Friday, April 19, 2013

Dear Tyrese Gibson

Gross fat hatred ahead.

Dear Tyrese Gibson-

All Hip Hop asked you a question recently.  It was a fairly simple question:
What kind of responsibility do you feel as an entertainer, you have to inspire people to live healthier lifestyles?
You could have said all kinds of things.  You could have said anything.  "No responsibility whatsoever."  "I've always encouraged people to eat the best they can and stay active.  I take my own workouts seriously and I'm grateful for my good health."  "Being in the public eye, being highly visible and even something of a role model, I take that responsibility seriously.  That's why I encourage citizens of the USA to write to Congress and push for a stronger health care including attention to mental health and reproductive rights."  "You know, everyone should aim for the basics.  Eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, see a doctor."  "What I really want to talk about is the latest NBC line-up.  'Parks and Rec' is killing it!"  You could have said pretty much anything.  It was a fairly open-ended question.

Here's what you said:
No two situations are the same. If you are fat and nasty and you don’t like the way you look, do something about it. It’s simple.
When you take a shower and you put your fat, nasty body in the shower and by the time you get out, the mirrors are all steamed up so you don’t look at what you did to yourself. That may sound offensive or insensitive but ultimately, you are big as hell because you have earned that sh*t. You worked your a** off to eat everything in sight to get big as hell.
If you got a problem with the way you look, then you need to do something about it. Excuses sound best to the people that’s making them up.
Wow, that was really gross.

Let's see that again in slow-motion.
No two situations are the same.
This seems like a bizarre opening to the rest of your answer.  It's true and it makes sense.  It's insightful, given the subject matter.  You're right, no two situations are the same.  No two people are the same, no two bodies are the same, no two bodies operate under exactly the same conditions or work exactly the same way.  Everyone's body is different, everyone's life is different, and that's why we come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Great answer!  Why, oh why, couldn't you have made that point and stopped there?
If you are fat and nasty
Fat and nasty.  I would like to believe that you use this phrase the way you might call a vase, for example, "glass and dusty."  It's a glass vase, and it's dusty, and those are entirely separate facts, and one of those facts is pretty temporary.  "Hand me that dusty glass vase over there," you might say, to differentiate it from the ones we've already tidied up.  (You know, in some world where you and I are cleaning out an old flower shop together.)  But, no, given the overall context of your remarks, it sounds like you're using "fat and nasty" the way some people use "fat and lazy."  The two adjectives come together into one overall idea.  "Get your fat, lazy butt off of that couch."  If someone's fat, he's also, automatically, lazy.  The phrase drops easily, thoughtlessly, from people's lips.  "Get your big, lazy butt over here and give me a hand."  Similarly, you're putting "fat" and "nasty" together as if they're naturally related, as if they have some sort of synonymous core.  "Get your nasty fat ass off of that couch."  If someone's fat, he's also, automatically, nasty.

Not nasty as in mean or cruel.  Not as in "Ms. Jackson if you're nasty."  No, you mean dirty and gross and filthy.  Fat people are dirty and gross and filthy, automatically, because they're fat, and "fat" and "gross" go together like peanut butter and jelly.  I'm sorry, does my food reference bother you?  Let me rephrase.  "Fat" and "gross" go together like gym socks and old sweat.
and you don’t like the way you look, do something about it. It’s simple.
If I don't like the way I look, I should do something about it.  Sure, on some levels, that's a workable idea.  If I don't like the way I look, maybe I could try a new haircut.  Maybe I could buy some new clothes.  Maybe I could arrange for more flattering lighting in my home.  Maybe I could try some new make-up tips.  I could try more vitamins or more sleep.

Note that even then, those ideas aren't necessarily "simple" to implement.  Can I afford new clothes?  Is it feasible for me to get more sleep given my current schedule?  Not necessarily, and that's a reality for many people.

But you weren't talking about people with bad haircuts and poor sleeping habits.  You were talking about fat people.  (Fat people!  Nasty people!  Ew, gross!)  You were saying, "If you're fat, and you don't like looking so fat, because you realize how disgusting you are, do something about it.  HOW EASY IS THAT, AM I RIGHT?!  COMMON SENSE, EVERYBODY!"

"If you're fat, do something about it" means "if you're fat, stop being fat."

