Reading the latest CBS News Story on Fat out of London today is an extreme experiment in "good cop, bad cop" for readers.
For those of you unfamiliar with the technique (in other words, those of you who've never seen an American television show or movie involving the police), the "bad cop" starts off aggressive in order to attempt to intimidate the suspect. In this case, the bete noir of baby flavoured donuts bludgeons the reader with a one-two combination of visual (a disembodied fat stomach over too-small trousers) and tried-but-untrue fattism:
"Go on, have another doughnut. "
Then the good cop steps in. His job is to befriend the suspect, earn their trust, and invite confidence.
"The obesity epidemic has absolutely been exaggerated," said Dr. Vincent Marks, emeritus professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Surrey. "
There's some back and forth for a while, with the good cop coming out ahead as Eric Oliver, author of the most excellent "Fat Politics." His book was one of the first I read when I got into FA, so I got ready for the white knight to run to the rescue. Sure enough:
"Blaming obesity for diabetes and heart attacks, Oliver says, is like blaming lung cancer on bad breath rather than on smoking. Excess weight may actually be a red herring, Oliver says, since other factors like exercise, diet or genetic predispositions towards diseases are harder to measure than weight. "
All right! Go Eric Oliver!
It gets even better, of course, now that the good cop is on a roll.
"Yet the 1997 Geneva consultation was held jointly with the International Obesity Task Force, an advocacy group whose self-described mission is "to inform the world about the urgency of the (obesity) problem." According to the task force's most recent available annual report, more than 70 percent of their funding came from Abbott Laboratories and F. Hoffman La-Roche, companies which make top-selling anti-fat pills. "
Finally, a mainstream news source is catching on to the plethora of conflict-of-interest that exists in the world of obesity research. What an excellent bit of fact to cast doubt on the legitimacy of one of the more institutionalized anti-fat organizations. Bravo to CBS for bringing it out into the light of day.
But wait, although 70 percent of the article is pure refreshing gold, the bad cop isn't quite done yet. In a surprise move, the good cop switches roles and leaves the FA reader reeling from the let-down:
""The vast majority of people who get labeled under the obesity epidemic are well under 300 pounds and probably are not facing big health consequences," Oliver said. "It's the morbidly obese people who should be worried." "
This from the author of such a great book on fat bigotry? Ouch.
So sum-up, if you ignore the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs, the information in this article is fantastic. Getting through the sanity-watchers barricade to get there, however, is a slog.
Call me pessimistic, or better yet lugubrious (since it's one of my favorite words), but the hasty scramble for legitimization by Eric Oliver in the closing sentence, the rush to assure the reader that he's not talking about the really fat (which, by his definition, includes me), that it's ok to target them with all the institutionalized social hate and government programs as long as you don't hate the middlin' fatties...that's disappointing. I really, really hope he was misquoted or taken out of context. That's always a possibility to keep in mind. I've been horribly misquoted in interviews before, to the point where I had to wince and count to ten before calling the editor. Could Oliver really be suggesting that only "kinda fat" people are really being misrepresented?
Say it ain't so.....
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