What if liposuction was replaced with heavy Botox injections for the corporate elite?

Like fillyjonk over at Shapely Prose, I have some problems with Barbara Ehrenreich’s recent piece, “Liposuction: The Key to Energy Independence.”

To begin with, the insinuation that oil is mere “corpse juice” is erroneous. This claim and its attendant screech “the oil is running out, the oil is running out” of course keeps big oil in BIG, BIG money though. Hence, don’t expect to be hearing the truth about oil from the MSM anytime soon. Don’t expect to hear the real reasons oil is so costly or how alternative, sustainable energy has been squashed like an irritating bug by the corporatists. (Unless, perhaps you read/see this, this, or this.) Now, I am by no means an oil expert, but the media analyist and government skeptic in me knows that there is more to the whole oil story than meets the eye…

Oil misinformation aside, my other big problem with the piece is its anti-fat sentiment. Trading in tired misconceptions about the so-called “obesity epidemic” in the USA, Ehrenreich suggests liposuction would be a good a way to bring about energy independence. I am wondering: why not focus instead on the rich-get-richer epidemic? How about rather than noting “Thirty percent of Americans are obese” without even mentioning the medicalization of normal bodily variation (let alone that being what is called ‘overweight’ is no more dangerous (or safe) than being what is called ‘underweight’) Ehrenreich talked about the fact that class inequality in our nation is far more damaging to one’s health than adipose tissue?!?

Referring to “liposuctionable body fat,” Ehrenreich equates fatness with abnormality and over-consumption. Yes, she is trying to be funny, I get it. But her “patriotic rationale for packing on the pounds” reads like yet another diatribe by someone of body-normative privilege berating those who didn’t inherit the skinny gene. How would it sound if we flipped the script and Ehrenreich suggested liposuctioning the bank accounts of the global big wigs who control energy (and public perceptions about it) so their own billions keep accumulating? Better yet, how about instead of liposuction we gave these corporate elites heavy Botox injections – so heavy that the facial paralysis would lead to them being unable to spread lies that justify bleeding us dry at the pump? (For a reminder of the facial paralysis effects of Botox, see Sarah Haskins hilarious video “Target Women: Botox” here.)

While Ehrenreich claims her solution would bring about “fat pride,” her column trades in fat-phobia while failing to consider the real issues behind the so-called energy crisis. Maybe she should go back to her earlier, wonderful work in Nickel and Dimed and consider how poverty is far more unhealthy than fat…

What if the Sunday papers included information like this? Links for June 23-28, 2008

As I appreciate so many of the links and read-a-rounds of the bloggers I read, I have decided to do a weekly link round up of my own.

I wish that everyone were reading news like this in their Sunday papers rather than the same-old same-old msm corporate controlled (dis)information…

  1. Over at Counterpunch at the beginning of the week, Robert Fantina questioned McCain’s claim that the recent Supreme Court ruling that granted Gauntanamo prisoners the ability to seek redress in civilian courts is “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” As his post, “McCain, Racism, and the Supreme Court,” suggests, apparently giving prisoners habeas corpus rights is WORSE than the Dred Scott decision. Perhaps we should call him John McRasict.
  2. At the Labor is Not a Commodity blog, Tim Newman explored the exploitation of sugar workers in Brazil and examines how this links to the biofuel boom. This post serves as an important reminder of labor rights and how corporatism fuels global exploitation.
  3. Cortney at A Feminist Response to Pop Culture in The Feminist Blogosphere is a Site of Resistance” posted on blogging feminist activism. Hurrah!
  4. Wal*Mart Watch analyzed Pink magazine’s article on the women of Wal*Mart here. As the post notes, focusing on a few “top women” at Wal*Mart in order to suggest this corporation is saving its soul leaves out the majority of women that Wal*Mart screws over with its inhumane labor polices both here and abroad.
  5. Womanist Musings mused about “Policing the Muff” in her typical smart, funny style, asking why the “nether regions” need trimming. Reminded me of the muff-policing scene in the Sex and the City movie. Oh yeah, how empowering, attack your best buddies for their ‘overgrown’ pubes!
  6. Dave at The Fanonite posts on the anti-Arab message of the film Don’t Mess With Zohan. I haven’t seen the film, but it sounds like yet another movie to trade in the “oh isn’t racism funny” stance.
  7. And, to limit myself to seven posts for the seven days of the week, the inimitable WOC PhD posted an update on Maria Isabel Vazquez’s death and the urgent need to protest Trader Joe’s stocking of Two Buck Chuck (and to fight for farm workers rights). See her post for more information and links.