If you have the miracle pill to turn fat people into slender people, you'd better sweep off the front porch, because I expect pharmaceutical companies to come knocking on your door.  Here's the thing, Tyrese.  (Sorry, I'm fat and therefore nasty; I'll call you Mr. Gibson.)  There is no magical formula which will blink away the fat.  It's not "diet and exercise."  It's not surgery.  It's not a pill.  It's not common sense.  It's not bullying and shaming.  It's not abuse and anti-soda legislation and "oh noes obesity crisis" panicked hand-wringing.

People cannot "stop being fat" any more than you can stop being tall.  Have you tried not to be so tall?  Have you tried drugs?  Have you tried exercise?  Have you tried hypnosis, perhaps?  You haven't, and I suspect that it wouldn't even occur to you to try it, because you accept your height as a matter of course.  It's natural!  It's genetic!  It can't be changed!

Interestingly enough, it isn't only genetics which affects your height.  Things like nutrition, for example, make a big difference.  The height of people in North Korea versus that of people in South Korea is testament to how the food you eat can affect stature.  Take genetics, add in early environmental factors like access to food and the quality of that food, and height varies from one individual to another!

Let's change one letter in that sentence.

Take genetics, add in early environmental factors like access to food and the quality of that food, and weight varies from one individual to another!

There are all sorts of other factors playing into weight, of course.  Your health affects your weight.  The pills you take can have an effect.  Your socio-economic situation also affects your access to food, as does geography.  There's a terrific post from Melissa McEwan at Shakesville which covers this topic in more detail.

Now, would you suggest that I go about changing my genetics?  My socio-economic situation?  If I've gained weight because of the medication I'm taking, and my doctor is unable to prescribe anything else, should I stop taking it and compromise my health?  According to your remark on how simple all of this is, surely you have easy answers.  You've been petitioning Congress regarding corn syrup and government subsidies, I assume.
When you take a shower and you put your fat, nasty body in the shower and by the time you get out, the mirrors are all steamed up so you don’t look at what you did to yourself.
I'll never tire of hearing you call fat bodies "nasty" as if there's no other way for a fat body to be.  As if "fat" itself is a terrible insult and "nasty" is just added on for emphasis.

Do all fat people take long, hot showers?

Do thin people not take long, hot showers?

Do fat people get out of the shower and hurry to dry off and get away before the mirror clears?

Do thin people deliberately linger and hang out until the mirror clears so they can finally get a good, long look at their thin bodies?  Do thin people become impatient and wipe the mirror clean and then stand there, posing and primping, adoring themselves at length?  What in the world do in-between people do?

Don't most people just shower and dry off and either get dressed or continue the grooming process or start texting or hurry on to free up the bathroom for other people or toss on a robe to let the dog out or something?

Mr. Gibson, are you aware that some people don't have access to hot water at all, or don't have access to reliably hot water long enough to take luxurious, steam-up-the-mirror showers?  Are you aware that poor people and fat people overlap pretty heavily on demographic Venn diagrams in the USA?  A lot of fat people are poor, and a lot of poor people are fat, and it is not because "fat" and "poor" are both synonyms for "lazy."
That may sound offensive or insensitive
And nonsensical.  Don't forget nonsensical!
but ultimately, you are big as hell because you have earned that sh*t.
Mr. Gibson, you're tall because you have earned that shit!  You earned your height!  Your height is a result of genetic and dietary and environmental factors beyond your control, but it's yours!  Don't ever let anyone take that away from you!

I can't even with this sentence.
You worked your a** off to eat everything in sight to get big as hell.
Do you remember earlier in this post where I talked about how people gain weight as a result of all sorts of factors?  Health issues, genetics, medications, and so on?  You might want to go read Melissa McEwan's post I linked to earlier.

Here's the thing about eating and "overeating."  A lot of people binge.  Sometimes it's a reaction to stress.  A coping mechanism.  A response to abuse.  A bad habit.  There are many reasons for it.  Remember that thing we discussed earlier about how no two people are the same and no two bodies are the same?  Some people overeat and are slender.  Some people overeat and are fat.  Some people overeat and are somewhere in between.  Some people who eat "everything in sight" are skinny.

Some people eat what their bodies need, and are fat.

Some people eat less than their bodies need, and are fat.

Bodies!  How do they work?!
If you got a problem with the way you look, then you need to do something about it. Excuses sound best to the people that’s making them up.
You hear people talking about how difficult it is for them to lose weight and keep it off, and you hear excuses.  I hear you talking about how disgusting and lazy fat people are, and I hear stereotypes and nonsense and unscientific bullshit lacking in empathy.  I hear someone who's dismissive and thoughtless and lacking in basic human decency.

