The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, August 04, 2008

Jet Li versus Michelle Yeoh...a missed opportunity

I want people to note something: Again and again I've laid out a theory about human perception, race, and the way we can measure attitudes by watching the performance of Hollywood films. Again and again, people "don't get" what I'm saying, and debate something other than my actual contentions. Have you noticed this? I think that this is another VERY common human reaction, and one that explains another whole family of human problems.
1) If an argument rests upon assumptions contrary to your core assumptions, and you cannot refute it, you will "miss-hear" it, change it, and then attack the altered argument instead. This is the origin of the "straw man" argument: not a deliberate attempt to deceive or prevaricate, but rather an attempt of some deep unconscious filter, protecting our basic world view. I hear it in political discourse all the time.

I make the assumption that EVERYONE on this board is intelligent, honorable, attempting to represent their point of view honestly, and to understand the views of others. But if I'm right about this human tendency to misunderstand, to create straw men and tear them down...can you see how this creates human conflict?

And here's the worse one: if we do this within ourselves, can you see how this level of self-deceit will cripple your ability to craft a life of power? How easy it is to lie to ourselves, just by distorting our perceptions of what is happening? This is how people:

1) Fail to lose weight. They EITHER exercise or "diet" but never both. And then develop a mythology that something is wrong with their bodies. The truth? Their emotions are snarled and damaged. But their emotions are "them" while their body is "other". Best blame the other.

2) Fail to achieve career/financial goals. Save 5-10% of your income for ten years, and you are living a different life. The average person spends much more than this on disposable goods. We don't set goals and plans for their achievement. We harbor negative beliefs about money and the people who have it, and then wonder why it slips through our fingers. We remain children who covet the freedom of adults, without being willing to accept adult responsibility.

3) We lack love in our lives, and blame the outer world. It's "those women" or "those men." Never us. We wouldn't be attracted to ourselves, and blame others for sharing our true opinion. We surround ourselves with Pity Parties of friends who reinforce our negative attitudes.

4) We believe that "Our" political party has far more integrity, humanity, patriotism, intelligence, and honesty than the "Other" despite lack of non-anecdotal, non-selective evidence. If the other side is so bad, they should all be falling apart, right? Their lives, health, marriages, finances, etc should be wrecks. Instead, you have pretty much what you'd expect: this group is maybe 5% better at X and 5% worse at Y. People in the middle grasp this. Those at the outer edges screaming at each other are blind men copping feels on the Donkyphant.


And on it goes. With the best of intentions, with commitment to honesty communication, with above average intelligence--WE STILL FILTER REALITY. You see it here, you see it everywhere. I do it, and chances are you do to.


Did McCain really claim he fought for the MLK Holiday in Arizona? If that's as big a lie as I remember it being, it's astonishing that it hasn't come out more. And if that commercial linking Obama to two hyper-sexualized white women isn't race-baiting on a subliminal level, I seriously miss my bet. Really bottom-of-the-deck stuff, designed to play to the ugliest angels of the ugliest segment of the electorate. Really scummy, and there is no freaking way some of his people didn't know exactly what they were doing--they could have easily compared him with male celebs, boy bands, crowds cheering for sports heros--rather than linking him with the most volatile and potent fear of the bigoted: miscegenation. Beneath contempt,. At the VERY best it is a bizarre kind of denial, a tone-deaf blindness to the actual fact of racism in the human species that would make it impossible for anyone associated with his campaign to make a case for any level of understanding of racial issues in America. At very best, it is ignorance at a level so deep it is almost indistinguishable from malice.


Yes, Hollywood liberals think they're less bigoted. But then, so do Hollywood Conservatives. Or Liberals in general, or Conservatives in general. EVERYONE thinks that about themselves, or their group. Just like the average person thinks they're a better driver or lover than average. Natural human nature to believe you're better.