Lastly, I will throw in a book recommendation for the week, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism coming out in paperback TODAY. Get thee to a library/bookstore and get stuck in this great book (first published last fall). See Klein interviewed here where she briefly describes the concept of disaster capitalism (and shares that homeland security is now a 200 billion dollar industry – jiminy cricket that’s one heaping load of corporatist windfall!)

What if ‘Q’ was a true color?

I went to see the True Colors concert in San Diego last night. It was fabulous. Joan Jett and Cyndi Lauper were the highlights for me. (Damn if I have not been listening to Jett’s “Crimson and Clover” over and over and over today…) Both Lauper and Jett are fabulous performers with excellent voices. Why oh why are they overshadowed (then and now) by the likes of the not-too-vocally-talented (re: Madonna)?

Despite the great music lineup, the emcee of the night, Carson Kressley, was far from stellar. Damn, I wish it would have been Rosie!

One thing I noticed in particular about Carson’s stints trying to fill the time between musicians was his failure to ever mention the Q word. Seeing as his fame was made on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” I imagined he might at least throw in the Q with his repeated use of the acronym LGBT.

Of course, “Queer Eye” was hardly queer–more like mainstream gay assimilationist–but at least the tour itself could expand its focus to include a queer perspective. Instead, most of the comments made throughout the evening seemed to be focused towards the ‘gay community’ or ‘gay rights.’ What about transgender issues and queer politics?

Kressley in particular traded in familiar jokes reinforcing the gay/straight binary insinuating “if your straight, you won’t get this joke,” or, “this one is for the gay bottoms.” Call me queer, but I don’t see the benefit (or humor) in constantly reifying this binary. Heteros can be ‘bottoms’ too (as can every other sexual stripe) and I don’t see how enforcing a gay/straight split is any different than a black/white or female/male one. Jokes like these that act as if you are either in the “gay club” or you are not are likely to annoy allies and other sexual creatures who think the parcing out of sexual identities into distinct categories is problematic all around. This is where queer needs to come in.

Queer theory is far more politicized than ‘gay rights’- and it is, I think, a lens that the True Colors tour needs to adopt. As Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore argues in the introduction to That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation*, the ‘gay assimilationist’ stance is threatening to normalize LGBTQ politics. In the same book, Dean Spade uses the phrase “LGBfakeT movement” in order to emphasize that trans issues are included only nominally. Seems Spade’s coinage could be extended to LGBfakeTsilencedQ as of late…

So, Cindy, I love you, and the show was phenomenal–your comments about the importance of inclusion were illuminating and uplifting–as was your voice- but might you consider adding queer into the mix next time around? And Carson, since you are known as a “queer eye,” how about living up to the title and showing some queer theory know-how rather than mere fashionista flamboyance?

* Sycamore, Mattilda Bernstein, ed. That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2008.

What if WALL*E and EVE lived in a future populated by transgender queer robots? A (p)review of WALL*E

“700 years into the future mankind will leave our planet,” announces the husky voiced narrator of the WALL*E preview. Oh, so does that mean womankind and transkind will be sticking around on old mother earth? Apparently not, according to the imagery in the video. The only ‘life’ left appears to be WALL*E HIMSELF – yeah, because didn’t you know robots have to subscribe to the gender binary, too?