I don't have a problem with the way I look.  I have a problem with the way you sound and the hurtful garbage you're spouting and the damage you're doing to everyone who hears you and everyone they spread your nonsense to.

Here's your response to criticism of your remarks.
"I look online now my words get twisted about plus size women? It's unreal out here," he wrote. "Why would I? Really? Never mind... God Bless you!"
Oh, you were misquoted?  Misunderstood?  All Hip Hop manufactured your words out of thin air?
"I'm not apologizing for what I said I'm apologizing for the bad choice of wording and execution of my point around obesity," Gibson continued.
Ah, no.  It seems that you were quoted accurately, and you said exactly what All Hip Hop claims that you said.  And you refuse to apologize for what you said.  You stand by your point; you just wish that you'd dressed it up in prettier packaging.  That sounds a lot like, "No, I firmly believe that fat people are nasty and should compromise their health and destroy their well-being in the pursuit of impossible thinness, I just should have used the word 'repulsive' instead of 'nasty.'  It sounds better!"
Y'all seen my documentary, I was brought in this world from a plus size mother and my sisters are plus size as well . . .
Your mother and your sisters are fat.  You call fat people "nasty" and shame them for being lazy and accuse them of hiding from the reality of their gross, deplorable bodies.  You describe being fat as a horrible, shameful thing which fat people bring upon themselves through their own reprehensible actions.  This is how you think of the people in your life?  How do you talk about people you don't love?
I am concerned always!
Did you just publicly label yourself as a concern troll?

Concerned?  No one needs your concern.  Your compassion and your empathy would be nice.  Your support, your voice as an ally, your effort for the cause of HAES.
"We always associate addictions to cocaine, Heroin, and or alcoholic abuse . . . Food is the No. 1 addiction in America."
It's best when people have a healthy attitude towards food.  It's something the human body requires.  We cannot quit food and maintain a healthy lifestyle; we cannot abstain from it and survive.  If I'm a drug addict, and I abstain from drugs, ultimately I should be much healthier, right?  If I stop eating, I will die.  This is not a great comparison, Mr. Gibson.

If you want people to have healthy attitudes towards food, please, lead the way!  Push for more kinds of food to be more widely available.  Fight against food deserts.  Fight for better pay for workers so that people can afford fresh, vitamin-rich ingredients.  Maybe with better pay, more people can work fewer hours and have time to cook at home.  Go for it!  What about employer-subsidized daycare or more after school programs so that parents can spend more time shopping and cooking?  You seem to care so much about this subject, surely you have some great ideas of your own!
"This is what happens when you decide to not just be an artist or an actor but use your heart," he opined. "It creates controversy and unwanted energy."
Poor, suffering Mr. Gibson.  You used your heart, and the world replied with negative energy.

People were mean to you.  Why?  Because you were cruel to fat people.  Why?  Because you accepted media narratives and "conventional wisdom" and lazy stereotypes at face value.  If you pay attention to people's experiences and listen to their stories and observe the world around you, you might pick up some new information.  I didn't have to spend much time on Shapely Prose before I noticed the common theme of "shocking new weight-loss study confirms that fat people are awful" almost always coincides with "funding comes from pharmaceutical company with new weight-loss drug on the shelves."  The "diet and exercise, it's common sense" and "calories in, calories out, it's just that easy!" myths are everywhere you turn, but does that make them right?  No, but it does help to justify our fat-hating attitudes.  Anything which makes our existing biases even more palatable is always welcomed with open arms and a lack of critical thought.

Don't just be an artist.  Don't just be an actor.  Be a son and a brother, and make the world a kinder place, not a more judgmental one.  Congratulations, you have a platform.  Use it well.
What kind of responsibility do you feel as an entertainer, you have to inspire people to live healthier lifestyles?
The next time someone asks you that question, maybe you can say something like, "No two situations are the same.  Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.  It's really about doing what's best for you in your situation.  A lot of people equate health with size, but there are fat triathletes, you know?  Health is really about taking care of yourself the best way you can, and I do feel a responsibility to promote that idea, which is why I was up there on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress about that corn syrup bill.  It really meant a lot to me to have so much support from my fans over that."

I would love to hear you promote HAES.

Or you could continue to conflate "fat" with "nasty," continue to assume that it makes sense to respond to a question about health with an answer about fat people as if "healthy" and "fat" are naturally opposing terms, alienate fans, and promote harmful narratives which destroy people's lives.

It's up to you.