I don't believe Liberals aren't bigots. Just that I see LESS of what I consider racial bigotry on the Liberal side. To place yourself in my shoes (in other words, to understand my position, NOT necessarily to agree with it) perform the following experiment:

Make a list of five friends you consider Liberal. And then, five that you consider Conservative, in whatever ways you measure these things. Then ask them the following:

1) To what would you attribute the gap in performance, income, and crime between whites and blacks in America?

My guess, based upon countless conversations:

1) Liberals will tend to blame the environment (legacy of slavery, racism destroying the black family, etc.)

2)Conservatives will tend to blame black people themselves (either innate biological differences, or cultural differences--without any ameliorating inference that such differences were a matter of varying environmental circumstance)

Obviously, I tend to believe more in #1. I'm not saying I'm right, I'm explaining why I tend to feel more comfortable around liberals--in my mind, they understand something that Conservatives tend to be in denial about.

Which is a shame. On many issues, I actually feel more Conservative--personal responsibility, many moral issue, many national defense issues. But I stopped counting the number of times, in such gatherings, the conversation got thorny on this one issue, and I get sick of explaining to otherwise intelligent people how there is a difference between immigrants and the descendants of slaves.

Anyway--don't take my word for it. Ask your acquaintances, Liberal and Conservative, and see how it falls out. Yep, there are plenty of Conservatives who believe the "playing field" isn't level--but that social engineering isn't the way to fix it. And there are Conservatives who believe that blacks are, on average, less intelligent--while still granting them humanity, and giving full respect to those blacks who ARE intelligent (unfortunately often attributing this to the intermingling of white blood.) I can deal with both. But it should be no surprise which group I feel more comfortable with on this matter.


Saw "Mummy 3: Curse of the Dragon Emperor". Meh. Whatever you input in quality, your output is usually a level down. Spielberg seems to have absorbed the work of the absolute masters (to the point that Kubrick selected him personally to film A.I., a pet project for over a decade, that he did not live to create.) Stephen Sommers digested Spielberg to create "Mummy 1 & 2". A step down, but entertaining. And Rob Cohen seems to have digested Sommers to create an instantly disposable "entertainment" that utterly wastes two of film's most fascinating and dynamic performers: Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Oh, was I ever glad I'd read the nasty reviews. As a result, I expected little or nothing, was just looking for a way to burn some time on Saturday with Jason. And was mildly amused. A few observations:

1) There actually is a smidgeon of sex between two Asians, glimpsed at a discrete distance, but it's there nonetheless. Needless to say, it ends quite badly for both. (And by the way...someone said there is a brief flash of sex in "Dream Girls," maybe between Eddie Murphy and some nameless chick Did anyone catch this? I must have blinked. If it's there, though, I want to play fair)

2) There is a romance with an Asian girl...with a white guy. Huzzah.

3) The action scenes are muddy, hurriedly choreographed, badly directed and badly edited. Often, I could barely tell what was happening. A mortal sin considering they had to KNOW that if you cast Jet Li, his fans expect to witness his incredible grace of motion. Cast him AND Michelle Yeoh, and we have the reasonable expectation of action Nirvana. Nope. There is a scene between them, but you could have choreographed it with any two reasonably agile actors. What a disappointment.

4) Rather than a major piss-off, the Yetis were actually one of the best things about the movie.

5) In one eye, out the other. "Mummy" isn't an insult, just instantly forgettable.


Steve Perry points out, rightly, that in the top 10 movies of all time there is very little nookie. But his sample is too limited. The percentage in those movies that earned above 100 million is above 20%, and those are the only numbers I'm talking about.


Pagan Topologist said...

Steve, I think it is fiendishly difficult to understand a point being made when one does not agree with the premises, but it is even more difficult when one does not understand the premises underlying the discussion. I do not know what can be done about this. I think understand what you mean oftentimes, and then when someone makes a comment that seems unrelated, I wonder if I missed the point, or if the other commenter did, or perhaps both.

Steve Perry said...

Not just the top ten, Barnes -- check the top 100 domestic:

or the top 100 worldwide:

This latter list has three hundred biggies.

Still not much hide-the-sausage going on until waaay down the list.