Early in the preview, WALL*E purviews the trash-filled landscape of earth and a bra blows into his face, covering his eyes. Ah, what a nice metaphor for the boobified view of the male-gaze. If this image doesn’t scream “poor WALL*E needs him some sexually objectified female-bot to satisfy HIS HETERO NEEDS,” I don’t know what does.

Poor WALL*E is lonely (we learn as he glimpses some heteronormative scene on TV) but “At last my love” EVE arrives. (YES, she is flipping named EVE for goddessake!) Looking like a large white tampon with blue eyes, or perhaps a roboticized white penguin, Eve has a female voice and, as the preview hints, she and WALL*E fall in love. They are seen sitting on a bench holding hands with a heart that reads “WALL*E + EVE” lasered into a nearby trash can. Sigh. Gotta love the originality of heteronormative gender socialization pixar-style.

If this film involves WALL*E somehow ‘saving’ EVE I am going to toss my popcorn. Or, if EVE brings about the ‘fall’ of humankind I may just have to altogether renounce my soft spot for Pixar films. Woody – I love you – but you never treated Bo Peep that well anyhow!

I am far from knowledgeable on sci-fi and robot representation, but I am wondering, any cyber readers out there know of robotic representations that are gender variant and/or queer? Don’t know about you, but I think C3PEO and R2-D2 would make a cute couple. Better yet, how about some robot loving that defies the gendered/hetero/coupledom set up altogether? Doubt we will see it anytime soon at the Cineplex, certainly not when viewing WALL*E by the looks of it.

What if I still want to be an activist after I graduate?

Feminist Gal and I decided to post on activism this week in hopes of getting a conversation started. While she laments “missing a huge part of myself without the activism I became so engrossed in throughout college” and recounts starting a blog to fill this void in her post, I will attempt to offer some reflections as to why activism is harder outside of a college setting and, most importantly, why it needn’t be…

College campuses are often hives of activism. Many students who have not awakened to their innate activist do so during their college years. Those students who came into post secondary education as activists already often become even more active. College is a space (or is supposed to be at least) to question received knowledge, to learn new ways of looking at the things, to envision the world as it might be rather than as it is.

When my Women’s Studies 101 students learn about the required activism project in my course, they are rarely filled with enthusiasm. However, by semester’s end, many have caught the activism bug and go on to advocate for world changes and protest the status quo in various ways, both large and small.

Yet, I hear lamentations from graduates that activism is harder once you leave the environs of a college campus or town. With their campus support systems gone, political engagement and activism becomes a thing of the past for many – a blip on the screen of their lives that was great while they were in college, but one that they no longer pursue. Perhaps this is why so many look back upon their college years as so pivotal, so energizing, and with such a keen sense of nostalgia. It is not only because college often involves lots of new experiences – of the intellectual, sexual, and partying variety – but also because college is the time for many where they are the most engaged with the world and the most fired up to change it.

Alas, the same people who marched, picketed, campaigned, founded organizations, and raised money for various causes all too often seem to become mere cogs in the corporatist patriarchal machine once they graduate. They do, after all, have to pay the bills.

So, what to do if your own activism has gone stagnant? Well, I think it is key to remember that activism does not only happen on the streets of DC, nor must it always involve signs, chants, signatures, and fists in the air. Nor, might I add, does it need to be given to you ‘assignment style’ in a Women’s Studies (or other social justice discipline) syllabus.

Activism is a way of life – an attitude – that can be woven into everyday life. It is about refusing to accept things as they are and doing whatever you can to foment change. It is about realizing that the fabric of our world is sewn each day, not sewn anew mind you, but either reinforced or weakened by the collective actions of the human race. Each day, our actions either reinforce the fabric of governing social norms and expectations, or begin to cause tiny tears in the normative schema. (For a theoretical take on how the fabric of gender is maintained each day, see one of my all time favorite theorists, Judith Butler).

