Stephen Colbert talks Weightism

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the video, courtesy of Jamie. Now that I’ve watched it again, I find more things disgusting about it than I did before. I think what really bothers me is that I feel like the audience isn’t laughing at the satire of what he’s saying, but rather laughing AT fat people. That, I believe is why I’m so disturbed by this video which is fantastic otherwise…

Last night, I was lolly-gagging on the internet in my bedroom when my mother shouted to me, “Chrissy!” I went running upstairs. It turns out that she was watching the Colbert Report and Stephen Colbert had just said something about Weightism. That’s right, you heard it, a big TV show host says something about WEIGHTISM. I couldn’t believe it.

I can’t find the video at the moment, (see UPDATE above) but I spent a good amount of time being angry about his satirical commentary on America being the fattest nation. He always does his satirical read to introduce his topic, and this one fed right into the normal weghtist stereotypes: fat people eat whole pies, fat people eat a lot of cheese (?), fat people like to eat….a lot, etc. After hearing this monologue, I started to walk away, disgusted, when my mom called me back. “He’s bringing out a professor!”

Luckily, as usually happens on Colbert, he then proceeded to have a very rational and very HAES-filled discussion with Dickinson College’s Professor Amy Farrell. The very first point she made was that some people can eat junk food and be thin and others can eat junk food and be fat, and that BOTH of those groups are unhealthy. She continued with the wonderful HAES approach that by being physically active and eating right, you can be healthy without regard to your weight.

The interview continued for a while longer, and it was all very good: discussing weight-prejudice, how fat people have a harder time getting jobs, etc, and I was very pleased that this discussion was being had.

However, I still have major issues with Colbert’s topical introduction. I know it’s his gimmick to be satirical and present the opposite opinion of what he really believes, but I just can’t get over the fact that in order to introduce the topic of weightism, he had to crack jokes about fat people being x/y/z. Afterward, though I was pleased with the discussion, I still left feeling a little put out. I know that sometimes when I watch that show, I listen to his funny monologue, and then I switch channels when the experts come on (because often, I’m only watching for the jokes). If I had done that last night (and I almost did), I would’ve missed the real substantive part of the interview.

I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks about it. But I just feel kind of put off about the whole thing, even after seeing such a popular show have such an important discussion. I’ll try to post the video as soon as I find it so you can judge it for yourself.


9 thoughts on “Stephen Colbert talks Weightism

  1. I had similar feelings. I had really been looking forward to seeing this. Professor Farrell was one of my college advisors and I’ve been thrilled to see that she’s turning her scholarly efforts to examining fat prejudice. On the Report, it sounded to me like she didn’t quite get out the notion that fat people can be healthy–more that thin people can be unhealthy if they’re eating junkfood. I think she started to get the “healthy fat people exist” point in near the end, but the conversation had to be wrapped up.

    As for all of the Colbert satire stuff leading up to the interview, it seemed like the Colbert character was putting out the viewpoint that “Americans have the right to be fat” and *that* was what was being satirized, rather than the notion that fat people get that way by eating whole apple pies. Perhaps that wasn’t the intention, but that’s how it came across when I listened to it early this morning.

  2. I haven’t yet watched the interview itself because I found myself too annoyed with the extended intro, which is not much more than a series of fatphobic jokes.

    What’s interesting about it (when I can get past my annoyance to analyze it) is that Colbert is excusing himself for telling the jokes by including himself among “fat americans.” But of course he’s a thin man, with all the attendant privilege, so his mocking is very much *not* something he has a right to (assuming anyone does). His “Oprah, call me!” pretty much defines what’s wrong with the sketch. Likewise, his including the baby and the model suggests that it’s wrong to mock or discriminate against someone who isn’t *really* fat, but hey, if someone is… then it’s cool.

    Normally, Colbert pretends to align himself with conservatives in order to mock their perspective. So when Colbert aligns himself with a straw FA person who argues that it’s an American right to be fat, he appears to be mocking *that* perspective.

    I’m disappointed in him, but not entirely surprised. What’s interesting about the audience response is that the laughter sounded, at least to my ears, to be uncertain rather than enthusiastic.

  3. I haven’t watched the segment either, but as a Colbert fan, I don’t see this as very much different than the ways he treats other hot topic issues. Was his satirical jokes part of his The Word feature? Usually that feature is over-the-top absurd to illustrate just how ridiculous and illogical the opposition truly is. In this case, it sounds to me as if Colbert was just taking fat stereotypes to the extreme as a way to introduce his guest and better frame her arguments in that fatness is extremely complex and not just a case of eating too many Twinkies while glued to the couch.

