Thursday, January 13, 2011

Finally, a Serious Subject: Blogging The Biggest Loser

With a mountain of work on my desk (most of it recently prioritized by my twice-weekly chewing out, and no, morale has not improved, thanks so much for asking), then the obvious course of action is Road Trip! to waste an hour or two blogging about some utterly pointless piece of cultural trash. I'm not quite in stupid and futile gesture territory yet, but we'll see how next week's meetings go.

So yeah, as I mentioned, I'd never seen the show before this season. That makes me seven years and eleven seasons behind it's peak popularity, with an interest that is, I have to admit, less than completely sincere. But that's just how I like to approach fandom. And, like with most Americans, I find some personal relevance here. Although I don't know how I could ever hit a quarter ton, I've nonetheless slid far enough up and down the BMI scale to appreciate just how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off. I have an intimate understanding of what it takes to do that through exertion and discipline, how damn much more that takes for some people than others, and how even small changes of habit, not all of which you have a good handle on (for example, your sedentary job may be unhealthy, but so is not paying the mortgage), can tip you right back to an unattractive equilibrium porkulence. Watching this show makes me appreciate the minor blessing that my own Weebley resting poundage is only in the lower 200s. This, of course, is one of the major unstated selling points of the show. The others include Americans' undying love for cheap sanctimony, and the fact that there's no easier straight line to set up than one for a fat joke. I'll do my best to be sensitive.

1. Let's first dissect the show's basic premise. Yes, we have some people who have really let themselves go, and they've been selected thanks to some (I imagine) intense psychological and physical screening to help predict that the success rate will be high enough among this carefully chosen sample so they will at least not to depress the entire viewership in their where-are-they-now spot. These folks are then subjected to a grueling supervised workout schedule, every filmable moment of which (again I assume) is recorded in order to mine for positive storylines, in an effort to drop the pounds.

JaredAnd really, good for them, they have every reason to be proud of themselves. But the corrollary to all that production is that unless you have 16 hours a day available for exercise under the direction of a crack personal trainer and a team of possibly competent doctors, then don't expect to lose 3% of your body mass every week. Obviously not everyone has this option. It's encouraging how they follow up and all, but I wonder how the average contestant does 2 or 5 years out, because unless your job is "personal trainer" (and more about that in a second), then your regimen is unlikely to be sustainable, or to be compatible with full-time employment. Even here, beyond the careful screening, the TBL constentants have a better shot at staying thin than your average schlub does, because they always have a chance at making a career of their minor celebrity. If they keep the weight off, there's always an endorsement to be had, maybe not full Jared, but there's the opening the new GNC in the Niceville mall and that sort of thing.

2. The show does not neglect to include a smidgen of contempt for its participants by inviting fat jokes. (You'll notice that this formulation cleverly removes the moral responsibility from me, the sarcastic viewer, who is responding to those invitations.) I'll give them a pass on the title, whose backhandedness is overt, and instead present the location as exhibit A. Do the biggest losers compete on a compound? On a set? In a complex? A retreat? A campus? Even a farm or a camp? Nope, it's the Bigger Loser Ranch. Moooo-ve over, losers.

3. I don't know if the whole season is like this, but the first two episodes of the damn show have been drawn out to two interminable hours. Now look, as hinted above, the sedentary but stressful lifestyle of Americans, often forced on them, is an important factor contributing to our general rotundity. (Independent of exercise level! An ariticle in a high-impact journal, but man, if there's any medical research that needs airtight scrutiny, it's obesity research.) This show which exhorts us to get off our expanding asses is all about dulling up the programming in an effort to extend the fraction of precious free time that we spend sitting on them.

(On the other hand, maybe it prepares us for the tedium of riding an exercise bike for 16 hours a day if we do get the bug.)

4. The show is decent enough to limit its advertisers to (among the usual purveyors of cars, investment assistance, and penis stiffeners) to diets and healthy things. I don't believe for a second that this is done out of decency, however. I suspect that the producers have spent some quality time with their actuarial models and concluded that the recriminatory backlash of Very Concerned Viewers would cost more than the substantially increased profits they could get from pitching Doritos and Twinkies to hungry and self-loathing viewers.

5. One of the female contestants is an opera singer. For some reason, I have her to make the finale.

6. I understand the need to milk every emotional angle, but I can't be the only one who finds this policeman's family situation horrifyingly unlikely to lead to fulfilling reconciliation. Dude, if your son said that he doesn't love you because you're a fatass, the problem is not that you are obese, it is that your son is a dick.

7. And okay, I know this is wrong, and I feel like a terrible person mentioning it, but can we please get a shot of Dan and Don on tiny motorcycles. Just one quick clip?

8. Contempt for the contestants exhibit B: they really played up that doughnut thing last night, lingering on the torture the poor guy was feeling about tossing that pancaked cruller into the dumpster. I mean, I thought for sure he was going back for it as soon as the cameras were off. I expected to learn this at the big weigh-in ceremony. (Good for him though.)

9. In my own life, it took some time for me to realize that aches and pains from exercise weren't an effect of my general conditioning. When I get a regular enough cycle going, I can look forward to constant discomfort of one kind or another. Now I realize that if you get fat enough, you will be pretty uncomfortable already, but I'm impressed that they are not complaining constantly about screaming knees, shin splints, stiff-as-hell muscles. These poor folks must be so sore they need to be pried out of bed with a canoe paddle in the morning, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't see anybody stretching once.

What?! 10. What was interesting about Rulon Gardner wasn't precisely that he was an olympic wrestler, but that he was a kind of unlikely one even ten years ago, a doughy kid with a strained but honest grin who somehow bested a Russian genetic cyborg by the space of a quarter-inch of a lost hold. Presumably there are legal reasons for not including Alexander Karelin's picture in there, but the images of the two of them together were what really told the tale of the match.