By how we carry ourselves each day, via the language we use, the things we consume, the knowledge we gain and spread, we are participating in the ever changing circus of life. If we choose to perform as trained animals that never resist or question the rules, we will remain caged within the normative strictures of society. However, if we refuse to perform the normative script, even if only within our own little lives, we can bring about profound change.

“But, I don’t have time to be an activist,” I hear some of you saying. “Between work and home and family, I can barely keep juggling all the musts in my life let alone add anything more into the mix.” Well, hate to tell you, but saying you don’t have time for activism is like saying you don’t have time to care. “Sorry, can’t think about poverty, I’ve got bills to pay.” “Sorry, can’t protest war, I have to get to the gym before work.” “Sorry, can’t fight for wage equity or racial equality, the laundry needs doing.” This treadmill mentality is a big part of the problem. We act as if we will fall behind in the race of life if we don’t earn enough, buy enough, exercise enough, yet we forget to exercise our abilities to reshape the world we live in. By doing so, we capitulate to leaving things as they are – to being strapped to the sexist, classist, racist, homophobic treadmill of social norms, rules, and expectations…

If you are the type of person that needs inspiration to light (or rekindle) your activism wick, you can certainly turn to history to read of killer activists such as Ida B. Wells, Emma Goldman, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Mary Edwards Walker, Mourning Dove, Frances Perkins, Cesar Chavez, Helen Keller, Jeanette Rankin, Bella Abzug, Mike Davis, June Jordon…

Or, if you prefer present day activism to float your boat, consider the work of Cindy Sheehan, Jennifer Schumaker, Fernando Suarez del Solar, Angela Davis, Wilma Mankiller, Jackson Katz, Peggy McIntosh, Dolores Huerta, Eve Ensler, School of the Americas Watch, Znet, CodePink, International Socialist Organization, Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Queer Nation, Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press, Feminist.Com, We Are Change, Minutemen Unvarnished, Class Matters, Feminist Campus, Women in Media and News, and so, so, so many more…

If you feel like you need to read an activist primer or something to you get fired up about a particular cause, try out some of the following books:

  • The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism, The Activist’s Handbook
  • A Promise and a Way of Life: White Antiracist Activism
  • Troubling Education: Queer Activism and Anti-Oppressive Pedagogy
  • Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
  • The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle
  • The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology
  • Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
  • Sweatshop Warriors : Immigrant Women Workers Take On the Global Factory
  • Full Frontal Feminism
  • He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut

(These are only few activist focused books – please hit up your favorite library/bookstore to find many more…)

With all this past and present inspiration, what are you waiting for? Heck, if you don’t need any more inspiration or already have your summer reading list all lined up, there’s no reason you can’t start being an activist right now, right at your very own desk! The opportunities for internet activism are numerous and grow by the day. However, should you ever choose to tear yourself away from your beloved screen, here are 10 ways to be an activist out there in the non-virtual world to get you going:

10 ways to be an activist everyday

  1. Choose your words carefully – Think about how ‘you guys’ makes women and transgender folks invisible and find a substitute (remember that ‘you’ can be both plural and singular), work to weed out sayings like ‘that’s so gay’ from the social lexicon, avoid terminology that indicates some people (by virtue of a penis, white skin, body size, or sex practices) are better than others…
  2. Be a conscientious consumer – Know about the businesses you give your money to and aim to support companies that have some sense of ethics (if you don’t know why so many progressives girlandboycott Wal*Mart, find out why – start here and here)
  3. Think while you listen – Rather than singing along to lyrics such “super soak that ho” or ‘shake that monk,’ seek out lyrics that are not degrading to women and don’t promote racism, homophobia, body negativity, etc. All genres have their offenders and their musicians with a social conscious so it’s up to you to THINK about the lyrics rather than polluting your mind with oppressive junk just because it has a good beat…
  4. Be mindful of what you watch – Don’t forget to don your feminist lenses as you watch television and movies. Look out for sexist, racist, homophobic, pro-imperialist, backwards-ass patriarchal messages and don’t let them soak into your brain! It doesn’t mean you can’t watch – but watch with a critical eye.
  5. Speak out – Use your voice to shut down sexist jokes, to not tolerate racial slurs, to not let negative stereotypes fly, to complain when you see social injustice at the grocery store, the dance club, the pub, or the park…
  6. Be a good friend, parent, sibling, lover – Intervene when you know a friend is in a dangerous situation, listen when a friend needs to rant about the queer bating at his school, tell your sister she doesn’t ‘need’ to diet, tell your parents they don’t need to buy into ageism (or that they need to lose their homophobic attitudes), tell your lover not to buy into the jealousy-ownership-romance matrix, etc.
  7. Always wear your thinking cap –Don’t tune out. Don’t allow the lull of the ipod to distract you from social injustice. Think about and analyze the world around you. Resist the temptation to be a mindless consumer or no-questions asked patriot/citizen
  8. Read, read, and read some more – Know the world you live in, seek out independent media and news, spread the word, read books/mags/blogs that stretch your mind.
  9. Teach children well – Almost everyone comes into contact with children now and again. Remember these children will grow up to either conform to the world as it is, or they will learn to see injustices and just might be inspired to make the world a better place. Don’t say idiotic things such as ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘ladies don’t act that way’ to children (or in front of them). Teach the children in your life or those that you come across in public that all humans are equal, that bodies come in all sizes and abilities, that words matter, that there is more to life than the latest video game or fashion trend.
  10. Question authority – This saying adorns t-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons, and posters for a reason – it’s a crucial directive. With authority comes power, with power comes corruption. Hence, questioning authority (and the inevitable hierarchy that serves as authority’s sidekick) is crucial. Question your boss, your teachers, your parents, your city council members, your state leaders, your national government. Heck, even question that wonderful feminist professor of yours. 🙂 If you don’t question authority, who will?

Finally, remember: if you are not an activist, you are an accomplice.

Now, get activating for change people!

And…when you can take a break from your breakneck activism antics, please post activist suggestions, links, ideas, reflections in the comments section here at Professor, What if…? as well as at Feminist Gal’s Oh, You’re a Feminist.

What if you hate and are envious of white people?

This post was prompted by a comment from my “What if analogous to person of color we used person of white privilege” post. In response to this post, a commenter identified as Henry asked:

Why don’t you people just be honest with yourselves and call yourselves: people who hate and are envious of white people or professional victims of color.

I replied:

Wow, what a great idea, Henry. This is so erudite, I will have to respond in a post. I always find it so edifying when people use the phrase ‘you people’ – when someone uses that, you just know a whole slew of truly original thinking is about to follow. Stay tuned for my post on “What if you hate and are envious of white people?”

So, as promised, here is my reply to Henry and others who wonder about us so-called ‘white haters.’ In regards to Henry’s curiosity about ‘us people’ being honest with ourselves, I have a number of points to share. Firstly, Henry erroneously assumes I am not white. He must live in a world where all white people are racists because, according to his logic, if you question whiteness or white privilege you obviously can’t be white, right? Well, guess what Henry, I am a person of white privilege. If I hated white people, I would have to hate myself and pretty much my entire family, which I do not.

Am I envious of white people? Well, I am a white person, and while I am pretty damn cool and smart, I don’t put this down to my white skin. Quite the contrary, actually! In fact, and I realize this is a novel idea, I don’t decide whether I like people based on how much melononin they have in their skin, but on their actions. Crazy, I know!

