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The Morbidly Obese: Now Entertainment for the Overweight Masses

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | July 20, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | July 20, 2009 |

I guess the brood of children reality show — “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” “47 and Counting,” “Octomom Strangles her Newborns” — is an old fad now. TLC is moving on to the next big reality project: They have put into production a half-hour reality show titled, “One Big Happy Family.” The show will chronicle a morbidly obese family of four dealng with the world as a weight-challenged family, as well as their attempts to lose weight.

The family includes a 40-year-old 340-pound father and husband; his 400 pound wife; and their two children, a teenage boy and girl who weigh in at around 340 pounds a piece.

But don’t worry; it’s not exploitative. “This is a very loving family,” series creator, Mike Duffy said. “They are dedicated to losing the weight because they communicate as well as love each other so much.”

The idea makes me incredibly uncomfortable. TLC is capitalizing on obesity, and these four people will not only have to deal with the shit they get at high school and at work, but now they’ll get to deal with the same in the media. And what if the show is a huge success? Will the paparazzi follow them around with wide-angle lenses? What if they do lose the weight? Will we get to see the couple break up and gravitate toward more attractive people on camera? Will it inspire people to lose weight, or to gain weight, in the hopes of landing their own reality show?

I don’t get the country’s sudden fascination with obesity. First there was Paul Blart, and in a couple of weeks, “More to Love” (the “Bachelor” for overweight people) will debut on Fox. Plus, you know, the kid in Up. Are we going to start glamorizing obesity just as the food industry is starting to move away from high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats? Or are we just offering another televised punchline for the masses, who — on average — weigh 19 pounds more than they did in the 1970s (see this week’s New Yorker). But hey! At least they aren’t 400 pounds, so now obese people can look down upon and laugh at morbidly obese people. Yay!

Not cool.

That said, I actually do find, on occasion, some guilty pleasure in watching NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Not to scoff at the overweight people, but to really, honestly revel in the joy that weight loss brings them. It’s a silly, exploitative show, but for those 12 people or so, it means a lot. And I actually find it fairly gratifying from time to time, when everything else is in reruns, and I need some background television.

But I’m still uncomfortable about the TLC reality show. It’s hard enough, I imagine, living as an obese person, but to do it in front of millions? Granted, those millions of viewers may be rooting for the family, but how will the family deal with the disappointment if they fail on national television? I’m not sure I’d want to find out.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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