Nobody Wins the Oppression Olympics (except the haters)

I’ve been reading a bit of the reaction to this pulled ad, and have some thoughts. As a quick summary, the ad features jokes about people of color, Jewish people, gay people, and people of size, and is meant to highlight that for those who consider the first three jokes unacceptable, the fourth should also be considered unacceptable.

If this is an ad that is trying to make the point that jokes about people of color, Jewish people, or gay people are not cool and we need to also place fat jokes in the not cool category, it fails. There’s one overarching rule about the Oppression Olympics: nobody wins (except the haters, as they laugh their butts of at the infighting of civil rights activists).

However, there is a way this ad could work:  if it were appealing to people who already believed that jokes about people of color, Jewish people, and gay people were wrong, but may not believe jokes about fat people are wrong. On its face one might think this is a small group, but trust me, there’s plenty of fat hate in liberal-minded communities. This ad would contrast what liberal-minded people already considered repugnant with something they perhaps did not, and make them think about why it’s okay to hate on fat people, if they’re so liberal-minded and all.

If the ad were portrayed as described in the last paragraph, it could work and be really meaningful. In that context — the one where the audience is filled with people who already don’t think it’s okay to hate on people based on their skin color, heritage, and sexual orientation — throwing size in the mix is interesting and could be the catalyst for those particular people to start questioning their own possible sizism.

Considering that the ad isn’t going to mean much to anyone except a liberal-minded audience at any rate, the argument that since the public *isn’t* completely liberal-minded is the reason the ad should be pulled, seems to taste a bit flat. There are indeed times when talking about discrimination as a general abstraction with many examples (including discrimination based on color, heritage, and sexual orientation) can help movements who don’t yet have a popular foothold even amongst the liberal-minded.

What do you think? Should the ad have been pulled because it “participates in the Oppression Olympics”? Are there times when talking about discrimination as a general abstraction doesn’t marginalize discriminated groups, but rather empowers them as being part of a more general phenomenon, an ugly part of human nature against which all sorts of marginalized groups should band together and fight? Should talking about sizism in the same breath as racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism be avoided, regardless?


7 comments on “Nobody Wins the Oppression Olympics (except the haters)

  1. vesta44 says:

    All of these discriminations intersect in one way or another – fat Jewish women, fat black men, queer fat folk, etc. While liberal-minded people may think it’s not ok to joke about queerness, racism, sexism, etc, they still make their fat jokes and still think it’s ok to shame fat people because being fat is a “choice” unlike the rest of those things about which they don’t joke. If it makes them stop and think “Hey, maybe being fat isn’t a choice either” or “Hey, maybe fat people are human beings worthy of respect”, then comparisons aren’t all bad. Where that can go wrong is when one group tries to say that their -ism is worse than another’s -ism. Thatcomparison is one we can all live without. That comparison is the Oppression Olympics that we don’t need. We all need to work together to end all kinds of discrimination, and trying to figure out who has it the worst doesn’t stop any of it for anyone.

  2. limor477 says:

    I think that this ad should have aired on TV because

    1) most people are rational and would find the first 3 “jokes” to be totally offensive (i.e. would never make them or laugh at them)

    2) most people who would never make or laugh at the first 3 “jokes” would most likely make or laugh at fat jokes.

    An ignorant moron will likely never change. That’s why there will always be racist/sexist/otherist/etc. people around. However, rational people can be enlightened about this sort of thing. Since most people are rational, I think that this would be an effective ad.

    As a person who fits into two of the “joke” categories (Fat, Jew) I am not offended by this ad.

  3. La di Da says:

    Just a note – this ad was never intended to be used as a real ad. It’s from a TV show that criticises advertising and marketing and this ad was from a segment where two ad agencies are asked to create an ad to “sell the unsellable”. In this case, fat acceptance or fat pride was the topic. Which is pretty bloody stupid in and of itself, because it is based on the premise that nobody would ever want fat acceptance/pride.

