Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The new pleasures of the flesh?

I understand the concept of "food porn." Watching Jose Andres lovingly crush a tomato into artisanal bread, Anthony Bourdain tuck into third-world street barbecue, Lidia knead cookie dough with her adorable grandkids - these all are enjoyable experiences. Celebrations of life, even.

But weight-loss porn?

From The Biggest Loser to "The Half-Ton Mom" to Oprah and other celebrities' "brave journeys," the American obsession boggles me.

On any given show, you'll witness:

- Participants with captions of their record-high weights. Is the "276" really necessary? We get the point.

- A tearful "come to Jesus" moment: "How did I let myself go so far?"

- Gratuitous, profoundly unflattering sweatpants shots from behind

- The "it's all about health" disclaimer (of course it is, never "how I look in a bikini" or "finally shaking off the contempt of those around me") Dramatic VO: "She's in a battle for her life!"

- Graphic scenes of denial: "I love you, french fries" a contestant on Diet Tribe whispered mournfully to the camera in a tone normally reserved for a partner in a holiday tryst.

- A gasp-inducing panorama of an average day's meals.

- Prolonged footage of participants wheezing, sweating and sobbing through the first workout

- At some point the trainer yells. "You're not giving your all! You're disappointing the team!" (Please, if we're not on ESPN, can we ban sports analogies from the motivational vernacular?)

- The concept of portion control is invoked, usually by a health professional through pursed lips

- So is the word "choices." Do a drinking game with that one (bad choices, healthy choices, better choices, etc.) and you're sure to be legally dead by the end of the episode.

- And ultimately, by season's end...triumph (plus makeup and styling). With flat abs and a tight bum, the world truly is one's oyster.

Why is this on TV?

There's something about these shows that strike me as a bit cruel and not-quite-right. No one - absolutely no one - enjoys struggling with weight issues and going on a diet. It's a private thing, it's a personal thing and - without the contrived, circus-like atmosphere of socially sanctioned humiliation - it's a bit of a monotonous thing. So why do we take a perverse pleasure in watching others?


Post a Comment

<< Home