This one may get a little rambly, so bear with me …
Earlier this spring, I went to a comedy musical play. It was around the time of the Oscars which, this year, were so appallingly lacking in diversity that some celebs chose to boycott. The cast of this play had at least 15 people and only one person of color in the group. In one scene, she does an ad-lib aside about being the only person of color in the cast, in which she mentioned the oscars, and made a few salient points about casting. And then one of the leads said, “OK, now get out of here, the white people are talking.” So some self-awareness in the mix, if not actual diversity. And a sign that the writers were trying not to be bigoted asshats. Or so I assumed.
But in an otherwise clever and nuanced script, there were at least two minute-long breaks for fat jokes. As in “she’s so fat that …” blah blah blah. And when I say “breaks,” I mean the action of the scene paused and a character just reeled off fat jokes. It was clearly just filler. Mean-spirited filler.
Now believe me when I say that I appreciate the importance of being able to laugh at one’s self and the value of satire. I understand the significance of policing language and jokes to the point where no one feels comfortable saying anything remotely controversial. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes wish I could crack wise without worrying about a call-out. At this point, I’ve been conditioned to fear poking fun at anything or anyone, including myself. But I’d rather be inclusive and welcoming than acerbic, and that’s the choice I’ve made. That said, I do occasionally read articles about the terrible offense people have taken at such and such a joke and feel like the world could stand to lighten up a little.
This play, though? It really didn’t need to go there. It could have rolled along just as entertainingly without a literal break in the action created specifically to make fun of fat people. I don’t mean to imply that it’s fine to make fun of X group but not Y group, or that every piece of content mentioning a concept that might upset someone should include a trigger warning. But this was so low. It was not satire and it was not clever. It was base, schoolyard humor shoved into an otherwise well-written show.
And it reminded me of articles I’ve read pointing out that making fun of fat people is one of the last socially acceptable forms of outright bigotry. Obviously being a prejudiced jerkface about any group of people is going to spark anger and could and should be avoided. But even TV shows, movies, and comedians that generally steer clear of race jokes, sexism, religious jokes, ageism, and ableism still feel perfectly free to say shockingly insensitive things about fat people and make loads of jokes about weight. Why are people who understand the importance of treating most people with respect and sensitivity completely comfortable being cruel to fat people?
Some people maintain that fat is just another adjective that describes human beings, a sort of reclamation or disarming of the term. And while I respect that philosophy, I know that some people still view the term as an insult. And regardless, humor fueled by cruel intentions – toward any person or group – is unnecessary.
As you might’ve guessed, I don’t have a solution for this situation, per se. But I wanted to point out that there are ways to be funny without being cruel (see Eddie Izzard, Mitch Hedberg), and that otherwise open-minded people who make nasty cracks about fat people can be gently but firmly told to knock it off. No type of bigotry should remain socially acceptable, no group or type of people should be sanctioned targets for prejudice. Ever. The end.