To get the big bucks, you want that PG-13. Soft R can do it, if the rating is for violence, but if a picture is gonna take the summer, you need families, or a lot of repeat viewers. You can take the kids to see Men in Black; taking them to No Country for Old Men. Maybe not ...

Daniel Keys Moran said...

It's worthwhile pointing out that if you really want to compare apples to apples, you should be adjusting movies for inflation and population growth. Just since Titanic ticket prices have gone up by 50%, for example.

Adjusting for population is more work than I or anyone else is going to put into it, but you can get lists of inflation-adjusted movies in various places. Here's one.

Steve Perry said...

Good point, Dan'l.

But, even adjusted, we still aren't talking about sex as a major factor. Gone With The Wind did as much as it was able in the late 30's, but it would probably get a G-rating today. Carrying Scarlet up the stairs is not the same as T&A.

Not a lot of romping in the lists, gross or adjusted for inflation. I think that's the nature of blockbusters -- wide appeal needs to take care not to offend too many potential viewers.

Christian H. said...

I already knew that sex doesn't really sell. It's just tolerated. It was always just a "shock factor" element that more than anything told women they were only good for T&A.

No wonder I don't want any kids. Anyway, as far as Jet Li, he is proof that other minorities get FAR LESS exposure than blacks. But as a grain of salt he was a "bad guy."

Everyone should know that to maximize profits, LITTLE WHITE KIDS have to want to see the movie. Why? Because you get more tickets sold per unit(family) and kids will always be repeat business if they like the movie.

I had a discussion abotu that on another site and it's gospel. It may be unfair that blacks were slaves and that many whites take full advantage of their head start, but we're all in this together so the key is that each cultural group needs to work hard to hail themselves in the midst of a melting pot.

It's easier for whites as they control most of the wealth (well, the English anyway) but the other groups can "promote" their way into the mainstream by only concentrating on the quintessential an not the sub-culture.

I mean look at Rush Hour. The first two were "American" and did well. The third embraced stereotypes and didn't.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, he compared himself to one of those women;

"I mean, I'm so overexposed, I'm making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."

Mike R.

Marty S said...

Steve: Most of the conservatives I associate with ascribe performance gaps between Blacks and Whites to the socioeconomic conditions they grow up under, not to racial inferiority. However, most conservatives I know are conservative more because of financial issues than social issues. The question in your previous post as to who are the rich is much more relevant than anything else to my labeling myself as a conservative and voting Republican. I did ask four conservatives I know what would you consider rich. Three said assets of ten million or more, one said assets of five million or more. None of these people had assets even approaching these numbers, but they regard some one with a mere million in assets as comfortable but not wealthy. If a person were to do as you suggest and say save ten thousand a year for a forty year working career at 5% interest he would accumulate about a million dollars

Bennett said...

As I understand it, the Conservative stance on the problems of others is that they ought to be responsible for improving their own situation without interference from those whose business it is not.

However, when the problem is race, precisely how do you individually solve the problem of racism? I think maybe that's why the Liberal perspective of collective action (there's often a certain pendulum of Safety vs. Freedom that the viewpoints trade depending on the issue) appeals more to those who experience rather than selectively notice racism.

I'm an educated hetero white man in the US, between 18 and 35. The game is set up with me in mind. So it'd be easy for me to say everyone should just do it on their own, since it's easy for me to do personally.

On a somewhat related note, I've seen a lot of surveys (and anecdotal personal observation) that shows people of my generation really do consider Obama's race a non-factor in his candidacy and general personhood. Anyone else sanguine that this will turn out to be like the Irish Problem and just age itself to death?

Because I gotta say, I'm with Steve all the way on the movie sex issue. If I gotta see a man making love onscreen, I'd much rather watch Denzel or Will than Seth Rogen or Will Ferrel's bare backsides. Just on pure aesthetics, which is ideally what a good love scene should be. IMHO.

Paul Worthington said...

re: the McCain ads:
I believe you should be advising the Obama campaign, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Okay steven.

You're more comfotable around people who hide any bad feeling they may have (even from themselves).

Who tell you it's not your fault (collectively).

