They, too, tell you what to do and have pictures and pieces that reflect the game environment. Yet they are immune from this criticism.
I like all kinds of media. I learn from it and am entertained by it. I love watching TV or a good movie, and I have ever since I was a child. When I watched classic Disney movies like Pocahontas or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I was very engaged in the message, the symbolism, the acting and the presentation. I learned the songs, I danced, and I learned new words and some things about cultures, histories, and lives other than my own. Was it a full, or entirely accurate, education? No, it was children’s fiction, but it was a start and it stuck with me and got me engaged.
Though I had always loved to read and was a strong reader, there was something special about TV and movies. Seeing and hearing these characters go through their adventures made them feel that much more real to me and it was easy to remember them and draw connections between their worlds and mine. I was socially delayed and had a speech and language disability when I was younger and I still struggle with those issues. TV and movies had a special power over me for that reason. I liked to self-stimulate, so while I liked to read when I was in the mood, I could never concentrate for long. Movies gave me something to ‘do’-act out stories, sing, dance, etc.
Reading books might require you to imagine the picture, but movies can just as well cause you to imagine the words to describe what you saw and heard. Have you never heard a child struggle to find the right word to describe that beautiful Esmeralda character with the angelic voice?
I do not necessarily learn from traditional media, but that does not make me of lower intellect, nor does it mean my way of learning is not legitimate.
I used to hate it when people would tell me what I should to reading or watching or doing because what I was doing wasn’t good enough. Predictably, it was tied in with the hatred that some people had for the fact that I was larger (and taller) than most other children. My constant sitting and absorbing would make my body fat and weak and my mind even weaker. Years later, it has done no such thing. It also did not displace other media through which to learn, like reading or watching plays, like so many fear will happen if kids like TV too much. Actually, technology EXPOSED me to media and works of art I might have otherwise missed and got me interested in them.
Ultimately, you do not need to like any medium or work of art. You do not have to like your kids being exposed to it. But those of us with learning, language or other disabilities, those of us who do not learn through traditional means, or whose cultures do not place the same emphasis on the written word as others will not appreciate the common admonition that we need to read more and watch less TV.
Especially if you blame that for us being fat.