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The Walls Are Coming Down December 9, 2009

Posted by monty in TV.
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It’s always sort of funny to watch this blog capture – or reflect, I guess – the zeitgeist.  I can tell what’s happening in pop culture by which of my posts are currently getting the most hits.  So far today, roughly 500 people have stumbled across my comparison of The Biggest Loser (honorable and empowering) with More to Love (whiny and gluttonous), which means people are burning up the Internet trying to read about last night’s Biggest Loser finale. While I’ve written posts that are certainly more deserving of attention, I’m at least happy that the focus is on this one and no longer on the stupid one-sentence joke I posted about Levi Johnston several weeks ago.  Following Sarah Palin’s appearance on Oprah, hundreds of people were reading this blog, mainly because they were hoping to find a photo of Levi Johnston in the altogether.  Sorry to disappoint you, pervs.

Anyway, since I’ve written about Biggest Loser before, it seems appropriate to briefly discuss this season’s final episode.

• I love Bob the trainer.  I really do.  Jillian’s my favorite because … well, duh.  But Bob has that zen calm that I wish I had instead of the ball of anxiety that’s permanently lodged in my gut.  As much as I love Bob, though, I sort of resent the clips of him telling the contestants that they’re “heroes.”  I get that we live in a hyperbolic society where words are continuously dulled and diminished, but it seems especially cheap to refer to someone’s weight loss as a heroic act.  I don’t even care if, in winner Danny’s case, he’s doing it to be a better father.  Losing weight to be good to your family doesn’t make you a hero.  It means you’re finally not being a selfish bastard.

• On that same point, I grew tired of how 49-year-old Liz was continually portrayed as a victim, as though gangs of rogue Hostess executives held her down and force-fed her Twinkies.  Numerous times throughout the season, Jillian or Bob or Liz herself would say something like this: “You gave everything you had to take care of your family, and you didn’t have any time to take care of yourself.”  I’m sure she was busy.  No doubt.  I’m not diminishing the difficulty of raising a family.  But when the show started, Liz weighed 270 pounds.  That doesn’t happen by accident.  She might not have had time to take care of herself, but she sure as hell had time to stuff her face.  I think this bothers me precisely because The Biggest Loser so often avoids treating the contestants like powerless victims.  The show is usually about owning up to your demons and taking control of your life.  Laying the blame for Liz’ obesity at her family’s feet seems like a cop-out.

• Rebecca, the eliminated contestant who won the runner-up prize, looked pretty good, I have to say.  But I admit to being a little weirded out by her 180-degree change.  Tara, last season’s winner, clearly had a major-league epiphany, becoming more active as a result of her time on the show.  Even so, she still seemed like Tara – just a healthier version of herself.  Rebecca, on the other hand, almost didn’t look like the same person.  In her appearance last night, and on Jay Leno’s show a few weeks ago, she seems to have adopted a disconcerting gymrat/sexpot persona that has sent her careening completely to the opposite end of the personality spectrum.  And any extreme, lest we forget, is never good.  I always worry a little about people on the show becoming so transfixed with their weight loss that they lose sight of who they are – as though “fit” is a personality type.  I realize this is all just conjecture on my part.  I don’t know Rebecca, and I’m basing this only on a couple of 30-second television appearances.  But man.  There was something about her appearance – wiry, effusive, blond – that just seemed a little off, slightly manic and frenzied, like a person teetering on the brink of disaster.

• I could’ve done without the marriage proposal.  Just watching this show nearly sends me into a diabetic coma.  The last thing I needed to see was a guy blubbering on one knee while his wife-to-be impatiently held out her hand for the ring.

• Danny, this season’s winner, cut an impressive figure.  As much as I don’t buy into the notion of heroism through weight loss, there’s something undeniably exciting and motivating about seeing how much he accomplished.  It’s not just him, either.  The success stories are certainly inspiring, and if you’re obese and ready for a change, I’m sure it helps to see people overcome their condition.  And if the Dannys and Rebeccas and Shays and Rudys of the world can convince other people to get off their couches and get exercising, well … maybe there’s something heroic to it, after all.

*****

Current listening:

Rhett Miller – The Instigator (2002)

Current reading:

Chuck Palahniuk – Snuff (2008)

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Never Want to Be That Way Again October 7, 2009

Posted by monty in TV.
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biggest_loser(1)vs.   more to love

Can there be any clearer a philosophical dividing line in the United States’ obesity epidemic than the one separating NBC’ The Biggest Loser from Fox’s More to Love?  One features a group of people who realize they’re unhealthy and are actively trying to do something about it, the other revolves around a cast that has resigned itself to a lifetime of midnight cookie dough binges, and whose members are now trying to find a mate with an equally low willpower threshold.