Judging your lifetime fitness level against your prime bulemic high-effort wrestling best is a forbidding standard, and while he seems like a nice guy, even in 2000, you could see that he was on the thin side of his normal weight. You could see that those heavy-guy features were ready to threaten the integrity of his unitard about five minutes after he stopped training. More than most of the contestants, he's well-suited to a mad dash of weight loss, and while they need the pounds off, feast or flail is not the strategy they need for the rest of their life.

11. I don't much like Bob and Jillian. I mean, it's somewhat refreshing that Bob is fit and attractive into his forties (and even Jillian would have been retired from MTV ten years ago), but the cult of Bob and Jillian is creepy. Look what those contestants gave up last week just to bask in their twin glow.

I do think that the two of them are sincere in their drive for the Losers to succeed (who wouldn't be?), but I'm not buying the shows of empathy for a second. Not only are they high-metabolism people feigning to understand folks cursed with a low one, but exercise is their job! That Jillian confesses to having been tubby when she was twelve years old or so is telling. Adolescence is a tough time, and there are lots of kids who grow out of it late, but it's not really the same thing as weight maintenance as an adult. I think trainers have a valuable role as teachers, for people who don't know how to exercise, or who need some new suggestions. But inspiring? How is a normal person supposed to relate?

12. I'm ambivalent about the trainers, but I attained an instant and active loathing for that smarmy blonde doctor they trotted out. First, you figure that your average doctor on the show has about as much professional integrity as the medicos who signed off on the treatment of prisoners in Iraq. (Given the size of these people, and how hard they're pushed, it's a bit alarming. The wiki article on TBL doesn't suggest that everything is perfectly kosher, even though a heart attack would take a worse toll on the viewership than an advertisement for Little Debbie.) That age calculator he drags is about as scientific as that computer simulation that told Lisa Simpson she needed braces, and his accusing "evidence" hurled at Dan (or was it Don?) was about the lamest tv-drama bombast that ever failed an audition.

But what really gets me is that here's the guy on the show who's not holding back to belittle these people in the bad way. I mean, they're here because they want to make a change and are willing to do it. Does it help to rub it in their face how badly they've been fucking their lives up?


Keifus said...

Addendum: I suppose it's a remote possibility that anyone remembers this post. Around 2004 or 2005, I decided that I needed to take much better care of myself, and pretty much went off the Loser end. At my craziest, I was swimming 5-7 miles per week, which was exhausting, but the effort paid off as described, and I kept going pretty well until 2008, when my wife's classes went full-time, and I had a single-parent lifestyle thrust upon me. We were never home at the same time, and minor luxuries such as spending a couple hours in the gym on a work morning disappeared. The last two years have been a slow and painful backslide, even though I've kept up what regimen I could fit in. D. is now on first shift again, and with luck, I can get fully back on the wagon now.

But wow, it feels like it's such small differences in lifestyle that can pitch you back, and then it takes a dramatic one to bring you forward. It's very depressing, and I feel for these poor bastards on the show.

[Btw, I hate those old pictures. I'm a little dorky, a little Frankensteinish, a little Osmond-esque, and a little snide. I don't think I normally appear nebbishy or quite so much like a fat douchebag about to snap his suspenders after eating the last corndog at the fair. Hope not anyway. I think the lower picture looks like a much younger and handsomer actor posing as me.]

Sorry, enough talking about myself. Enjoy the programming.

Michael said...

The same lifestyle that had my weight remaining level at 175 now seems to want to add a pound a month or so. Metabolism slow-down in my old age probably.

Hope you dodged the bulk of that snow dump bud. Hell of storm.

Keifus said...

Yeah, at 38, there's none of the rewarding burst of efforts that I could pull off in my twenties. Everything's "lifestyle" now.

Got about two feet. Shoveled it out (Junior only helped a little), and life goes on. Going sledding tomorrow morning, and the hill, after the snow and then the cold, should be a totally awesome sheet of ice. (Bought everyone ski lessons for Christmas, but still don't have the license to just up and go do that, even though there's a mountain like 20 minutes from here. It's driven me nuts for years.)

Cindy said...

I've never watched TBL, not much tv at all really. But I have followed "the cult" of it because really you can't get away from Jillian's face anywhere! I see her on FB ads, in the grocery store, on billboards and I always think to myself "sorry, but I wouldn't want to be you" ... so she's just not that inspiring to me.

I wish there was some fairness in the weight world, whereby you would lose whatever you would have gained when you pass up some incredibly fattening food. Alas, no one promised me fairness (or a rose garden either for that matter).

I think the most telling thing about the show is the same thing that crops up in Politics and Religion - everyone is looking for someone who is worse off than they are, who is more humiliating to imagine and so we can garner some modicum of "self-esteem" for ourselves.


However, as usual, I'd read anything you write because it is just that good.

Keifus said...

Never watched it before two weeks ago, but there's a lot to unpack, not all of which is positive. The folks do tend to take off a lot of pounds though, and do really push themselves, digging out of the gigantic hole in which they've sunk their lives. The producers get away with all the subtle negatives because they are also helpful and supportive. But still...

And thanks for that. Can't agree, but appreciated.

(Now gotta go, Pats game!)

Cindy said...

Yeah, sorry for your Pats. It was a good game. Brady seemed a bit off, though. Or maybe the expectations are SO high.

I was telling hubby that if I were Bill Bellicheck I would lean on Brady to go stealth next year, and nix the GQ star path.

Just me, though.

Keifus said...

Nope, looks like Rulon is a total tool. If he and his buddy had motivation and discipline all figured out, can't help but think they wouldn't be on the damn show in the first place.

Damn you switters! I hate this crap. Think I'll go read to the kids.

(Tom Brady? Who's he?)