Kevin Smith and the unbearable fatness of being
Having by now read all too many snarky -- not to mention pseudo-snarky -- stories detailing the saga of Kevin Smith getting bounced from a Southwest Airlines flight because he was, in large part, too overweight to comfortably fit into one seat, I'm still trying to make sense of it all. I mean, why did everyone, and I do mean everyone, find this an irresistible story? (For my money, the funniest material is in this CNN post, which has the best of Smith's many tweets, the one where he wrote: "I saw someone bigger than me on THAT flight! But I wasn't about to throw a fellow Fatty under the plane as I'm being profiled. But he & I made eye contact, & he was like 'Please don't tell....' ")
OK, OK, I know that when a fat guy gets tossed off an airplane and he's a big-shot movie director (and despite being such a big shot he's flying standby!), the whole incident strikes such a tragicomic chord that it's impossible to ignore. And obviously, it was Smith who gave everyone permission to be as unsympathetic as they wanted, since he broke the story, happily tweeting endlessly about his embarrassing predicament. When you tweet about your troubles, the media will always consider you fair game.
But I think that Smith got trounced so badly in the media not because he was fat, but because he was a fat guy. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I'd say that as a rule, fat lady celebs get far more sympathy than famous fat guys because they have already been held under the microscope every day of their lives in a culture that, in the most wildly unhealthy way possible, insists that its starlets and singers be as scrawny and undernourished as possible.
In fact, many observers believe that the once visibly hefty Candy Crowley only got her new gig as host of CNN's "State of the Union" after she dropped a bunch of pounds. Still, for the most part, our double standard about fatness is pretty clear. For years, Oprah's battles with her weight have made her an object not of ridicule but of sympathy, with most women in America whole-heartedly identifying with her struggles to fit into those size 12 dresses. If nothing else, it made Oprah seem far more vulnerable and lovable than the average zillionaire tycooness. I guess you could argue that Kirstie Alley has also triumphed by embracing her fatness. In fact, she has a new A&E reality show coming up called "Big Life," which focuses on her weight loss struggles.
But no one cuts fat guys any slack. Brando was pilloried for years for letting his weight balloon out of control. When Russell Crowe showed up in his last film, "State of Play," looking like he'd just auditioned to play the whale in "Moby Dick," the critics were all over him, complaining about how bloated and dumpy the onetime sex symbol now looked. Now it's Kevin Smith's turn to be the jolly fat guy who's the butt of everyone's jokes. I'm a skinny guy myself, but I feel the fat man's pain. In America, fat guys get about as much sympathy as the pushy evangelical crusader who has to explain to his wife and kids how he ended up with a skinny mistress stashed on the other side of town. Just ask Smith -- you always have a lot of explaining to do.
Photo of Kevin Smith by Carlo Allegri / Associated Press