    I also think the guy who made the ad did have the very best intentions – he explained how he was playing pool with a friend while thinking about how he’d make the ad, and his friend made a joke when a fat woman walked by. He had an epiphany I believe he was sincere about that fat discrimination was just as bad as any other discrimination. I’m not sure that repeating offensive jokes in necessarily the way to go about pointing this out, unless you were sure that your audience would find the first three offensive and then be shocked into realising that they were laughing at fat people in the same way those “rednecks” (or whoever) they consider themselves superior to laugh at racist or homophobic jokes. Someone who considers those jokes actually funny probably wouldn’t get the point of it.

  4. […] and my take on it Posted on May 15, 2009 by welshwmn3 All around the internet, people are talking about that ad from The Gruen Transfer, the one that wasn’t aired.  They are doing […]

  5. blablover5 says:

    I find the panel discussion afterwards much more interesting. That it was a smaller man who probably knows next to nothing about FA came up with this idea.

    Maybe it’s just a glimmer of hope that the general public is starting to realize just how insane fat shaming really is getting. There are always the bigots but it’s those who always thought before that it’s just a joke are starting to have a face put to those jokes and are finding loved ones are being the brunt of it.

  6. buttercuprocks says:

    I blogged about this too…

    … and came to the same conclusion as you did about a liberal audience being the one that would be the most responsive to such an ad. Some of the vilest anti-fat invective I’ve ever seen has been spouted by those who consider themselves liberal. (Most of the responses to Marianne Kirby’s posts in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free forums spring to mind. The Guardian is widely recognised as the UK’s most lefty liberal newspaper but the CIF forums make the Daily Mail look positively tame by comparison).

    Perhaps I’m participating in the Oppression Olympics here, though that honestly isn’t my intention, but from a UK perspective, one of fat discrimination’s distinguishing features is that it has yet to be recognised as a legitimate form of discrimination. Unlike the other forms of discrimination cited in the ad, it’s also in its infancy. Being fat has never been a stigma-free cakewalk but it’s only within recent years that fat discrimination has become a tool of government agencies, (such as taking fat kids into care if their parents don’t put them on diets to lose a prescribed amount of weight; doctors being instructed by the NHS to build a “fat map” of the country, and so on). This is where it starts to move from sticks-and-stones to serious life-meddling shit.

    My guess is that fat discrimination will have to become very much worse in whatever ways it has the potential to become so, before it is meaningfully questioned or challenged by society. Personally my alarm bells started clanging when I heard the Spiked interview with Tam Fry, mouthpiece of the National Forum For Obesity, who was talking up genetic tests that will identify unborn children with the potential to become fat. That when it goes from serious life-meddling shit to Gattaca. Maybe.

  7. richie79 says:

    “there is a way this ad could work: if it were appealing to people who already believed that jokes about people of color, Jewish people, and gay people were wrong, but may not believe jokes about fat people are wrong”

    The problem with that line of reasoning is that I suspect most of those people would not only ‘not get it’, they’d be supremely and fundamentally offended by the very idea that someone could place size discrimination in the same category as ‘proper’ protected classes such as race or sexuality. After all, fat people can supposedly ‘change’, and generally the progressive sense of fairness and tolerance only extends to those aspects of identity over which one has no control. Of course we know that’s bullshit, and largely irrelevant, as freedom from discrimination shouldn’t depend upon one’s willingness / determination to conform with narrowly-defined social norms, but to the rest of the world, even otherwise highly intelligent folk who consider themselves above being conditioned to think a certain way, it’s damn near gospel.

    Personally, I think it’s a powerful and thought-provoking ad, but then I’m also approaching it with a certain level of existing awareness of the nuances of the debate, and from a particular ideological position. I can also very much see how it could potentially backfire by raising hackles (I’m thinking back to some of the debates around the fatosphere a couple of years back, where people actually DID play oppression Olympics and DID come out and say that fatphobia couldn’t ever possibly be as bad as racism, homophobia, ableism etc) and end up further alienating those from other social justice movements were it to be more widely aired.

    And La di Da, my first thought on reading about the campaign was similar to yours; if fat acceptance is being used to epitomise ‘the unsellable’, we have far more work to do than even this eternal pessimist ever thought.

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