  4. Chrissy, I watched the video and I kind of agree and disagree with you. You’re right in that with Colbert you can tell his opinion by hearing the exact opposite of what he is saying, which, to me definitely points out that he thinks this is a real problem and he is “on your side” (for lack of a better way to put it). As for the opening monologue against the professor bits, I think you have to look at it in comparison to his whole body of work, the way he conducts business and the way late night comedy hosts operate. The ‘pez dispenser’ joke was hilarious and cut to the quick of the conversation and it was definitely at the expense of skinny people. Obviously many of the jokes were at the eSpense of fat people, but that’s usually how it goes on this sort of TV. Everyone takes a hit, we all laugh together and then we talk about it. I also think that any Colbert viewer who doesn’t realize by now that they are watching Satire with a capital S has no right to be in the live audience and wouldn’t benefit from the presence or absence of the segment anyway.

    That’s my opinion.

  5. He broke character for a second when he was doing the interview. I was very impressed with Amy Farrell that she got him to do that!

  6. Ya know, I wrote all the stuff below, and then I thought I should give a link to this clip from Strangers With Candy -(the show was a spoof of the after school specials of the 1970s and 1980s)

    – possibly my favorite scene of the entire show with one of my fave quotes “you can’t unfry things jerri” I think this clip, (if you haven’t seen it already?) might give a little insight to Colbert’s stance – well of course you have to understand that his character in SWC is obviously giving all the wrong advice… but I think the ability to know the “perfect wrong advice” shows he somewhat understands the issue


    I watched the whole segment, and I’m a huge fan of Colbert. Yes, some of the jokes were cringe inducing, and it’s hard to pinpoint why – well, not exactly why (I know why) but hard to pinpoint what his purpose is by using those jokes. The seriousness of the interview was A+, and a lot of great points were made. It almost seems to me like he was playing to the fat stereotype and prejudice in order to keep people interested in watching the interview.

    “Normally, Colbert pretends to align himself with conservatives in order to mock their perspective. So when Colbert aligns himself with a straw FA person who argues that it’s an American right to be fat, he appears to be mocking *that* perspective.”

    —- I think this is an example of a somewhat unique situation. FA is an extremely controversial subject amongst the usually cohesive prog-lib set, it’s one of those issues where the stereotypes are still believed. Think about how the viewing audience would most likely be made up of a lot of ‘typical’ usually progressive fat haters, if he started off mocking fat-haters the way he does feminist-haters (for ex.) a lot of the audience would be put-off that he is making fun of them. It’s more important to me that he get people to listen to the interview…

  7. “The very first point she made was that some people can eat junk food and be thin and others can eat junk food and be fat, and that BOTH of those groups are unhealthy.”

    The first part of that sentence is great. The second is problematic. Just as you can’t tell a person’s health from looking at them, you can’t tell a person’s health by looking at what they eat.

    Granted, I haven’t watched the video yet (not sure I’m going to), but it seems presumptuous to assume that anyone who eats food deemed “bad” is unhealthy.

    Just a thought.

  8. I only watched through the first minute or so of the interview. I turned it off at the “There are unhealthy skinny people and unhealthy fat people” because it definitely felt to me like, to that point, she was saying just that skinny people can be unhealthy also, but that fat people are unhealthy always. Maybe I was keen to interpret her badly after she started off agreeing with Stephen.

    His jokes definitely didn’t seem like satire–nothing he was saying was a criticism of fatphobia. He wasn’t parroting bigots to show they were wrong, just mocking fat people.

    I was especially put off by his Eau Claire, WI joke. I’ve been there, it’s full of real people, not all of whom are fat. Making fun of it for merely existing is low.

  9. I tend to watch the Colbert report in spurts, and after watching for an extended stretch recently, I have seen a few things that have made me uncomfortable–Colbert tends at times to go for some incredibly low humour. He speaks in interviews of comedy as being about “status shifts,” and then surprisingly uses his incredibly powerful platform at times to make fun of people with limited resources and recourse.

    I believe on the issue of fat, he is more inclined towards a snobbish, “fat people are weak and immoral” point of view. I think it comes accross if you watch what he’s doing closely. He does make a number of fat jokes, where the humour lies in laughing not at the powerful industries and institutions who shamelessly peddle unhealthy foods, but instead the humour lies in laughing at the fat person. I think this reflects his age, and a bit of a self-righteous streak I perceive in him.

    But if you want further proof of his views on fat, in a recent twitter post (stephen@home), he said that the “real reason” Fox didn’t run some controversial Lane Bryant lingerie ads was because they “didn’t want to cause an earthquake.” No joke. I think it’s from the end of April. I was absolutely appalled (and disappointed) when I saw it.

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