I was on TV last night. Granted, if you blinked or scratched yourself you’d have missed me but I WAS on. I must - some other time – go into the whole matter of how some people who see you every day believe you take on a new, more concentrated life when you are part of a media moment (“I heard/saw you on the radio/TV last night!’). But for now, let’s skip that and concentrate on ‘The Big Debate: Dead Fat’ programme on BBC1 NI.
I hated it; everyone else seemed to love it. When the studio audience were told to clap their hands off at the start and end, they did. Even when they weren’t told to they clapped. Someone would say something like “I weighed 24 stone and now I’m 16” and the applause rippled all over the place. And yes, before you ask, I was a hypocritical bastard and I did put my hands together with everyone else, but only because I didn’t want to seem churlish or anti-people who’d weighed 24 stone and were now 16.
The thing is, Stephen Nolan taps into something in people. I don’t think he’s unique in that respect. I’ve attended live broadcasts involving George Jones, Hugo Duncan, John Daly, and people responded with the same delight to their presence. Maybe they’re all really good, or maybe it’s that people get excited when they get close to famous faces they’ve hitherto seen only on TV or heard on radio. Which, when you think of it, is the other way round from their excitement when someone they’ve only known in the flesh is heard or seen on radio or TV – “I saw you on TV last night!”.
Anyway, last night’s programme discussed obesity (‘The Big Debate – Dead Fat’) and it was all over the place. There was a man who weighed 29 stone who got most of his stomach removed and now weighs 12 stone (he got clapped). There was a woman who was some equally enormous weight, and Nolan had a big cardboard cut-out of her when she was really fat, and then he shouted “Would the real Mary Bloggs (or whatever her name was) come on down!” and a plump but not obese woman came down and stood beside him looking embarrassed and he asked her how she felt when she was fat and how she felt the way she is now and then he asked her to give him a hug. And she did. And everyone clapped again.
There was some stuff about the cost to the NHS of obesity and whether the public should bear the costs of stomach-stapling, and there was talk of whether parents who had fat children should feel guilty. But the programme in general was larded with a sentimentality factor that had my buttocks clenching with the frequency of a Sharon Shannon squeeze-box.
Three points, the last of which I raised near the end of the programme:
1. Assuming they’re adult and sane, people have choices. In terms of obesity they can overeat or not overeat, they can get regular exercise or not get regular exercise. It doesn’t take a psychologist to come on and talk about people’s ‘relationship with food’ to reach that conclusion.
2. If Tiger Woods had said to his wife “Darling, I really want to be faithful but even though I try and try, I find I just can’t”, she’d probably have given him an answer with the heavy end of a golf club. Or if I told a cop “Officer, I really want to keep the speed-limit but however I try the needle keeps hitting 80”, he’d be unlikely to put away his notepad. So how come if we accept that actions carry responsibility in these matters, actions in the fat world seem to carry at best ambiguous responsibility and at worst none?
3. At last count, WHO figures showed 925 million people in the world are hungry. I mean, hungry to the point where they’re suffering and dying from malnutrition. Food riots have broken out in a number of places over the last year. Meanwhile in the Western world, we go on psychologizing about our condition as we stuff more food into us than our bodies can cope with. Future more –enlightened generations will surely look back and condemn us as a shower of infantile, criminally selfish gluttons. (Nolan and the rest of the audience received this point in stony silence. Not so much as a hint of an applause-ripple.)
Two post-scripts. First, almost all of the fat people I know on a personal basis are kind, cheerful and often physically-attractive (the thing about fat people being repulsive is a load of cobblers). Second, in the chemist’s this morning (yes I know you call it a pharmacy – I call it a chemist’s so SHUT UP) several women were talking and MARVELLING – it’s the only word – at how wonderful the Nolan programme had been last night and what a difference it was going to make.
Everybody out of step with our Johnny, eh?