Cult film director Kevin Smith was ejected from a Southwest Airlines flight last week for being fat. The talented director (and sometime actor: he plays the character of “Silent Bob” in several of his own films) of “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy,” “Dogma,” and the Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan comedy “Cop Out” was deemed too obese to fly, although he passed the supposedly definitive armrest test: he could lower both. Smith says this has never happened to him before, perhaps because he is in the habit of buying two seats—not because he needs them, but because he says he “hates people.” Although the airline apologized to him, Smith still hates Southwest, and is inclined not to let the matter drop.
Apparently a lot of people hate him too, just because of his weight. The blogs were full of comments attacking Smith, both on general principles and as a safety risk for the other passengers. “If there was an emergency and the passengers had to deplane, his fat ass would be like a cork in a bottle,” one commenter posted. And yet oddly, when I flew right after hip surgery and could have been lapped by Kevin Smith in a footrace, nobody seemed to regard me as a danger. Nor does anyone throw feeble seniors, children or individuals with other disabilities off of planes.
If seven out of ten Americans are overweight, as the media constantly tells us, why are airplanes constructed for the 30% minority? Law professor Paul Campos has written that the media and others have an affirmative bias against fat that defies science and logic. Many cable shows prominently featured anti-fat crusader MeMe Roth, the president of National Action Against Obesity. Roth appears to be borderline anorexic and almost phobic about food, but as Campos points out, her body mass index range has a higher mortality rate than Smith’s.
Anti-fat fanaticism is typically justified by health concerns, but also seems to be rooted in deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes. Fat people are lazy; they consume “more than their share,” they are a burden on society. Never mind that many obese people eat no more than the thin people who denigrate them: they are older in a culture that favors the young, less attractive in a washboard abs-obsessed society, and easy punchlines for jokes.
A man like Kevin Smith should not have to endure anyone’s ridicule, especially from someone who has contributed as little to the world as MeMe Roth. Some people are not toned and svelte because instead of spending eight hours a week, 32 hours a month and 384 hours a year jogging and exercising to maximize their own health, longevity and attractiveness, they are working every waking hour to create art that enriches the lives of the rest of us, or striving to cure diseases that are killing people, or building businesses that provide jobs , products and services for the nation.
Fat Winston Churchill did as much as any man to save the world from fascism. John Adams was decidedly portly when he led the push for American independence, as was George Washington, when he became America’s first president. Fat bodies have housed many of the world’s greatest, bravest and most productive minds and souls. Indeed, Martin Luther King was a bit long in the belt when he said…
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
One’s fat to muscle ratio ought to be as irrelevant as skin color when it comes to measuring human worth. Some have suggested that Kevin Smith’s humiliation could be the Stonewall tipping-point for discrimination against the overweight. I am not optimistic, but it would be healthy for our society if it was.