People who give you sympathy and demand nothing (collectively).

People who say what you want to hear.

Me too, but my parents are dead and no one else treats me like that any more.

John M.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

See, you don't know enough liberals. We're really nice.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Let's see how well my point of view about fatness comes through.

I believe that there's a wide range of normal, healthy body compositions.

People evolved under varying conditions of food availability and infectious diseases, so it makes sense that there are different healthy default levels of fat storage.

It makes excellent evolutionary sense that women tend to put on fat after giving birth. Hunter-gatherer women had to feed babies out of their bodies for up to four years, and having some reserves for winter or other food shortages is survival stuff, not some sloppy indulgence.

We happen to live in a society that has extremely severe standards for fat percentage. People seek status, and that's what drives the current concerns. It isn't about health, or people with cancer wouldn't be told how good they look.

Nor would many fat people have problems getting treating for their actual illnesses. It happens all too often that fat people get told to lose weight as though it would cure everything that's wrong with them. This is a sign of thinking that losing weight is magic, not a rational evaluation.

I don't not believe that what men find attractive is an automatic measure of hunter-gatherer reproductive fitness. As far as I can tell, what men find attractive is a mix of fertility measures, personal idiosyncrasy, and imprinting, with some of the last being status-related. I'm not saying culture rules completely, but it can make a huge difference. The biggest example is foot-binding. There was millennium of crippled women being considered highly erotic status symbols. They weren't a hunter-gatherer plus.

For that matter, large breasts aren't the most efficient thing for hunter-gatherers.

One of the signs of a moral panic is that there's no effort at harm reduction. It's usual to talk about fat people's knees, but I've never heard a recommendation to strengthen the muscles around the knees in advance of getting into trouble. In my experience, body work (Alexander Technique and the like) has solved my knee problems while I'm at the same weight, but I don't expect people to recommend body work since practically no one has heard of it. (And I'm beginning to think that it gets so little traction in the culture because it doesn't fit into the standard effort-and-redemption model.)

I believe that people benefit by finding a combination of food and exercise that makes them feel good. People's sense of well-being is not broken, but they don't get a lot of encouragement to explore it.

Marty S said...

Bennett: Steve is on target about one side seeing the other the way they want. Just because someone has labeled a particular viewpoint the conservative or liberal stance on an issue doesn't mean all or even most people who view themselves as conservative have that viewpoint. At the extreme I could agree with the Republicans/Conservatives on exactly one issue and if were the most important issue to me end up voting and aligning myself with them.

Josh Jasper said...

If you think it's tough being black when around conservatives, being GLBT is a nightmare. There's next to no support, and huge amounts of antagonism. Any conversation about GLBT people in a conservative forum will inevitably have someone call us disgusting or disease ridden. It's practically Pavlovian. And it's tolerated far too easily.

I think that if you could expect that, almost every time you went to an open, well known conservative forum, someone were to refer to blacks as disease ridden child molesting animals, you might have a slightly differnt view. It's not really the subtle racism you see in the Obama ad. It's really really blatant. And it's acceptable to say that sort of thing in most conservative forums. Sure you get people disagreeing with you, but I seldom see people kicked out, or shouted down.

So that's why I find it so much easier to be around liberals than around conservatives. I know not all conservatives are anti-gay, and not all liberals are tolerant. But I don't think I've ever expected that liberal forums will tolerate the incredibly blatant hate I've seen in conservative ones.

It's a shame. I've had plenty of good reasons to vote for the more conservative candidate from time to time. I'd like to see second amendment rights strengthened, and other conservative goals met.

Unknown said...

Found this chart rather interesting, it's a listing of how we ate in 1970 vs how we eat now;

The short version is that we eat 1.8 pounds a week more now than then, including .5 pounds more of fat.

Yep, that would pretty much cause an huge increase in obesity all right.

Steve Perry said...

Nancy --

Good points, well-made. There are wide varieties of shapes, endo- ecto- and mesomorphs under the sun, and not all of us are going to look like Paris Hilton. Nor should we aspire to that ...

