Fat So Funny

Election’s over, so what’s a political cartoonist to do? It’s not like there are any really important issues to consider. Could do something about the Congo or Rwanda. But, really, this is America: those places might as well be Oz, for all we care.

I know! There’s a new study about obesity! Several studies! Oh boy! Now political cartoonists can do what comes naturally: mock fat people, draw a newspaper with a headline and let a bad pun do the work.

Dana Summers fat teen cartoon

Yes, apparently there is some study about teens getting fatter or something. Causes? Remedies? Flaws in the study? How studies like these fit in a larger culture neurotic about physical appearance, hyper-consumption, and fast food? Who cares? Let’s mock fat people — and teens, too!

Steve Kelly fat teen cartoon

Ha ha! Get it! Teens only want to get drunk!

But you know what’s missing? A tie-in with popular culture. It doesn’t have to be relevant, or insightful, or even current. It just has to stimulate some region of the brain that stores random images osmotically absorbed from the general culture environment. Hey, Bat-man!

Ken Catallino's fat cartoon

Good thing the wind is blowing that newspaper high above the skyscrapers in such a way that we can read it. Otherwise I would have no idea what the hell this cartoon has to do with real life.

You know, you don’t have to be a hack cartoonist to squeeze out turds like these. You can be a well-respected, intelligent, and talented lion of the field like the great Clay Bennett, whose work I generally love:

Clay Bennett's obesity cartoon

Apparently Americans like to shovel their food served on plates decorated with the Presidential seal. Or something. It’s kinda abstract, really — so let’s go back to mocking fat youth!

Chip Bock's fat cartoon

Drew Sheneman's fat cartoon

Wow, okay, that’s enough. I could probably dig up more. If you feel masochistic, cruise through Slate.com’s health section of political cartoons and you will find 476 (as of today) that deal with general health issues, the majority of them focused on obesity. All of them will exploit some stereotype of fatness, teenagers or youth culture, consumption and gluttony for the sake of a cheap punchline and at the expense of insight, compassion, intelligence, context, and originality. As my friend and political cartoonist Barry Deutsch has pointed out many times, fat people are easy targets, perhaps the last “safe” target (along with the mentally ill and poor Southern whites) for comedians and other humorists to treat as an “other”, that slightly less-than-human category of people who deviate from The Norm and thus deserve mockery and marginalization. Of course, if these studies are true, then more Americans are getting fatter, so these cartoons act as a way of policing our behavior, inducing guilt and shame for being all-consuming gluttons. And there the conversation ends. But I’ll let Barry have the last word, because he puts it so well:

The reason fat activists have formed a movement is that it’s unjust to be denied good medical care because we’re fat; we think it’s unjust that we can get fired for being fat; we think it’s unjust that we face job and wage discrimination because we’re fat; we think it’s unjust that we can be charged more for basic services (like insurance) because we’re fat; it’s unjust that people glance at us and assume that we’re lazy and care nothing for ourselves; and yes, although you’ll sneer at this as “the right to feel good,” it’s unjust that fat people are taught from childhood to think of themselves as deficient, wrong, and disgusting.

Anit-fat bigotry isn’t wrong because it’s the same as facing lynch mobs. It’s wrong because it’s unjust. It’s unjust because we’re human and don’t deserve to be treated as second-class people because of the shape of our bodies.

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2 responses to “Fat So Funny

  1. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Not the last safe target, not the last acceptable prejudice

  2. Well guys, I don’t see where the anger comes from. We’ve got a problem in this country. It’s a cartoonists job to mock it and get us discussing it. I don’t, personally (and I’m only between 10-20 lbs over my ideal weight) see these cartoons as mocking fat-children anymore than I would see a cartoon that centered around our youth’s low test scores as calling our kids “dumb” or “making fun of dumb kids.”

    The shovel cartoon makes the point that our portion sizes have grown needlessly, and dangerously large. Who is the “butt” of that joke? Not fat people, but we all are. And not just Americans (although it seems that we are the chief exporter of the super-size).

    The child in the lipitor cartoon is not fat. But the point is that we’re having to medicate our children for things we never had to medicate them for- and it would be better if we could all, as a nation, start to learn, use, and practice- better eating and exercise habits.

    I think, for some reason, you are reacting extremely sensitively to this issue, but I, as a reader, don’t see these cartoons as much of as an “attack” as you guys do.

    Just a thought. Sorry for the hasty, unspell-checked reply. Keep up the blogging.