Aliens Chewing the Fat?
by D. Trull
Unlikely as it may seem, extraterrestrial beings and fat people have a number of things in common. The existence of both groups is largely shunned or dismissed by mainstream society and high culture. The medical and scientific communities have made them objects of scorn and derision because they don't fit into narrowly defined standards of "proper" physiology. In movies and on television, both groups have been marginalized as either heartless villains or bumbling sidekicks. It would seem that if these two persecuted classes were ever to meet, they might be likely to form an alliance against their skinny Earthling oppressors. But a crass advertising campaign has cast EBE's and the obese as mortal enemies, kicking off intergalactic hostilities of hefty proportions.
The controversy stems from a billboard run in San Francisco by 24 Hour Fitness, a chain of health clubs in the western United States. The ad depicts an alien's emotionless red face in closeup with the company's logo superimposed on one giant staring eyeball. In the background, a second alien figure looms behind a misty haze. The stark headline reads, "WHEN THEY COME THEY'LL EAT THE FAT ONES FIRST."
Oooh, scary. 24 Hour Fitness has explained that the billboard was meant to be humorous, but a lot of people didn't see it as a joke. Protesters insist that the ad is discriminatory and offensive towards overweight people -- the very audience whose business the fitness chain is supposedly trying to bring in.
A group of self-styled "fat advocates" held a demonstration outside a 24 Hour Fitness location in San Francisco soon after the billboard's debut. Overweight protesters did aerobic exercises on the sidewalk while others handed out lollipops and brandished signs with slogans such as "Fat and Fit," "Bite My Fat Alien Butt" and "Honk If You're Fat." And yes, the assemblage seized the irresistible opportunity to chant "Eat me! Eat me! Eat me!"
While the protesters were understandably displeased with the suggested threat from hungry alien invaders, it's the deeper insinuations of the ad that they found most disturbing. Opponents of the billboard have pointed out that being overweight and being healthy are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Studies have shown that fat people who exercise regularly are often as healthy as anyone of normal weight. The alien ad seemingly reveals 24 Hour Fitness's marketing motives to be more concerned with vanity and appearance than with health and fitness, say the protesters, which implies contempt for all those who fall short of some imagined standard of physical perfection.
"I can't believe that a gym would have so little concern about the health of people," said Marilyn Wann, organizer of the San Francisco demonstration and author of the fat-activism book Fat!So? "I represent the 97 million Americans who are fat. We're 55 percent of the population. It's really not safe to alienate us, because we might just sit on someone."
"I may be fat, but I'm fit, I'm happy, I'm sexual, I'm all of those things," said Rebekah Bridges, another of the protesters. "How dare an ad man decide for society that we're not allowed to be someplace?"
Wann and other activists have even launched a campaign to have the rights of fat people legally protected by the city government of San Francisco. City legislation already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, age, place of birth, ancestry, disability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity (which refers to transsexuals). The executive director of San Francisco's Human Rights Commission commented that it might be a fairly simple matter for similar consideration to be officially extended to the overweight. Such measures would perhaps help deter further attacks by corporate entities, although their effectiveness against any actual extraterrestrial discriminators would be questionable at best.
In its defense, 24 Hour Fitness has insisted that the billboard was meant to be taken as harmless fun, illustrating the serious issue of fitness in a humorous way. "We all know how hard it is to lose weight," the company said in a press release. "Sometimes humor helps make things easier, and can even be motivational."
24 Hour Fitness made further comments in a statement posted on its web site, in which the word "fat" is repeated in an odd and painstaking manner: "This billboard is a humorous tongue-in-cheek ad approach to raising the level of awareness of losing weight, better known as fat. Whether it's 5 lbs., 10 lbs. or even 20 lbs., our organization is focused on raising the level of awareness in this country about fat loss. ... As you know, the fitness industry is in the business of helping people lose weight (fat)."
Yeah, we know: weight equals fat; fat equals bad; fat-bashing equals good. Apparently the 24 Hour Fitness P.R. department is performing a semiotic tap-dance to reaffirm nasty old inanimate fat as its sworn enemy, rather than fat people. This kind of spin-doctoring seems like overkill for an ad that's supposed to be so innocuous, doesn't it?
Which brings us to the intriguing question at the core of this weighty debate: is the alien billboard legitimately discriminatory toward fat people, or is this one more case of political correctness run amok, and overzealous activists imagining victimization where no real malice was intended? Speaking as a fat guy myself, I can state that I find the notion of aliens coming and eating all the fat people to be irredeemably horrible and stupid. The billboard might not be vile enough to warrant public protests and human rights legislation, but it's a really dumb ad, any way you slice it.
Aside from repelling potential customers and insinuating that fat people are ipso facto unhealthy, the real problem with this ad is that it's way too presumptuous. How the heck does 24 Hour Fitness know that aliens will want to eat any humans at all, regardless of their weight? That sounds like a narrow-minded, stereotypical view of uncontrollable appetites and poor diplomatic skills among extraterrestrials. And assuming they do enjoy dining on homo sapiens, who are these sweat-mongering nimwits to say the aliens would like fat people better than skinny people? It's unfair to speculate that any given body fat percentage would definitely be deemed most tasty by our space brothers. It could very well be the Kate Mosses and Leonardo DiCaprios of the world who get gobbled up, while the morbidly obese are revered as gods and sent to live in paradise on the other side of Andromeda.
Besides, if the premise of the ad were valid, then what exactly is the incentive to sign up for a membership at 24 Hour Fitness? When the aliens are done with the fat people and start scrounging for the scrawny leftovers, the situation is gonna call for more survival skills than you develop from the Stairmaster and tae-bo workouts, I promise you that. The ad would really make a more logical campaign for military recruitment: "When they come they'll eat the fat ones first, and you'll need to know how to kill the bastards or die a miserable death. Join the Army."
And finally, there's a intrinsic contradiction in the ad's message. Surely it's inevitable that by the conclusion of their culinary onslaught, the alien attackers would, themselves, ironically, be fat. How could any organism possibly consume such a high-calorie diet and not gain a few unsightly pounds? Therein lies the ultimate fallacy of 24 Hour Fitness's alien bogeyman, which collapses in upon itself like a Zen riddle -- fat is defeated, but by the same token, fat is triumphant. This billboard unwittingly portrays a reality in which the implacable forces of fatness are destined to become the supreme power in the universe:
Turning and turning in the widening gut
Let this hypothetical doomsday be food for thought for those muscleheads at 24 Hour Fitness, while they consider treating us fat folks with a little more respect. And that goes double for any fat-craving aliens who might be listening.
When they come, it might turn out we'll be the ones eating them.
Sources: 24 Hour Fitness web site; Reuters; Associated Press. Sincere thanks and apologies to William Butler Yeats.
© Copyright 1999 ParaScope, Inc.