I had planned on beginning this Blogcritics feature on TV news with a brief history of broadcast journalism. But I find myself sidetracked by raging anger regarding a current “minor” news story about an issue that has long been a pet peeve of mine: the discrimination against and demonization of fat people.
The story that has fired my ire is the one regarding Lincoln University in Pennsylvania’s stated refusal to allow two dozen academically-qualified students to graduate, because they’re fat. Have you seen much about this on CNN or anywhere else on TV news? Except for a brief mention in the distracting bottom-screen crawl, I have not.
This is an important story, because it significantly ups the ante on an ongoing story: fat people have long been discriminated against by employers, life and health insurance companies, and society at large, which considers fat to be ugly as well as unhealthy. Now, with health care reform on the front burner, we are becoming a society that believes people are obliged to alter their private behavior in the name of the greater good and the creation of social change. In short, it is now irresponsible to be fat — and, apparently, grounds for academic punishment.
While this specific story has caused something of an uproar in print and on the Internet, it’s getting scant attention on TV and certainly no one I’ve seen is making important connections. For example, it is by no means a coincidence that obesity in general is getting even more attention than usual by health insurance companies just as Congress blunders its way through an attempt to craft health care reform. The insurance companies are doing everything they can to 1) stymie reform, 2) convince the public that reform will result in increased health insurance costs for most of us, and 3) attack one of the conditions – obesity – that they claim costs them the most. And since the public generally agrees with the insurance companies in this regard, it only serves to fuel the existing antipathy toward fat people. As a result, this population is getting a lot of Nanny State heat, which I regard as illegal, undemocratic, and a social outrage — but you wouldn’t know it from watching TV news tonight.
Not being a sociologist or anthropologist, I don’t know what societies have done historically to effect social change, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if ostracizing those exhibiting the objectionable behavior is usually a major component, along with changes in law. Therefore, in keeping with “tradition,” our society is promoting what might be considered a positive change for very wrong reasons, and with punitive tactics, as well as little or no understanding of the physiological, medical, and social factors that create and maintain obesity.
Accordingly, denying fat people a college degree they have properly earned simply because they are fat sets a very dangerous precedent and also continues the ill treatment of fat people in all circumstances that has existed since forever. This latest story epitomizes the outrageous measures being used by corrupt insurance companies and financially frightened institutions and corporations to justify their greedy profits and continued disregard for those they serve or employ.
When will an issue like this take center stage on TV news, instead of stories like the one that has been preoccupying recent newscasts: Tiger Woods and his one-car accident? We’re about to send thousands of more troops into the expensive, pointless quicksand of Afghanistan; we can’t figure out how to create meaningful health care reform without spending billions we don’t have; public education is in the toilet; our infrastructure of roads and bridges is crumbling; our economy remains in crisis; and millions of people are out of work or their homes or both.
But our news sources are fixated on a billionaire athlete, and our social efforts are focused on oppressing fat people. Is there not something very wrong with both of these pictures?