A couple of things to consider further.

What is "natural" for people isn't necessarily what is best, vis a vis health and welfare. When we were hunter-gatherers, fat was an advantage, especially to women with children. Stipulated.

When we were hunter-gatherers, we didn't live in air conditioned and heated houses, wear running shoes and cotton T-shirts, drive to work, use computers, nor, on average live much past the age of twenty due to a plethora of illnesses and injuries.
Not much in way of dentists, doctors, antiseptics, vaccines, nor good soap and hot showers. There is evidence that we drank, smoked, did drugs, and killed each other at the drop of a thigh bone.

"Natural" is a wastebasket term, and the natural state of humans living on the veldt, following the herds and digging roots is well behind most of us.
(Any of us in this forum.) Not appealing to me in the least.

Those old reflexes and responses are slower to change than our circumstances. They are hardwired into a system that changes far slower than the march of civilization -- such that it is -- and many of those things that were useful no longer are, or are even harmful.

Classic fight-or-flight response is a good example. It takes big energy to light that fire, it costs a lot of fuel, and it puts big stress on the person having it.

The bear jumps out of the woods, you haul ass, or you go for it with the sharp stick. Or you freeze and hope it doesn't see or smell you. Those are the hardwired hindbrain responses.

If your boss jumps down your throat at work, the system fires up. But: you can't run, you can't stab him, and freezing doesn't work because he can see you. Your motor races, and it does bad things to you physically over time. Probably more than half of what a typical doctor today sees is stress-related.

This response is apt to be kicked on more frequently now than it was on the veldt, given the nature of car commutes and bosses, and you aren't allowed to use the hardwired responses, which is not healthy.

If somebody wants to say, "Hey, I'm fat, and I'm okay with it, fuck you." that's fine. Or that they have addressed the known health issues, like knees or blood pressure, and have achieved a balance they believe is valid, that's cool, too.

In my experience, most people who are obese have not addressed either of these issues. I don't read minds, but if I had to guess, I'd say that most people who have come to terms with being fat -- hey, I'm fair-fat-and-fine-about it, have done so because they haven't been able to drop the weight and keep it off. They have given up and accepted it because they can't seem to change it, and it seems awfully close the Fox and the Grapes.

Given a magic wand -- or pill without side-effects -- that would fix it, they would reach for it in a heartbeat. The recent news about a pill that might do the trick was front page news. Why do you think that is?

It is better to feel good than look good, no question. If somebody is carrying an extra eighty or hundred pounds they don't need, they don't feel nearly as good as they could.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

Many of the comments seem to echo what I've felt and said about the republican party/conservative groups. I might agree with them on some or even many issues, but I don't feel welcome.

Daniel Keys Moran said...


The problem with American politics, to be sure. You may only agree with conservatives in a limited number of areas -- but votes are binary. You vote conservative or liberal or you toss a coin ... but you get tagged with the whole suite of beliefs of the people you're voting for. I'm not even sure it's unfair -- someone wants to hang Teddy Kennedy around my neck, OK. I would certainly have voted for the man if I ever had the opportunity.

It doesn't mean individuals can't hold very gray, complex beliefs. But the system doesn't permit gray votes.

Marty S said...

Dan: I don't really agree with you. What you like to think of as the conservative suite is the right wing agenda and every conservative I associate abhors the right wing almost as much as you do. More of the conservatives I associate with are pro choice than pro life, most support some form of gay rights and some support gay marriage. Given these facts, conservative republican officeholders who want the votes of people like myself have to be careful about what agenda they support if they want to get re-elected.

Marty S said...

Dan: I don't really agree with you. What you like to think of as the conservative suite is the right wing agenda and every conservative I associate abhors the right wing almost as much as you do. More of the conservatives I associate with are pro choice than pro life, most support some form of gay rights and some support gay marriage. Given these facts, conservative republican officeholders who want the votes of people like myself have to be careful about what agenda they support if they want to get re-elected.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Hmmm ... Marty, I suspect you're defining conservative well out of mainstream usage. If conservatives aren't right wingers, what are they?

