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Old 04-12-2006, 12:27 AM   #1
Janet
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Default Article Criticizing Fat Suit Humour

Interesting article about thin actors wearing fat suits.

It's a bit dated (2001), but interesting. I especially like the author's quip in the subscript:

“fat and pretty are like chocolate and peanut butter: two great tastes that taste great together.”

http://www.bitchmagazine.com/archive.../fatsuit.shtml

Quote:
Hollywood’s Big New Minstrel Show

by Marisa Meltzer



In San Francisco, where I live, movie previews are more than just ads—they’re a chance for notoriously politically correct audiences to vent their disapproval of Hollywood, corporate America, and the powers that be. The standard mode of expression is hissing. I've witnessed The Patriot, Rush Hour, and several Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicles getting the San Francisco treatment. But over the summer, during a preview for Shallow Hal, no one in the audience saw fit to register sibilant protest against one of the most disturbing and offensive cinematic trends in recent memory: the fat suit. Gwyneth Paltrow stars in the latest Farrelly brothers movie as Rosemary, the 350-pound love interest of womanizer Jack Black, who, because he can suddenly see only “inner beauty,” falls in love with the Skinny Rosemary; the rest of the world sees Fat Rosemary waddling her way through the movie. Watch Fat Rosemary shop for clothes! Watch her do a cannonball into a pool! Watch her drink a really big milkshake—all by herself! The preview audience laughed uproariously. Not a single “ssss” was heard. I felt a little queasy.

Leaving aside the incongruity of “inner beauty” being taken so literally, the culturally tired but no less annoying assumption that thin = beautiful, and the fact that Black is no paragon of svelte pulchritude himself, Shallow Hal isn’t an isolated case. Au contraire; Gwyneth is jumping on a veritable fat-suit bandwagon. A brief history of the fat suit would have to include Goldie Hawn, living large and vengeful in Death Becomes Her; Robin Williams—annoying as ever—as the chubby, dowdy Mrs. Doubtfire; Martin Lawrence and a pair of really weird saggy boobs in Big Momma’s House; Mike Myers as Fat Bastard in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; and Eddie Murphy playing an entire fat family in both Nutty Professor movies. More recently, there’s Martin Short unable to cross his legs in his new Comedy Central talk show Primetime Glick, Julia Roberts scarfing down cookies as a (gasp!) size 12 in America’s Sweethearts, and a fat-family dream sequence on Damon Wayans’s sitcom My Wife and Kids.1 Fat people are now America’s favorite celluloid punchlines. Wanna make a funny movie? It’s a pretty easy formula: Zip a skinny actor into a latex suit. Watch her/him eat, walk, and try to find love. Hilarity will ensue.

Of course, no conversation about the fat suit could ever be complete without a mention of Fat Monica, inhabitant of several flashback and alternate-reality episodes of Friends. While I will refrain from airing my personal theories about Courteney Cox Arquette’s body image and eating habits here, I do believe Fat Monica really takes the proverbial cake. She dresses badly, has no self-control, eats junk food, has poor hygiene, and is a virgin. She’s the opposite of the control-freak Thin Monica, who has the husband, the job, and the adoring friends. Even worse than all that is the dance Courteney does in full fat drag to entertain the studio audience between takes. She calls it “the popcorn,” and apparently folks watching find it quite comical. It involves her moving rhythmically in her latex suit. A fat person shaking her bod: mmmm, funny.