With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dear Banksy

Dear Banksy,

Here's what people say about your artwork:
What they have in common is a coy playfulness — a desire to goad viewers into rethinking their surroundings, to acknowledge the absurdities of closely held preconceptions.
Here's what you say:
“ a town where they honor their heroes by writing their names on the pavement to be walked on by fat people and peed on by dogs.”
Here's what people say about you:
Banksy’s sole intent is for his works to be notoriously controversial. He wants his works to affect people emotionally, and force them to challenge social norms. In a world where everyone prefers to keep to themselves and are afraid to speak out against authority, Banksy doesn’t. He uses street art as a medium to channel his thoughts and opinions on heavier social and political subjects, and completes them in heavy populated areas where they can be seen by thousands of people. Some might say Banksy is an outlaw for the people, a sort of 21st century Robin Hood in a way and they wouldn’t be far off. To sum up, Banksy is similar to a political activist, but he uses his subversive art to protest society, rally people, and get them to question the world around them.
Here's what you say:
“I love the way capitalism finds a place—even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom time in the discontent industry. I mean how many cakes does Michael Moore get through?”
Fat jokes are not new.  They're not subversive or thought-provoking.  I don't know if your goal truly is to get people to "question the world around them" or not, because it certainly seems as though you aren't questioning harmful cultural stereotypes and assumptions about fat people.  No, it sounds as if you're buying right into them and, indeed, furthering and promoting them.

While you're making thoughtful, edgy socio-political statements in your artwork, please reconsider the thoughtless, stale, lazy way you talk about fat people.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Americans for Prosperity

Dear Americans for Prosperity,

While I watched videos on YouTube the other day, one of your ads popped up.  Not having the sense to push the "skip ad" button, I watched it the entire way through.  Then I did a double-take and searched for your ad on-line so I could take another look and make sure that you'd actually been as gross and racist as I thought you'd been.

As it turns out, you had been!  You were just that gross and racist, indeed.

To refresh your memory, here's the audio, which is voiced by what sounds like an unhappy white woman.  I'll describe the relevant visuals in a moment:
A broken system failing Arkansas families and hardworking taxpayers.  Now some politicians in Little Rock want to put 89,000 more people onto its rolls and depend on Washington for funding. But what happens when Washington stops paying?  Thousands of Arkansans with less access to quality care.  More control handed to the federal government.  Call your representative or senator.  Tell them to vote against Medicaid private expansion.  It's wrong for Arkansas.  We deserve better.
The racism comes in two parts.  First, the casting.  When I watch your ad, none of the actors seem to be people of color.  I see a bunch of white people.  Where are the people of color?  As this is an ad relating to Arkansas state politics, you might be interested to note that black people, for example, make up over 15% of the state's population, compared to 13% of the population of the country as a whole.  If you're addressing Arkansans, and if you're trying to cast actors who represent Arkansans, then include a variety of the kinds of people who make up the state.  The Arkansas I know and live in is not lily-white.  "White people" and "Arkansans" are not synonymous.

Next, your ad begins commentary on the big, bad, federal government.  At this point, you switch from photography and footage of human beings to computer-generated images.  The image you choose is a monolithic, advancing army of faceless, tall, slender, black men.

Let's examine this.  You didn't simply choose stock imagery of the federal government.  No, you wanted to evoke the idea of an enemy, some evil human entity coming to steal and misuse our money.  Yet you didn't continue to use photography and footage of actual human beings, as you had throughout the rest of the commercial until that point.  That might have been too humanizing.  So you went with computer-generated images of faceless, shadowy figures.

No, not shadowy figures.  They're literally black.  Black men.  Tall, slender black men to represent the federal government, advancing, monolithic.  Threatening.  Scary.  Black men are coming to steal our money, to abuse the system.

Let's be clear: this is racist, and I firmly believe that it's meant to be racist.  We see hard-working, suffering white people just trying to get by, and then we see a threatening army of President Obamas marching forward, bent on destruction.  This is not a coincidence, this is a dog whistle.  It's racist, and it's disgusting.

I've been hesitant about how I identify myself on this blog, but fuck it: I'm a white Arkansan, and your racist bullshit doesn't work on me.  The title of your ad is that "Arkansans Deserve Better," and yes, you're right.  Arkansans deserve better.  Better than this racist garbage, better than your divisive tactics, better than your nasty dog whistles.

Come back to me when you can promote your message without erasing all of the people of color in this state and without relying on your audience's ingrained racism.

Americans for Prosperity?  My goal for a prosperous USA necessitates racial equality and racial diversity.

With love,
Frank Lee