One thing I want to say first: I’m not insensitive to struggles with weight. I’m roughly 5’10”, and by the time I graduated from college, I was topping out at around 200 pounds.  It wasn’t life-threatening, but it also wasn’t healthy.  A year later I became a vegetarian and dropped roughly 20 pounds.  A couple years after that I started running and lost another 30.  Now well into my mid-30’s, I’ve gained about 20 of that back, and I’m in a perpetual state of trying to get rid of it.  I run until my legs (or, more recently, my heart) tell me it’s time to pack it in.  The chips in my pantry taunt me in the evening, and it’s only because popcorn started doing horrendous things to my digestive system that I stopped scarfing the stuff down at movies like a junkie going after his fix.  So I know about weight gain and how hard it is to lose it and keep it off.  I get it.  But because I’ve gone through the struggle myself, I’m perhaps less patient with the whining of the obese than I might otherwise be inclined to be.

But that’s not why I’m writing this.  First, the shows, for the uninitiated.

aliThe Biggest Loser is a reality show where 16 (I think) morbidly obese people try to lose as much weight as they can over the course of a season.  They’re sequestered at a ranch, monitored by physicians, taught how to eat well, and trained by two professionals, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels.  Bob is the Zen, centered good cop to Jillian’s batshit, drill instructor bad cop.  When the contestants are resistant to the training, Bob employs New Age, feel-good reassurance, resorting to anger only when gentle negotiation fails.  Jillian, on the other hand, screams at them and beats them about the head and shoulders with her abs. Some of the contestants favor Bob; some respond well to Jillian. (As a totally unnecessary sidenote, I’d be firmly in the Jillian camp.  I’m a good soldier, and I take orders well.  Also, she’s hot.)  For most of the season the cast is paired up into teams of two.  At the end of each episode the teams weigh in, and the two teams with the lowest percentage of weight lost in the previous week go up for elimination.  The other teams then decide which team goes home.  The elimination is the least interesting aspect of the show to me.  I couldn’t care less about the weepy drama that goes into making that decision.  It’s far more fascinating to see how seriously (or how un-seriously) some of the cast take their weight loss journey.  A lot of them take Bob and Jillian’s training to heart and push themselves harder and farther than I’d ever think possible.  Some of them seem so unwilling to work out that I wonder how they got selected for the show in the first place.  In all, it’s oddly inspiring to see a group of people who have decided to make a positive change in their lives.

more to love 2 And that brings me to More to Love. The premise of this show is slightly more simplistic than The Biggest Loser. Here, a Fat Guy has to decide which Fat Girl is going to be his bride.  They hang out a lot, they go on dates, they bitch about wearing bathing suits, they cry about being picked on.  And at the end of each episode, Fat Guy eliminates two Fat Girls, who then predictably weep on camera about how they’re never going to find another swell guy who has a thing for Fat Girls.

Oh, and they eat.  A lot.

Every episode (and I suffered through most of the season before finally turning away in disgust) included at least one segment where the entire cast plunged into a table of food with all the fervor and abandon of a Bacchanalian orgy.

Am I being insensitive?  Maybe.  But here’s the thing: The Biggest Loser – for all its edited and manufactured inspiration – is, at heart, a show about empowerment, while More to Love is a solipsistic parade of victimhood. There’s no (or very little) reference to any of the cast ever trying to get healthy, but a whole lot of time is spent crying about how unfair it is that guys don’t find overweight women very attractive.  They cry about being picked on at school, they cry about never having had a date, they cry about never being hit on. But do they ever cry about how hard it is to find time to eat healthy and go for a walk?  “The world is a cruel place to overweight people,” they weep, “and are those burritos over there?”

Of course it’s unfair that we live in an image-obsessed society, but that’s not really the issue here.  These women are contestants on a show whose very premise is based on not getting healthy.  Rather than putting in the work to change their lives for the better, these women have gone on a show that allows them to revel in their unhealthiness.  Imagine, as a useful analogy, a show called Junkie Love. On this show, the contestants are female heroin addicts, and each week a male heroin addict eliminates two of them until he settles on his perfect junkie match.  Okay, come to think of it, that show would actually turn out to be pretty popular.  But do you see the point?  In no way would anyone think that’s a healthy relationship, or a healthy environment in which to find a mate.  But a show like More to Love says, “Don’t try to get healthy, fatties.  Come on our show and find true love with someone just as lazy as you are.”  Is it possible that Fox has edited out all the footage of the women talking about how much they’ve exercised and how often they’ve eaten a diet of fresh, healthy food?  Maybe.  But unlikely.  And isn’t the very act of appearing on a show with the premise of More to Love a form of surrender?

Look.  I feel sympathy for people who get picked on and rejected because of how they look.  It’s not like women have ever been knocking down my door for a date, so I get it.  But when you stop to consider just how much of a problem obesity has become in this country – not to mention how much of a drag the corresponding diseases have become on our health care system – a show like More to Love starts to look more and more irresponsible.  We’re at a point where we should be encouraging people, like The Biggest Loser does, to be fit, to get healthy, to make smart choices.  All that More to Love encourages is malaise, and the reassurance that the best solution is just to give up.

*****

Current listening:

Boxer exits

The Boxer Rebellion – Exits

Current reading:

idrinkforareason

David Cross – I Drink for a Reason