It’s here that the true nature of fat-suit humor is revealed in all its glory. See, it’s fairly acceptable to satirize a group of people we envy. (Movies like Legally Blonde and Clueless work because we’re laughing at rich white girls. Their problems are supposedly our fantasies—which boy to date, which pair of Manolos looks better with the Versace dress, which color SUV to drive—and these comedies treat them with the utmost affection.) But when the punchline is a group euphemistically (and often erroneously) called a minority, things start to get dicey. Over the past several decades, comedy has gradually become less broad and more sensitive to overt racism (and, to a lesser extent, sexism and homophobia). Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker may trade black and Asian jokes in the Rush Hour series, but we've come a long way since Peter Sellers was cast as bucktoothed Chinese sleuth Sidney Wang in Murder by Death. By now, the cardinal rule of humor—you can only make fun of a group if you’re part of it—is familiar enough to be a punchline itself. (Remember Jerry Seinfeld’s outrage over his Catholic dentist’s Jewish jokes?) But fat people are the last remaining exception.

In the spring and summer of 2001 alone, we were inundated with images of thin actors playing fat. It’s not like there’s a dearth of fat actresses out there, as if some casting director is saying, "We've been searching for a fat girl to star in the next Farrelly brothers film, but so far there are no takers." (Camryn Manheim and I aren’t friends, but I'm pretty sure she wasn’t offered Gwyneth’s Shallow Hal part.) With a real fat woman in the lead, the movie wouldn’t be funny—it would just be uncomfortable. Watching actual fat on the big screen would be so authentically painful—because fat hatred is still deeply entrenched in American culture—that audiences would be unable to laugh. It’s not just the exaggerated dimply thighs and man-boobs that keep us buying tickets; the crux of the joke is not the latex suit’s physical fakeness but the ephemeral nature of the thin actor posing as fat.2 We all know that Julia, Goldie, and Gwyneth (and Martin, Mike, and Eddie) will return to their slender glory for the next part, and that’s comforting—because otherwise we would have to confront the mean-spiritedness behind the giggles.

Such virulence makes all this faux fat seem very old-fashioned; it reeks of our country’s less-than-perfect past. After all, it seems like a long time ago—although it was not—that great white actors of the 20th century performed in blackface. The closing credit sequence of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled displays a parade of them. There they are: Shirley Temple, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and more, totally oblivious to the true meaning of their actions. Someday you'll see footage of Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow trundling along in their fat suits, and it'll be depressing and pathetic, but it won’t be funny.


1 The actors who don faux avoirdupois seem fairly deluded about its realism-and the insight it gives them into the heavy life. On one of Entertainment Tonight’s signature hard-hitting interviews, Paltrow weighed in: “It was disturbing and sad. I got a real sense of what it would be like to be that overweight and every pretty girl should be forced to do that.” Oh, please, Gwyneth-you slay me with your sensitivity. “Gwynnie," I want to say, “fat and pretty are like chocolate and peanut butter: two great tastes that taste great together.” (But at least she was trying to be nice. Julia Roberts’s revulsion with her suit was widely quoted. This is the version that appeared in Salon: “The special effects makeup people offered to get me a really comfortable chair so I could sleep through most of the [fitting] process. I told them absolutely not. I didn’t want to suddenly wake up and be fat. I might never want to sleep again.”) Courteney Cox Arquette, echoing the sentiments of many, told Jane, “It’s hot. It’s really hot. It’s hot to be fat. And I don’t mean hard. I mean hot.” I wonder if it has ever occurred to her-or any of the other actors who have overheated in their latex-that the physical actuality of being fat isn’t terribly hot at all. It’s as if they can’t imagine fat as being anything naturally occurring; it’s just a costume you take off when the day’s over. (back to main text)

2 Fat suits aren’t just for entertainment anymore, they've also become an educational device. Psychologist Lisa Berzins lectures to teenagers about body image issues both in and out of a fat suit and uses the audience’s differing reactions to spark discussion. There’s even an “empathy suit” doctors can wear to get a better understanding of their fat patients.
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Old 04-12-2006, 08:11 AM   #2
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I enjoy Bitch magazine; used to subscribe. They often have some very interesting articles.
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Old 04-12-2006, 01:54 PM   #3
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I don't know if I was familiar with the magazine before. I was actually looking for 70's fashion ads for Fatlane when I stumbled over this.

It seemed appropriate to our community.
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