Thursday, 25 April 2019

On fat hate & the Avengers

Like many, I was excited to see Avengers: Endgame.I bought my tickets months ago and took satisfaction knowing I’d get to see it before most people as it opened here in NZ a day before the States (yay International Date Line!). I was thrilled that my local cinema put on a late night showing of Infinity War the night before, which I attended.

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While far from perfect, I liked Infinity War and this was the fourth or fifth time I’d seen it. And because I’d seen it before, I knew when to zone out to avoid the fat jokes about Pratt’s character, Quill. I remember, though, having the wind knocked out of me when I watched it the first time. It was completely unexpected, and it took me quite awhile to shake it off the first time I saw the film.

*spoiler alert for Endgame*

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In Endgame, the fat jokes aren’t for Quill, but Thor. When they go looking for Thor to bring him back into the fold (post finger snap), they find him drinking himself into a stupor, with lots of messy hair and a substantial beer gut. The intention is clear: Thor has “let himself go”. The obvious fat jokes (both non-verbal and not) are made, including a reference to The Dude (who Thor now closely resembles).

The idea that fat people are fat because they “let themselves go” is canon. We believe that fat people are fat because they made bad decisions, failed to exercise appropriate self-control, and were undisciplined with their bodies. Fat people are cautionary tales. We look at them and think, “I never want that to be”; “I never want to look like that”.  We lament when someone previously non-fat becomes fat; we see it as a waste, a shame, a reason for sorrow and grieving.

The fat jokes about Quill in Infinity War didn’t stay with me the entire film. I’m not particularly fond of the character, or of the actor who plays him. And I (rightly) assumed that the jokes about his size (oh no! He’s one cheeseburger away from being a fatty!), while hurtful & gross in the moment, wouldn’t continue past the scene.

But with Thor, one of the original six, I knew – just KNEW – that his size would continue to draw feedback through the film, especially as others see him and his new body for the first time. So from that first moment (which was met with hearty laughs in my screening; Thor! The Thunder God! Fat! HAHAHA), I was holding my breath waiting for the rest of the hits. And sure enough, they kept coming through much of the film. It was an necessary distraction, and a hurtful one as well.

Did the writers fall into the lazy narrative of fatness as shorthand for depression or unhappiness? Did they assume that they key market for the film would enjoy laughing at Chris Helmsworth in a fatsuit? Will Thor 4 explore this further; maybe Thor goes to fat camp on a planet adjacent to Ragnarok?

(I will say that Thor’s new size didn’t impact on his ability to be a badass Thunder God at all in the battles, which I appreciated)

I get that most people don’t care about this. They don’t care about fat people at all, and couldn’t care less about whether we are harmed by far hate in our TV and movies. They definitely don’t care if fat hating material makes these spaces unsafe for us, and they won’t apologize for laughing at the jokes as the filmmakers intended. But they will be mad with me for calling it out as not okay. I’ve already seen them on Twitter, imploring me to get the fuck over it and just enjoy the movie.

But I care about this. I care that an actor I admired agreed to wear a fatsuit and make fun of a vulnerable population for laughs. I care that this bit will make the Tentpole movie of 2019 (the culmination of 22 movies across 11 years!!!) difficult to watch and enjoy for a lot of fat people. I care that the fat hate in the film will reinforce the fears that oppress a lot of people everyday.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t see the movie. Or that you aren’t allowed to enjoy it. I am asking that you be aware of the fat hate that exists in the film; and encouraging you to reflect on whether you feel it was needed. I am asking that you consider what it means when the biggest movie of the year (of forever?), weaponsises fat hate for laughs.

And if you imagine yourself a fat ally – or interested in social justice – you’ll speak up about it when you have opportunities to talk about what you liked and didn’t like about the film. I hope you include the fatsuit & fat jokes in the latter.

I also hope that you’ll support size affirming, and especially fat positive, media. New shows like Shrill on Hulu and Dumplin’ on Netflix are refreshing alternatives to the usual anti-fat bullshit we consume.

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Support the creators making positive stories about fat characters. Support the creators allowing far characters to be more than just cautionary tales. Support the fat people in your life by making sure you’re seeing more than just fatsuits.



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