Yet, as Henry suggests, I can think of a lot of things to dislike about (some) white people – like their refusal to acknowledge white privilege or systematic, institutionalized racism. I am also not fond of POWPs who like to act as if racism is a thing of the past. If this is you, I encourage you to wake up from your asinine claims of colorblindness. It also bugs me when persons of white privilege get all hot under the collar when you begin to discuss white privilege and racism. Anxious Black Woman discusses this in her “Racism 2.0” post, noting how her students don’t like to discuss race:

This is why my summer students can get uncomfortable whenever subjects about race come up, and when I’m asked to refocus the subject back to a race-neutral subject (read: white people), and when I tell them that such a request is steeped in racist thinking, I get retreats. I get students swearing up and down how much they “appreciate diversity” (read: “I’m not a racist!”). If the N-word has become a fighting word for black people, more and more, it’s becoming obvious that the R-word has the same effect on white people. It’s their sore spot and a surefire way to turn them into very angry or very apologetic or very irrational people. Which usually means that we’re NOT going to ever have intelligent conversations about the subject because if white people are being irrational because the R-word has been mentioned, and people of color are busy keeping in our anger because it’s pointless to talk to irrational yet privileged people – or worse, be labeled as “angry” – then how are we ever going to cross this “bridge over troubled waters”?

The refusal to analyze and discuss racism is a huge problem as, by not talking about it rationally, and only getting angry or offended when it is discussed, we all get a big fat nowhere. Those of us of white privilege need to be willing to pop our privilege bubbles and own up to the fact we live in a racist world. All of us humans grow up in a society that teaches racism as a way of life. So, if you catch yourself thinking or saying things that seem racist, don’t be surprised. You are taught to think and say these things! The trick is to begin to recognize (and change) your internalized racism. And feeling guilty is not going to get us anywhere – guilt over your white skin does nothing to change our racist society. So, lose the apathetic ‘oh, it’s so unfair that poor white me has all these privileges I never asked for’ and actually START DOING SOMETHING about eradicating racism.

As for Henry’s insinuation that white people are to be ‘envied,’ well, for what exactly should we be envied? For our proud history of enacting genocide, enslavement, and war? For our unfair share of power? For our ability to sunburn easily? For all our wonderful achievements in music and art that have quite often been appropriated (without credit) from non-white cultures? For our domination of religion, politics, media, banking, and international relations – a domination that benefits the few and exploits the many? Hmmm, most of these things seem like reasons to distrust or be skeptical of white people, rather than reasons to envy them. Now, I understand these are generalizations – not all white people have power, money, or even sunburn that easily, but, nevertheless, we POWPs do have various privileges merely due to the color of our skin.

As for Henry’s claim that POC should call themselves “professional victims of color,” well, as bigoted as this sounds, there is some truth to it. While Henry obviously means it in an attacking, racist way, the phrase can also be read to mean that POC actually are victimized by a racist society – a society that is ‘professional’ in its racism. Our society actually trades in this idea all the time, suggesting that POC choose their own victimization. This blaming the victim strategy is ubiquitous in our society because it is far easier to blame POC than to blame (and change) systemic racism. It is akin to blaming women for being raped – it places the blame on the oppressed rather than on the oppressor. Further, the definition of victim as “One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition,” certainly coincides to how POC are harmed by racist acts, by the circumstances of systematic racism, by the agency of racist institutions that govern our society, and by the conditions of a society that claims to be ‘beyond’ racism when in fact racism has merely become less blatant, less in-your-face, but no less insidious. However, I take issue with the word victim as to me it seems a rather disempowering word. I would prefer survivor, activist, fighter. I do not see myself as a ‘victim’ of white privilege or POC as ‘victims’ as this word connotes passivity and acceptance. I do not accept our system of racism and white privilege – those who do – like Henry – seem to me the real ‘victims.’

In conclusion, ‘us people’ that question racism and the system of white privilege don’t hate white people, Henry (heck, many of us are white people). Rather, we hate the system. As for POC, well I am a POWP and do not wish to pretend like I can speak as anything else. I do not walk through this world as POC, but as a POWP. Therefore, to my POC readers out there , if you have any words for Henry, or others like him, who suggest being a POC equals being a professional victim of color, I urge you to comment. Henry, and so many like him, are in desperate need of some anti-racist education, and all of us non-victims who are fighting the system of racism and white privilege are needed in this battle.