Certainly right wingers call themselves conservative ...

Marty S said...

Hey everybody sorry about the double posting.
Dan: There are people who consider themselves in the center and there are people who choose to label themselves either to the right or left of the center and call themselves liberals or conservatives. In each case there are a whole spectrum of people from those who might easily have labeled themselves centrists to those on the extreme right and left. I distinguish and many others distinguish between people who tend to vote republican and tend to support more conservative positions and label themselves conservatives and those who are fanatically conservative and on the "right wing" of the conservatives.
As an example when the government got involved in a single individual's decision on prolonging the life of a person who might as well be dead it was responding to the right wing agenda. Both my wife and I felt like we could vomit.

Steven Barnes said...

Actually, I feel much better being around people who honestly express their feelings. And most comfortable still around those whose honestly reflected feelings include the feeling that one racial group is not superior to others.
Yes, there's less sex among the top 100 films. But that's irrelevant: it doesn't stop people from putting sex in about 20% of movies, and the idea that they only notice that it's not profitable if the leads are of color is rather convenient, don't you think?
Gays and Lesbians clearly have an even shorter end of the stick, no doubt about it. I'd have even more sympathy if they weren't able to conceal themselves--trust me, lots of black people would have spend half their money on skin lightening cream if they could have disappeared, like Jews getting their noses bobbed. A terrible thing to have to do, yes--and I would vote for any measure reducing that necessity. On the movie tip, however, please note that IF one accepts my measure of public acceptance, "Brokeback Mountain" broke 100 million, for what it's worth.

Steven Barnes said...

Conservatives claim (perhaps rightly) that Liberals have too much of a "relative moral and social values" position, failing to care enough about illegal immigration and so forth--not enough differentiation between "us and them." Racism is PURE differentiation between "us and them"--a group can't simultaneously be weak in this perception, and strong in it. I would say that racism tends to be a disease infecting those who have a strong tendency to differentiate (the Right), while, say, moral relativism is a disease that infects those on the other end of the scale (the Left). Both diseases are pernicious. Only those who believe that "their side" contains a greater overall degree of human values could argue about that much, and their opinions are just political bigotry, in my opinion.

Shady_Grady said...

I don't think that liberals have more of a tendency towards moral relativism. I think that some liberals just disagree with the moral values which some conservatives expound.
Liberals have different moral values.

In short because I think someone is wrong doesn't automatically mean I reject the idea of right and wrong.

There's an interesting discussion of that here.

As far as illegal immigration there are both liberals and conservatives opposed to it and in support of it-sometimes for very different reasons. The WSJ editorial page has given a lot of space to very conservative writers who argue in favor of increased immigration, open borders and amnesty for those who crossed illegally. Other conservatives can't stomach the idea.

Some liberals want all illegal immigration halted because of its effect on the working class while others work feverishly for more immigration, "sanctuary cities" and "comprehensive immigration reform"..

Steve Perry said...

Sex doesn't sell? Of course it does. It's used to sell everything from beer to cars to deodorant to, well, you name it. The message is sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious -- drive this car and this beautiful woman will sleep with you.

Want to see something really funny, catch the ads aimed at single, young computer-geek comic-book fanboys run during the coverage of ComicCon. As subtle as a brick upside the head. Most of them last time were for hottie chat lines and male enhancement products and personal body sprays.

Yeah, I watched some of the con on the tube. I'm a fanboy, what can I say?

The same guy who wouldn't think of taking his ten-year-old daughter to an R-rated (for sex) movie will read Playboy while drinking beer he bought because of the commercial with twins in it, while lusting after a Corvette.

Blockbusters are almost always pure escapism. They aren't there to teach you how to live better, or to illuminate the human condition. Not to make to think, and not to trouble you with moral questions.
They want you to walk out of the theater going "Yeah!" and wondering about which of your buds you want to bring to see it the second time. And how soon is it before the vid comes out?

