The Learning Channel: Now, 72 Percent More Blobbier

By Michael Murray | TV | September 11, 2009 | Comments ()

By Michael Murray | TV | September 11, 2009 |

Another unforgettable special is 650-Lb Virgin. This entry in the fat franchise tries to fob itself off as a success story, as when we meet David Smith-- the 32 year-old subject of the show--he's already lost over 400 pounds and been transformed into a hunky personal trainer.

Sort of.

Although clearly attractive, there's an oddly artificial look to him, like he's the idea of a person, rather than a person himself. He speaks in a slow and spacey way, as if words come with great difficulty. He seems medicated, or in some regard impaired, and as we come to know him through the show, we can see that although his exterior looks pretty good, the interior is still a mess.

Although we never get a clear picture of what forces helped to shape him, we do hear from David that he was molested as a boy and that his mother passed away from cancer when he was at a particularly vulnerable age. Bullied and teased growing up, he dropped out of high school at 17.

Standing in the desert, the transformed David tells us how he contemplated suicide when he was younger. He wanted to immolate himself so that nothing remained of him in this world but his screams. To illustrate this, he kneeled down on the ground and opened his mouth, as if to simulate his last, tormented howls. It was creepy.

At any rate, the show zips over such moments, employing them as tearfully emotive accents rather than surreal signs of unresolved psychological distress.

Presiding over the reformulated David Smith is a little ball of fitness energy named Chris Powell. Powell is credited with Smith's transformation, and is eager to market the success of this metamorphosis and help his "best friend" move from "dud to stud." Perhaps I'm cynical, but this relationship seemed kind of exploitive, with David lumbering around like Frankenstein's monster, while Powell reaped whatever monetary benefits he could for his creation.

The show is a hodgepodge of reality genres, mashing inspirational weight loss stories with dating adventures. David goes on three dates, and he's hopeless, of course, but not in a charming and awkward way that makes you want to hug him. No, he just seemed entirely disconnected, as if he had no understanding of what another person might be. Like a psychopath. Not surprisingly, no love connection was established.

David not only lost 400 pounds, but also had a multitude of cosmetic surgeries done to his face and body.

Whomever David Smith was, he was replaced by a new version, one whose appearance had been sculpted to fit into the mainstream. Like in the quasi-pornographic reality show, "The Swan," David received a new body in the hopes that he would acquire a new life. It's difficult in North America, living amidst a culture of mass consumption, where we're taught that bigger is better, to curb our appetites. We all want fancy cars and extra large steaks. We all want to find love. But there's no escaping the self, and whatever problems are contained within us, are projected out into the world, and no amount of weight loss, cosmetic surgery or designer labels, is going to change that.

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he's written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.

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