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January 29, 2011 / Katie

Hatchets, AIDS, and popcicles… one of these things is not like the others

On Wednesday I was flipping through Real Change and found myself generally impressed with Judy Lightfoot’s article, “Don’t overlook dangerous stereotypes of the mentally ill.” It did a pretty good job making a case for why we need to be very careful with stereotypes of folks who have mental illness as being dangerous. It was primarily in response to the media’s portrayal of Jared Loughner. I was reading along, nodding along, until I came to the following quote (which references The Stranger, a local Seattle weekly):

Later, The Stranger explained “How a decimated state budget equals more unmedicated loons with hatchets.” (Proof, if you needed it, that people with mental illnesses may be the only group of human beings the media feel perfectly free to call names. Would a Stranger headline warning about STDs and male-male sex without condoms contain the phrase “unprotected fairies with AIDS”? How about an obesity epidemic story concerning “unrestrained fatties with popsicles”?)

Um, okay, NO.

First, the Oppression Olympics are not cool. Please, can we all just stop comparing oppressions already? There is no good reason to say, “this group has it better/worse than that group!” The reason why this is problematic have been explained ad nauseam, so I will not get into it here. But just, no.

Second, The Stranger regularly uses slurs to discuss minorities, including “fairies” and “fatties.” Dan Savage, Stranger columnist, has been well documented in the fatosphere as a fatphobic asshole, using his platform in the Stranger to do so. Savage has contributed many a blog to name-calling and shaming we corpulent, including the following shining examples of journalistic integrity: Two for the price of one, Not what it seems, and Big lies. In fact a search for the term “fatties” turns up over ten pages of results. A search for “fairies” also turns up 10 pages but some of them are about actual mythical creatures, and admittedly the ones that do reference homosexual men are typically doing so in an affectionate way. Other searches turned up plenty of results for words like “moos” (derogatory term for mothers), “sluts,” “fags,” and even the N-word (first result is part of an article’s headline).

So yeah. The Stranger is one of those oh-so-“edgy” publications that says a big FUCK YOU to the PC Police! It’s one of those snark-tastic Seattle publications that says, “we don’t need no stinking compassion!”

Finally, seriously Ms. Lightfoot, one of these things is not like the others. Popcicles are not comparable to hatches and AIDS. Obviously it is ridiculous to  stereotype gay men as deliberately (or at least irresponsibly) spreading HIV and to stereotype mentally ill people as all carrying concealed weapons, ready to attack at any time. But are you really telling me the best you could come up with for the fatties is popcicles?

Well, come to think of it, maybe that is the best they have. I mean, that’s the thing with this whole obesity epidemic boogeyman thing. Food somehow becomes a weapon of mass destruction. Fatties offering someone tasty frozen juice on a stick* is literally seen as just as dangerous as wielding a hatchet with the intent to harm or deliberately having unprotected sex with someone when we have an incurable, fatal disease.

This is the level of ridiculousness our society has reached. Food has become a deadly weapon, at least, when it’s in the hands of the wrong people (fatties). It’s pretty obvious that Ms. Lightfoot, erm, shirked her duty as a responsible journalist when she wrote the paragraph above. And if she was the only one saying this, I would have just let it go. But the thing is, she’s not. This is all over the place. People really believe that having fat friends makes you fat. People really believe that doughnuts kill, and fat people sit around eating doughnuts all day, and so a fatty offering someone a doughnut or a popcicle or whatever is literally just as dangerous as going after someone with a hatchet.

We have truly gone off the rails.

So, to summarize: Stop playing oppression olympics; it makes you sound unoriginal, boring, and ignorant. Get your facts right when you make broad generalizations about the word choices of a widely-read local newspaper. And maybe just stop making an example out of a ridiculous, tired, and tangibly harmful stereotype about fat people. Your article would be so much better for it.


* whether it contains high fructose corn syrup the boogeyman or not!

One Comment

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  1. meerkat / Jan 29 2011 9:52 pm

    This is a tangent, but I was clicking through the Dan Savage-related links and the link I found to his controversial column just took me to his most recent column, which was full of not-fail when he replied to a letter from a guy attracted to “chubby” girls that he had done a good job accepting his attraction and gave him advice related to the chubby girls having poor self-esteem (to make sure he didn’t end up objectifying them when he was trying to be supportive). Maybe he has learned to at least pretend to get it now! I don’t know because I don’t read him regularly.

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