Sure, there is a good versus bad aspect, and always beautiful people up which to gaze, but the folks who make these know that if you keep it moving, it's more likely people will stay in the seas. If you slow it down too much, or if you plop a scene in the middle with nekkid folks wrestling on the bed, so that Daddy has to explain to the eight and nine-year-old kids he brought along what it means, it is going to cause some drop off in your audience.

Daddy, Mommy, Billy, and Judy are two adults and two children's tickets for the PG feature on Saturday afternood. Daddy alone for the hard R or NC-17 is one ticket sold.

It is, as I have mentioned a time or two, easy math.

If Daddy has to further explain why the audience is gasping because one of the nekkid people is a black guy, that's one more strike against a potential blockbuster.

No question that minorities get short-sheeted. But I'm not altogether sure that the biggest blockbusters are gonna be R-rated anytime soon, given the history. Look at the top grossing movies ranked by MPAA rating, and the biggest ones are all PG or PG-13.

Showgirls, the biggest NC-17 hit, twenty million Awful movie.

Passion of the Christ, the biggest R rated, 370. The Matrix movies, less than 300.

PG and PG-13, that's where the mega-hits live.

Smart movie makers can make a PG picture and enough double-entendres to entertain the kids and the adults without the little ones catching one.

Did your ten-year-old son ask you why you were laughing in the first Chris Reeves' Superman when Lois, looking at Supe's tight suit, asked him "How big are you? -- uh, I mean, how much do you weigh?"

Sex sells. Always has, always will. The question is, when is it more profitable to use something else instead? Or to be much more subtle, so the sex is there but not overwhelming so, and the usual answer is, when you want the largest possible audience. (Titanic notwithstanding, it being the world's biggest date movie. Men who took their women to see it might have been yawning early and often, but by the end, they knew they were gonna get laid when they got home.)

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Steve Perry, thanks for the careful reading.

There's much less evidence than the culture would have you think that fatness is unhealthy. "Overweight" people and 2/3 of "obese" people live longer than "normal weight" people. This is additionally interesting considering the amount of social pressure, harassment, and discrimination that fat people deal with.

It's interesting that the biggest longevity win seems to be in the neighborhood of that last 20 pounds that people seem to have so much trouble losing. Maybe their instincts about how much to eat aren't all that incompetent.

A lot of what drives me on this is that lowering my carbs, fat, or calories much below my current usual level leaves me feeling unhappy and distracted very quickly. A moderate amount of the appropriate food, and I feel good again. This might be an addictive response or an emotional problem, but it feels to me like a body that knows what it wants.

I did find out eventually that much in the way of sugar and simple carbs gives me a miserable bottom-dropping out sort of hunger, and I'm cautious about how much of them I eat. This leads to about 3 pounds of weight loss.

I don't have a history of significant dieting, and I suspect that's why I have almost no inclination to binge.

I've seen quite a bit of evidence that people generally don't get used to eating less than they want, and I seem to have less tolerance for it than most.

I'd move more easily if I weighed 50 to 70 pounds less, but this doesn't sound like a net win compared to being constantly distracted about food.

It's possible to get tremendous gains in pleasure in movement and being alive by pursuing efficient movement. Alexander Technique gives those gains quickly enough to make it obvious.

A while ago, I took a yoga class, and could not manage the handstand. My arms just crumpled under me.

I was studying Alexander Technique at the time, and asked my teacher about it. He was an ex-gymnast, and both helped with how I was moving and gave my some detailed advice on how to do a handstand. I still remember how an effortless handstand felt.

Most of the people in the fat acceptance movement have done enough with dieting and exercise (contrary to what Steve says, they generally did both at the same time) to have found what it took for them to lose weight, and discovered it wasn't worth it for them. This isn't sour grapes. The fable is about deluding oneself about something being bad if one can't get it. If you try hard, taste them, and find they're sour, that's evidence-based living. If a significant number of people find that the grapes are sour, and a lot of others seem to just be jumping for the grapes and not getting them, avoiding the project isn't just a whim.

