Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fat as shorthand for evil in Dr. Who

My husband and I have recently become interested in Dr. Who, watching a season online via Netflix, and getting the other seasons sent to us on DVD. While the shows are well-written, with a surprisingly good special effects budget, I am disappointed in the frequent use of fat as a shorthand for "bad guys".

One show depicted aliens that took fat people, killed them, and inhabited their skins as a disguise. Their physiology was such that being in the skins made them horribly flatulent, so there were a lot of "hur hur fat people are gross and disgusting" scenes in that particular show. They needed fat peoples' skins in order to fit properly, according to the plot, but since their real bodies were several times the size of a human, that was a poor explanation--they could have used the same technology to enter a thinner body, in my opinion. It seemed that the show was more about how disgusting, evil, and greedy fat people are than about evil aliens. Oh, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise to anyone reading this, but I didn't see a whole lot of sadness for the fat humans who were killed for the use of their skins. After all, it was their own fault for being fat, right?

Another show had an "Absorbalov", which was a big, fat alien that absorbed people into its body by touching them. Another depiction, of course, of the greed and evil of nasty, icky fat people--this alien had a voice and gestures reminiscent of "Fat Bastard" from the Austin Powers movies. Obviously, the fashionably thin heroes killed the alien after he had absorbed several thin victims, but not after an expository scene that depicted the Absorbalov as not just greedy and evil, but stupid as well.

I wouldn't mind so much, really, but I have not yet seen a positive fat character in the show thus far. I would welcome a correction from those who have seen more of the show, but my experiences with it have only been with negative depictions of fat people. No, let me correct myself--they have not been depictions of fat people, they have entirely denied the personhood of them, transforming them into inhuman monsters.

To be fair, I'm also seeing a lot of stereotyping with the Doctor's 2007 companion, who is black.

So, what media have you seen lately that uses fat as a shorthand for lazy, disgusting, evil, greedy, or stupid? What positive uses of fat have you seen?


Gwen said...

I can't speak to the portrayal of fat in the Dr. Who franchise as a whole, but the latest Dr. Who Xmas special does feature a fat couple who are portrayed as brave and loving (and a little bit world-saving). It also features an arrogant dickweed who makes a variety of unkind comments re: their weight, who is portrayed as a horrible, greedy person with no sense of compassion or decency.

HeatherLB said...

In The L Word, there are very few fat women. Kit Porter is the only fat woman in the group of women comprising the main characters. In last week's episode, Helena, who is spending some time in prison, is shown in the prison shower with several other female prisoners, several of whom were fat; the scene was one in which Helena is threatened physically by one of the women showering with her. So, the implication is that fat=scary/evil.

I'd really like for the show to portray large women (and men) in a positive light.

Kate Harding said...

I'm not a big Dr. Who geek, but I live with one, so I've seen most of the latest series. I was also seriously pissed about the Absorbalov one.

I have yet to see a truly fat-positive character, but I will give them credit for having some characters who aren't RAIL thin, and never making an issue of that. Apparently, Catherine Tate will be back as his companion for this series, and unless she's lost weight since that episode, she's totally bigger than just about any Hollywood actress in such a prominent role. Which is, of course, to say that she's still considerably smaller than the average American or British woman... but when I saw that episode where she played the bride, I was so freakin' psyched to see a woman who wasn't Hollywood thin getting to play a real character. (From what I know of it, I think British TV does a slightly better job with that in general.) I also loved the character, so I'm stoked for the new season.

But yeah, having a female character who's not emaciated is still a long way off from being a fat-positive show.

OH! And another thing! Gwen, I loved that couple on the Xmas special, but I also felt like they were portrayed as A) clownish and B) expendable, and both those things were directly related to their fat. They were definitely characters we were supposed to sympathize with, but clearly not as much as the thin people... or the nasty-looking cyborg thing, for that matter. So I give them a bit of credit for not being as jerky as many shows are, but not much for actually breaking ground.

Harpy said...

The fat stereotypes in Doctor Who pissed me off. And so did those people complaining/snickering that Billie Piper was some kind of "fat". WTF.

I did like that when Sarah Jane returned for an episode, she looked like middle-aged women actually look, with perfectly normal wrinkles and slightly saggy bits. Unlike the unrealistically "perfect" Desperate Housewives.

The most positive portrayals of fat I've seen have usually been by Dawn French. She's quite clever and even when her character, such as a few times in the Vicar of Dibley, is shown enjoying eating plenty of ice cream or chocolate, only the most obsessively fat-phobic would ever get the sense that she's "pigging out" because she's fat and she's fat because she enjoys eating sweets. Most people I know seem to take away the idea that her character loves sweets AND happens to be fat, not BECAUSE. Which is a pretty positive thing, really. Astonishing, even: a fat person depicted enjoying food without it being a lesson in guilt or shame or admonishment.

If you've seen the Australian show "Kath and Kim", Magda Szubanski (kind of like the Australian Dawn French, and best known internationally for "Babe") plays Sharon, who has love interests and is sports-mad. Nobody on the show is really "positive", as such, as it's all about self-deprecating making fun of how daggy we all are whether we show it or not, but the Sharon character is reasonably realistic. They've shown moments that are commentary on how fat people are made to feel like lower life-forms and on how fat people are in fact actual human beings like everyone else: they are not their adipose tissue.