Realized that I never wrote about my obsession with The Biggest Loser, the reality TV competition which pits wretchedly obese people against each other to see who can lose the biggest percentage of body weight.
I haven’t been writing about either project I’ve been chewing on–one a public project in time, for which I’ve created one video installation so far.
The other project is more personal, a private piece, not to be shown or shared–but some of the things it has been making me think about are worth sharing. I’ve been thinking a lot about American cultures of self-improvement, American ideas of self-improvement and self-determination as I’m approaching going to school.
I’ve been at a kind of crossroads as an artist (am I never not at a crossroads?), about ideas of entitlement and self-confidence and individuality and gender and etc. So I’m reading a lot of self-improvement books and various novels and such (from re-reading the Great Gatsby to Roosevelt’s Strenuous Life”).
And nowhere is the quest for American self-improvement as transformed into spectacle as in the Biggest Loser.
Burlesque of the olden days, far from being the glossy neo-burlesque clean good time, was dirty, it was dirty, it was the equivalent of strip clubs, please get that, neo-burlesque women who are finding some kind of pseudo-feminist “empowerment” from shaking your tatas for polite audiences who find it some element of prurient cultcha.
Anyway, burlesque would have naked ladies, comedians, and singers singing sentimental songs. So it was a full experience. I know that when I go to strip clubs, I enjoy it for the first 20 minutes and then get depressed. It’s like that amazing shift that happens after you have an orgasm from watching porn. Whatever you were watching instantly looks awful.
Old burlesque covers it all, emotionally–naked ladies, comedians, singers. You can get hard, get laughs, get sentimental and cry. Even if the latter two parts were subsumed by the overarching desire to go stroke in the balcony.
And Biggest Loser is similar. You get the grotesque eww of a horror movie–because these people are so grotesquely fat. You get the thrum and excitement from the element of competition. You laugh at their struggle as the fatties try and fail at exercising. You also feel sympathy as they struggle (more of the grotesque stuff). And then, ultimately, when they do lose weight, because they’ve been exercising 6 hours a day and not eating, and their eyes fill with tears as if it were magic, and they talk about how this is changing their lives, they were never able to do this before, they are becoming inspirations to others, if they can do it, so can anyone.
As the show progresses, they even have the psychological element–over time, you get the additional thrill of being let into these people’s personal lives, the underlying problems that turned cancerous over time, that caused weight gain–their absent, abusive parents–the family deaths–one woman lost her two children (one 6, one 2 months) and husband in a single car wreck, for God’s sake! And we get to stroke our own chins and help them pathologize it.
Essentially, the Biggest Loser is quintessentially American emotional pornography. It scratches all the itches–competition, grotesquerie, emotional melodrama, Hallmark card inspiration–all of it–that plagues a country which still battles between Puritan self-help and the desire to eat whole pizzas, battles between abstinence-as-birth-control and fucking as many plastic hotties as you can.