Confirmed. Will Anderson is still a dickhead.

So last night I was vegging out and watching the Melbourne Comedy Festival Oxfam Gala on Channel 10.  The Gala is always a bit of a mixed bag – some of the acts are hilarious and I wish they had longer spots, while other acts are dreadful and seem to go on forever.  It’s mainstream comedy, so I always expect a bit of fat-hate to make it in there somewhere, and there were a few quips throughout the night.  I may have made a couple of obscene gestures at the TV, but the moments  passed quickly.

Then Will Anderson came on.

I should have known better than to keep watching.  Anderson has built half his career on bad fat jokes (and the other half on dick jokes).  But after the whole Gruen Transfer Anti-Discrimination Ad hoopla, I was curious to see what he’d do.

Some background:  Anderson hosted a show on the ABC called The Gruen Transfer, which looked at advertising and how it worked.  In one of the segments, called ‘The Pitch’,  ad agency had to come up with a way to ‘sell the unsellable’.  In one episode, the ‘unsellable’ was Fat Pride.  Two ads were created – one, predictably, exploited  the stereotype of fat gluttons over-consuming for cheap laughs.  The ad was aired on the show and judged as the winner of the segment.  In contrast, the second ad:

…was made to be a legitimate approach to the problem, with a sincere intent to persuade Australians to reconsider their prejudices.

The ad wasn’t aired, however, because it was deemed too offensive and inappropriate.  It used a series of racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and fat jokes  to make the point that fat hatred is discrimination and is not acceptable.  I’m not questioning that decision, it WAS offensive and inappropriate.  (So was the ad that was aired, but fat hatred is obviously not deemed inappropriate on Australian television.)  Instead, viewers were directed to a (now defunct) website where they could view the ad and the panel discussion around it.  You can watch the Gruen Transfer segment here and the banned ad here, but be warned, they really are offensive and may be triggering.  I can’t find the panel discussion on youtube, but if anyone has a link, let me know?

The panel discussion was the most interesting thing about the whole hoopla, and Anderson seemed like he got it that fat jokes are on a level with the other types of discrimination.  But apparently not.

Anderson started his segment by whinging about how hard it is for him to get a blow job (Oh really?  I’m so surprised!), and quickly turned to fat hatred.  His routine went quickly from classist mockery to suggesting that we should run over fat kids for their own good.  Thanks, Will, that’s fucking hilarious.  Death threats always make me laugh.  No, I know that it wasn’t a serious proposal, but for fuck’s sake, joking about killing people based entirely on how they look? NOT FUCKING FUNNY. In fact, I’d say it’s stupid and lazy and boorish, and, wow, all the things Anderson seems to think fat people are.  Coincidence?

In other news, good news, happy news, my PhD Confirmation went extremely well – so well, in fact, that I don’t know what I was nervous about.  I’m counting that as a win for fat pride.

That Kevin Smith Thing

So everyone has heard about the whole Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines thing by now, yes?  (Just in case you haven’t, you can find out all about it here, here, here, or, well, a whole bunch of other places.)  Basically, Kevin Smith got kicked off his flight for being too fat, and there’s been a whole of a tweet/blog/cast explosion about it.

It’s been really interesting to see some of the things that Smith has said, especially given that he’s not by any means a fat-positive guy.

I’ve been listening to his SModcast about the incident, and along side his anger and indignation at being publicly humiliated and treated with something less than dignity, there’s some really interesting discussion of thin normativity and fat self-policing, like in this exchange:

K: I live my life fat, and I have to navigate through a thin person’s world all the time.  And as such, you would never put yourself into harm’s way, so to speak, um, in regards to your girth or size.

J: You wouldn’t set yourself up.

K: Never.

I can sort of sense an almost apologist streak to some of what Smith says, but what’s interesting to me is that he’s talking very clearly about self-policing, about being acutely aware all the time that the fat body doesn’t fit, and avoiding situations where that’s going to be a ‘problem’, where fatness is punished with pain or shame or public humiliation.

He also talks about being at a ‘bear convention’ and being able to relax and not ‘suck his gut in’ all the time:

K: I was in a room full of people who looked like me.

J: How was that?

K: Muscle-y and gay.  No, they’re fat, they’re dudes who look like very large dudes who look like me.  It’s awesome!

Yep, I think that’s some fat solidarity right there!

Coincidentally, all this has happened just as I’ve been reading Joyce Huff’s fantastic ‘Access to the Sky: Airplane Seats and Fat Bodies as Contested Spaces’ in The Fat Studies Reader.  Huff interrogates Southwest’s policy of forcing fat passengers to buy two seats and the arguments which are used to justify it.  As Huff points out, ‘the “average” customer, for whom Southwest presumably designs its seats, represents and ideological construct rather than a statistical average’.  She goes on to argue that:

The underlying ideology that determines the size of the so-called average customer to whom Southwest supposedly caters is a capitalist one.  Although airlines and their supporters may invoke average customers who represent cultural ideals, in fact seat sizing has a lot more to do with profit margins and maximizing the number of paying customers.

This arbitrary allocation of space is normalised and the ‘corporately constructed environment’ is rendered invisible by invoking as ‘average’ the ideal passenger for whom the seats are a comfortable size, and stigmatizing (and penalising!) those bodies which fail to conform to this arbitrary ideal.  Blame for everything from lack of space to increased fares is shifted onto the offending bodies, and individuals – rather than corporations or cultures – are stigmatised and held responsible not only for these problems, but also for their solution (ie, in this case, weight loss).

As Huff argues:

Southwest’s policy assumes an audience accustomed to capitalist modes of thought, one that will endorse the premise that businesses need to continually increase profit margins, one that will believe that this need is sacrosanct to the degree that they will subordinate their own needs and desires to it.

I for one am glad that Kevin Smith is a loquacious dude with a platform, and that he’s not willing to subordinate his needs to the rhetoric of corporate profit.