What if fat jokes and cultural (mis)appropriation weren’t considered so darn cute? A review of Kung Fu Panda

The kiddies have been a-begging to see Kung Fu Panda and, whether it was the lure of an air-conditioned theatre or a weakness for Jack Black, I capitulated. I am not glad I did so. While the theatre was cool, the movie was not.

Filled with fat jokes, fighting, and not much else, this filmic (mis)appropriation of Asian culture upheld a number of fat stereotypes. While Liz Henry over at The Body Politic felt the film was body positive, I disagree. Liz writes that:

The movie has a very clear message of respect for bodily differences. The Furious Five, a tigress, viper, monkey, crane, and mantis, all have radically different bodies. The mantis is notably tiny and fragile, and a great fighter. While there is a lot of humor and mockery based on fat jokes at the panda’s expense, he learns to believe in himself. He trains hard to become wise, fearless, and talented – not to lose weight. He becomes a hero, but stays a big fat panda.

I agree that the Furious Five have radically different bodies, but this bodily diversity is not emphasized in the film. The only character whose body is consistently focused on is Po’s – the panda of the title (voiced by Jack Black). Moreover, Po’s size is used not to subvert fat stereotypes but to reinforce them. According to the logic of the film, those who are fat (like Po)

  • are motivated by food
  • are unable to control their desire for food
  • are emotional eaters
  • are unfit and klutzy
  • are funny and jolly
  • are talkative but not all that bright

How original!!! When was the last time you saw a fat character that didn’t live up to these stereotypes in the mainstream media? From Patrick in Spongebob Squarepants to Carl in Jimmy Neutron to Cartman in South Park, fat cartoon characters tend to exhibit some or all of these stereotypes. Come to think of it, so do non-cartoon fatties. And fat women? Forget it. They are even more negatively depicted than fat males. Fat men get to be funny, jolly, and cool (like John Candy, Chris Farley, Jack Black) while fat women are usually the sad sacks who are considered angry, ugly, and in need of a diet. Or, as in the cartoon world, they apparently don’t exist. (If you want something that IS body positive, skip Kung Fu Panda and see Joy Nash’s recent Fat Rant 3. Or, for the kiddies, have them read Fat Camp Commandoes by Daniel Pinkwater.)

In the film, Po’s fatness is not represented in a body positive way. If it was, his fat would not become his defining characteristic. How about this idea: what if instead of having Po’s breakthrough moment come over an epic battle over a dumpling (there is the motivated by hunger stereotype), Po could have been motivated to achieve Kung Fu greatness by something other than food? The end of this scene is the clincher. After battling for what seemed like eternity over the last dumpling, upon his victory, Po claims “I am not hungry” and refuses the dumpling. Ah, thanks for that – thanks for the message that winners don’t eat, that to be a ‘winner’ Po must overcome that nasty habit of his of actually liking food. Po does indeed train to become “wise, fearless, and talented,” but this scene implies that he will also have to lose his love of dumplings to become a real Kung Fu fighter. Thus, as Melissa puts it over at Shakesville:

this movie also appears to be one long fun-filled adventure in fat hating. Ha ha-the fat panda can’t climb the stairs without getting winded. Ha ha-the fat panda is so inflexible and graceless. Ha ha-the fat panda is fat

However, the movie doesn’t only get a negative F count for its anti-fat messages, but for its blatant appropriation of Asian culture in a way that, you guessed it, perpetuates a number of Asian stereotypes.

As Jennifer at Mixed Race American sarcastically notes:

we need MORE reinforcement of Asian stereotypes, especially those that perpetuate the connection of Asians with Panda bears and martial arts, and DAMN IT, this one has BOTH.