I'm not sure that the "would take a pill to be thinner" argument is relevant. People like status, but that doesn't mean the standards by which status is measured are at all reasonable. And I suspect that if a fat pill were available, thinness would no longer be especially valued.

Steve Perry said...

Nancy --

With respect to the research you cite, any that uses BMI as the basis is -- in my view -- inaccurate. The height/weight ratio doesn't not take into account body composition.

Schwarzenegger, when he won Mr. Olympia as the most muscular guy on stage, carrying virtually no bodyfat, would have had a BMI that made him morbidly obese. So would almost every other bodybuilder on stage, and ditto most mesomorphic jocks in any sport that requires muscle.

The mirror test is still the best.

Mortality isn't the only measure of life. We all die, no matter how healthy we might be. The quality of life is demonstrably better in a bunch of circumstances, and being fit and sthenic certainly offers options you don't have if you aren't.

Ask people who have both which they prefer. (Like the old Sophie Tucker line -- "I've been poor and I've been rich -- Rich is better.")

If you need to climb five flights of stairs, or haul the garbage can out to the street, or open a jar and you cannot do these things, then the quality of your life is less than it could be. Yes, you can take the elevator, get a rolling cart, and install one of those Jar-openers, but you are circumventing the core problem and addressing the symptoms piecemeal.

Quality of life. Would you rather live to be ninety, spending the last ten years unable to see, hear, walk, or talk. Or die at eighty in full possession of your abilities? There are people who would choose the former. Not me.

The conditions associated with obesity might or might not kill you, but many of them will make you miserable. High blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, sleep apnea -- the list goes on. If you have none of these to go with the extra weight, then you are fortunate. Chances are higher that you will develop them.

Too fat is bad for you. So is too skinny, despite the can't-be-too-thin-or-too-rich saw. It's like baby bear's porridge.

Sure, something is going to get us all. You can be a total jock who eats bean sprouts and wheat grass and still keel over from a heart-attack at forty. It happens. But less frequently than it does to people who smoke, drink too much, and are obese.

My father is in his eighties, and still smokes, has for as long as I can remember. Because it hasn't killed him yet is not a testimony for cigarettes. The weight of evidence vis a vis smoking is massively on the side of don't-do-it.

Sticking a knife into the electrical socket, running every red light, or pointing a gun at the SWAT team are all bad ideas, too, if you want to stay alive.

Shading the odds in your favor to live a long and high-quality life seems to be the way to go. If you choose not to do some part of the path that way, that's up to you. It might not be worth yourt effort, and that's fine, it's your life. But don't fool yourself into thinking that such choices don't have consequences. And be very careful looking for rationalizations to support them. You might be like my father, the exception that proves the rule, but that's like winning the lottery. It happens, but to few of us.

Feeling good is not only better than looking good, it is priceless. And having been in-shape and out-of-shape, I know which is better for me. And I am pretty sure that if somebody is carrying eighty pounds of excess fat, they will feel better without it, even if they don't live any longer by losing it.

Marty S said...

Nancy: I'm very suspicious of the data showing fat people live longer. Like a lot of statistics you see on the net I suspect it doesn't correct for all factors. I suspect in this case its the family history factor. Many people with a bad family history are very focused on keeping their weight low in order to avoid the family problem. So, if your father and all your uncles died before sixty of a heart attack you are extra careful of your weight, but quite often the heredity gets you any how.

Steve Perry said...

And I guess I have to add this:

I don't think that people should be judged on things over which they have no control. No automatic strikes for gender, race, or body type. Changing sex or race is not easily accomplished -- Michael Jackson and the "man" who had a baby recently notwithstanding.

But I also have to say that the term "fat acceptance movement" strikes me like "cigarette acceptance movement," or "It's Okay to be an Alcoholic."

One may always have the genetic tendency to be obese or alcoholic, but those diseases are treatable.
There is a choice. People know it, and when they see somebody who is morbidly obese or a falling-down drunk, they will make judgments based on those things. They won't always be right, but they will do it.

You live in our society, you know it's true and it doesn't seem to be going away. Maybe when everybody is tea-colored and all of us overweight, it will.