Subscribe in a reader

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cassamas v. Cavett

Yesterday, in his Times Select column, Dick Cavett wrote a piece about the fattening of America. There have been a number of comments posted so far--almost 200 of them. The two comments I submitted, however, are not among them. (I don't normally post links to these "columns" because Times Select is a subscription service. You can, however, get a two-week free trial fi you would like to see the entire blog post I am referring to.)

The following is my third attempt at posting a censor-friendly comment. I will update later to let everyone know whether I passed muster or not.

First, let us not be too quick to applaud Mr Cavett's courage and bravery. Writing a series of fat jokes is hardly akin to being a Freedom Rider. It took neither courage nor cowardice to pen his post. It merely took some sort of writing instrument (perhaps even a pen if he has a secretary to do his word processing) and Internet access. Let's keep at least that much perspective on this, shall we?

Next, let's look at some elements of the post itself.

First, Mr Cavett, ever the joke writer, cannot help himself from using such phrases as "heavily larded," "gross poundage," "all but literally fill the screen," "a herd of heifers," "someone the size of the Hindenburg," and others, and while the use of these phrases may or may not have been predicated by some inherent bias on his part, they do not indicate any sort of sympathy or genuine human interest in those he derides. In fact, it would be easy enough to take his post and change every occurrence of the word "fat" with "short" and the other phrases with such replacements as "shrimp," "squirt," "midget," and "strictly from Munchkinland" and arrive at a diatribe that is just as hurtful, just in another direction.

Were Mr Cavett's object really the promotion of public health, this litany of jabs and jibes would be unnecessary.

When he discusses the alleged preponderance of fat people on such shows as Judge Judy and (God help us) The Jerry Springer Show, he seems to take this as proof of some kind of fat guy conspiracy. He does not consider the fact that these shows only exist so that the average viewer can jeer at the participants and feel themselves to be their social superiors. That fat people appear on these shows isn't the confirmation of their acceptance, but is evidence of the clear-cut bias that American society has against this segment of its population.

The same can be said of the comedians (and are obese comedians really that plentiful?) who are all just looking for a hook for their acts and none of whom has had the wit to find something different. And, oh yes, there have long been fat comedians. Oliver Hardy, Fatty Arbuckle, Jackie Gleason,and "Fat" Jack Leonard are four who pop effortlessly to mind. Let us put to rest the notion that fat people never existed until after the Vietnam War.

Now, the assumption that all people who are overweight got that way from sloth and gluttony is a canard. The causes are many and various and the cures, therefore, cannot be a simplistic as "turn off the TV" or "get some will power." As has been pointed out quite eloquently before in these comments, contributing factors involve the manner in which we live, the manner in which we eat, the frenetic pace of society, the poor quality of the food most readily available, as well as genetics, thyroid health, and--apparently--who your friends are. Let us not attempt to apply simplistic solutions to complex problems. That's never worked in the past and it won't work now.

It should also be noted that there is often a correspondence between poverty and weight. Poor people eat the cheapest (which also happens to be the worst in terms of nutrition) food. Well-to-do people can afford organic whole-grain high fiber zero trans fat everything, but poor people can't. They also can't afford health club memberships and personal trainers. They cannot take long lunches that include a workout because not being on the job means not getting paid.

And meanwhile, the food bill is being twisted into the usual fistful of government handouts to the wealthiest farmers. Maybe Mr Cavett should try writing about that sometime.

And just for the record, I am 5'9" and 235 lbs. According to the official charts, I am 60 lbs overweight, although I always thought that I looked best and felt best at around 190. In my adult life, I have weighed as little as 125 and as much as 250. I would've made a good extra on The Sopranos, but, unfortunately, that ship has sailed.

There is a tendency in this country of ours to equate thinness with virtue and wealth with wisdom. Neither is true. President Bush is both thin and wealthy, but neither virtuous nor wise.

My point, at the end of the day, is this: If obesity in America is the problem that it has become the commonplace to suppose, we need to put away the insults and the bias and the easy answers. Although there is a level of personal responsibility involved, fat, as a phenomenon, will not go away until we have reformed how we raise and process our food and how we live our lives.


Anonymous said...

Very well written Len. Many good points. The NY Times may not have posted your comment because it was too long, or, they got swamped with responses that overwhelmed the screener.

I ran into your comment looking to read the original Cavett, but from the excerpts, I would assume Cavett was being very tongue-in-cheek in his harangue, and it was all a riff on the "obesity is contagious" news. I think he was just being silly and you took him too seriously on some of his points, yet I see your point.

Len said...


If Dick was kidding, he fooled another 350 commenters. No, unfortunately, he wasn't kidding.

It would seem that there was some kind of technical glitch at The Times, though. Since I posted this, another 146 comments have been added to Mr Cavett's post, including several that refer to the suppression of previous comments.

Try the link embedded in the opening sentence of my diatribe. You can read Cavett's blog by signing up for a two-week trial of Times Select.

Thanks for commenting.

kimy said...

totally enjoyable and informative post... yeah, yeah I especially liked the zinger at the end "There is a tendency in this country of ours to equate thinness with virtue and wealth with wisdom...President Bush is both thin and wealthy, but neither virtuous nor wise." so true, so true.

but seriously, your last paragraph sums it all up.

thanks again for supplying some wonderful zero-calorie food for thought.

Len said...

Thanks, Kim.