Or, as nickalew writes over at The Asian Code:

First of all, it’s about a panda, which in today’s culture epitomizes oriental (sic) culture. This panda is also named Po (I know, surprisingly not Ling Ling huh?). On top of all this, his family owns a noodle shop (why not a flippin’ dry cleaner for gosh sake). Stereotypical to the max, I’d say. Po is big martial arts fan (because ALL Asians are evidently)

In addition to the stereotypical focus on Kung Fu, panda bears, noodle houses, dragons, and fireworks, the film also manages to appropriate Asian symbols, belief systems, and cultural practices in a way that waters them down into a bland Americanized/Westernized form. The film doesn’t convey anything about the art of Kung Fu or the culture/historical context of the setting – rather its message is “Kung fu is cool and fat is funny! Go fat panda, go!” Like Mulan, which represented Asians as backwards, war-mongering sexist beasts who barter women in a purported message of female empowerment, Kung Fu Panda trades in being ‘pro-Asian’ or ‘multi-cultural’ while being nothing of the sort. I agree with at The Asian Code, who argues “the stereotyping is so completely clear…It may be rated PG ‘for sequences of martial arts action,’ but I’d rate this R, for RACIST.”

Sure, there are the nods to Zen wisdom, but overall the film trades into a facile commodification of Asian culture. By allowing viewers to buy into things they already associate with Asian culture – Kung Fu and pandas – and by doing so in a way that waters each down so they are not even linked to Asian traditions in any relevant way – the film appropriates Asian cultural traditions in order to offer up a very Americanized championing of individualism. This is most evident near the close of the film when Po finds the Dragon Scroll that contains no words but instead reflects the image of whoever is holding it. This personal empowerment message may seem nice for the kiddies (it’s good to believe in yourself), but it also promotes an individualistic credo which is decidedly not in keeping with the supposedly Zen teachings of the film. Further, at the film’s end, the five communal warriors are not part of Po’s battle with Tai Lung – of course not, cuz Po can pull himself up by those Horatio Alger bootstraps and do it all by himself. (For a much better kid-friendly introduction to Zen, see the book Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth.)

Here, as nguirado points out at Asymmetric, the film hits on what he (unsarcastically) deems “perfect marketing”:

What better way to capitalize on a growing Chinese-world marketplace than a story set in uncontroversial ancient China and featuring the one uniquely Chinese export that Westerners love- acrobatic martial arts.

Yes, perfect marketing indeed. Take China and make it into bland Americana, add in some popular Asian-style visual affects and a few nods to anime, throw in Jack Black with a catchy “skadoosh,” keep the fat jokes coming, and hey, presto, you’ve got yourself one heck of a marketable fat-hating Asian-appropriating film!

As for the representation of women in the movie, well, there isn’t one – NOT ONE – key female character. Yes, Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie) is represented as the most skilled warrior, but she (along with the other 4 of the Furious Five) remain decidedly in the background. Besides her and Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), there are no women. As usual, the animated world is populated almost entirely by males! Further, the Tigress and the Viper play into the Asian female Exotic Dragon Lady type- they are both a bit sinister, a bit dangerous – and, they are both sexualized. Why couldn’t the females have been the monkey or the crane? Guess its harder to sexualize a crane or make a monkey seem sinister. Heck, why didn’t they bring back the ‘We are Siamese’ cats from Lady and the Tramp and go old-school racism?* In comparison to older animated films, Kung Fu Panda is less overtly racist and sexist – it hides these impulses under a glitzy exterior of multi-culturalism and nods to powerful females. Yet, the undercurrents of racism, sexism, and fat-phobia (as well as the pro-individualistic, pro-violence messages) are all the more sinister precisely because they go down so easy. It’s the subtle, gentle way of making audience goers agree with (and laugh at) Others. The film thus successfully serves up subconscious racist, sexist, anti-fat propaganda. And, despite the nods to celebrating diversity (both bodily and culturally) the film actually presents a very American message: If you are fat, you better be funny and if you are Asian, you better know Kung Fu.

*For a great overview of racism in Disney films, see the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly