By | Tuesday, July 13, 2021 Leave a Comment
Yesterday, I caught this editorial cartoon from Ed Hall...
I've thought holding the Olympics this year was a bad idea since jump. I've been even more against it the past couple weeks where they've seen a significant surge in cases of COVID in/around Tokyo. I've unsarcasticaly said that I think the most significant news that will come out of the Olympics this year will not have to do with the athletics at all, but the rash of COVID cases that will inevitably result. So I thought this was a clever cartoon, showing that the true "winner" of the Olympics this year will be COVID itself.

But I did briefly question why the three winners were not stereotypical athletes, but rather three fat people. My guess was that Hall was trying to say that COVID will affect more 'regular' people in the area more than the athletes themselves, so he drew them as "definitely not athletes." I figured that since they were drawn overweight, but it wasn't done in a particularly comical manner, nor were they drawn as morbidly obese. I just read all three figures as "non-athletes."

But then, over on Twitter, Laurakeet pointed out to me that the cartoon is fatphobic. Not so much the weight of the figures themselves, but the negative judgements many people associate with obesity: laziness, dirtiness, thoughtlessness, etc. She saw it as Hall ascribing those negative traits to COVID by showing them as overweight. So I dug around to see if Hall himself had anything to say on the topic. Sure enough, he had the cartoon posted on his Facebook page and, when someone flatly asked why they were all fat, Hall responded, "because covid is a lazy, opportunistic virus." He went on to suggest that (though he didn't state outright) anti-vaxxers are stupid, tying into the same poor image of overweight people.

I've talked before on this blog about how editorial cartoonists need to be experts in symbols. Ben Garrison got roasted last week because he got the symbols of a recent cartoon so completely wrong and backwards that the overall cartoon conveyed the exact opposite message that Garrison was seemingly try to send. Cartoonists often have to distill broad ideas and concepts down to a single illustration, which means they need to know all of the baggage that an image -- a symbol -- carries with it. (Heck, that I used the term "baggage" just now is a symbol in and of itself!)

Unlike Garrison, Hall isn't using his symbols incorrectly in that there's at least some understanding equating "fat" with "lazy." (I missed that connection, but I'm also an audience of one. And while it's not a connection I normally make, I'm at least aware that it is a connection some people do.) The problem is that the stereotype of "fat = lazy" is false and offensive. It's like claiming all Irish people are drunks, or all Jewish people are greedy misers. Yes, those were indeed used as caricatures for many years, but they're broadly considered reductive and offensive.

As is "fat and lazy."

You all know I've run several marathons, right? Do you know how many people I've see during those races who were visibly overweight? Honestly, neither do I because there have been too many to count. And there is NO WAY you're going to tell anyone who's even attempted a marathon that they're lazy! Weight has no connection to any other personal traits. Not hygiene, not happiness, not intelligence, not disposition, not even health! People have different natural metabolisms, their bodies store energy differently, they may have extenuating circumstances (e.g. having had their leg shattered when they were hit by a car) preventing them from "just exercising more." The only thing that being overweight means is that you're overweight.

So for Hall to deliberately fall back on that stereotype is degrading. It's perpetuating a decidedly false stereotype that we really should have done away with years ago!

Hall's point about COVID competing in this year's Olympics is clever and funny. That he chose to use the symbol of fat people to indicate laziness is neither.
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