[This post is by Ragen Chastain, reprinted with her permission from Dances With Fat.]
Giles Coren writes a column for Esquire about fatherhood. His most recent piece is titled: “I Don’t Care What My Son Becomes… As Long As He Isn’t Overweight.” I thought I couldn’t be shocked by fatphobia anymore but I was wrong.
Before we get into his advocacy of child abuse and killing fat people, let’s take a look at his kid, who he calls “morbidly obese”
I’m going to take his letter and break it down. Please consider signing and sharing the petition to get this piece, and Giles’ column, pulled from Esquire UK. If you’d like to give Giles some feedback on his piece, you can find him on Twitter here . If you’re a dad, it would be particularly helpful if you would step it up and let him know that this is completely unacceptable, and let the world know that whatever the hell he’s doing, it’s not fatherhood.
I’d also like to be clear that this isn’t Giles first day as a human-shaped piece of garbage, having previously published a piece (also for his Esquire column) where he said it was ok if his daughter didn’t do well in school because she could just marry a banker.
Finally, the quotes from his piece will be indented. All are offensive, many cross the line into blatant, violent, hate speech, including discussion of burning. They may be extremely triggering. If you want to skip this post entirely, I don’t blame you. If you want to skip the quotes you will still get the gist of the post without reading all of his bigoted drivel.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at that picture of my son and you’re thinking, “Fat little bastard”. Sure, he’s cute. He’s got a nice little face. He looks a bit of an idiot because his mum took him for a haircut on the morning of the photo shoot (completely failing to grasp the first rule of shoots which is, “never have a haircut closer than two weeks before, or you’re going to look like a chump”) but on the whole he is a good-looking boy.
Wrong right off the bat there Giles. What I’m thinking is “Please, please, please don’t let this article be about a dad who is taking out his size bigotry on his four year old son.”
Except he’s fat. Arse on him like Vanessa Feltz and a full frontal presentation at bath time that puts one in mind of a Gavin and Stacey-era James Corden or a well-waxed Christopher Biggins, all giggly on too much rosé.
At this point (while I know full well that regardless of his kid’s size it’s wildly inappropriate for Giles to think of him this way, or to involve so many other people in his blatant size bias) I am compelled to look again at the picture. While it would be perfectly fine if his kid fit this description, he absolutely does not. I’m forced to assume that Giles wanted to splash around in a pool of fat hate and decided to facilitate that by pretending that his kid is fat. Regardless, there is no size his kid could be that would possibly justify fat-shaming him.
It’s all very well to say that it’s puppy fat. It’s all very well to pinch his cheeks and go, “Who’s a cheeky chubby-chops? Awww, wittle fatty boom-boom…” and nuzzle your face in his tummy and blow raspberries and feel how they ripple through him like a fart in the bath, but what if… IT DOESN’T GO AWAY?
If it doesn’t go away, then you will have a fat kid. If he doesn’t have a growth spurt, then you’ll have a short kid. The thing about kids growing up is that they grow up into adults of all kinds of shapes and sizes and none of that requires ALL CAPS HISTRIONICS because all bodies are good bodies.
You know what I’m saying? Adele’s parents probably thought it was puppy fat too. And Paul Hollywood’s. And Russell Grant’s. No doubt Diane Abbott’s family assumed that she would change shape when she was out of nappies. But the change never came.
Giles seems really, really angry that fat people are allowed to exist and he continues to try to involve as many of them as possible in his bigoted farce of an article.
It’s reasonable to assume that the parents took their eyes off the ball, let their porky pups feast on a shitty diet and do fuck-all exercise into adolescence and now look at them: ostensibly successful, yes, but laughable to behold with their untucked shirts and stretched, shiny faces.
It’s not reasonable – it’s fatphobia and stereotyping. People, including young people, come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reason. People of all sizes eat whatever Giles’ definition of a “shitty diet” is, and people of all sizes choose not to exercise. People’s choices and sizes are none of Giles’ business. People of all sizes wear untucked shirts and have shiny faces. Giles, needs to get ahold of himself, he has completely failed at keeping his blatant bigotry subtle while pretending that he cares about his son.
The sort of people you want to follow down the street playing “Flight of the Valkyries” on a tuba.
No dude, YOU want to follow them down the street playing the tuba because you are an absolute garbage human. I continue to be absolutely stunned that Esquire would allow a piece that is nothing but hate speech to be published, especially under the guise of how to be a father.
And I’m worried as fuck that my little Sam could go the same way. Not only because of how it will ruin his life but because of how it will reflect on me.
I don’t give a single solitary fuck about Giles. I’m worried that Sam “could go the same way” because his father is a raving fatphobe who will undoubtedly do unimaginable damage to him every day until he can escape. (Pssst, Sam, find the Fat Acceptance Movement, a lot of us grew up with parents who were worse than useless as well, we’ve got your back!)
For while obesity as a demographic phenomenon can be classed as disease, epidemic, socio-economic tragedy, whatever, on an individual, case-by-case basis, each actual fat person is blatantly just a badly brought-up, greedy little son of a bitch committing the unforgivable sin of gluttony in a world where there is not enough food to go round.
Being fat doesn’t ruin your life. The thing that ruins your life is this kind of (fact-free) fatphobia. “Obesity” isn’t a disease, it’s not an epidemic, or a tragedy – it’s just a ratio of weight and height. Granted, a ratio onto which some people (many for profit, others for attention, others because they are simply bigots) have heaped tons of negativity.
Also be clear that there is plenty of food to go around. Hunger is a complex issue that has to do with things like capitalism, nationalism, racism and more. And even if it wasn’t indisputable fact that there are thin people who eat far more than fat people, it would still have literally NOTHING to do with fat people existing. This is just another way that people who want to be bigots try to justify their bigotry, and using people who are starving to do it is particularly despicable.
I’d kill them all and render them down for candles.
Let’s be absolutely clear what he is saying here. He is saying that, given a chance, he would kill all fat people, then burn us. It’s not funny, it’s not cute, it’s a call for genocide. (People will immediately suggest that I’m going to far in saying this, those people are a part of the problem. “I’d kill them all” is not an unclear statement.) Anytime you say that everyone who shares a single characteristic should be killed, you are going down a very bad road. I would love to know the name of the editor at Esquire UK who read that sentence and said “Sure, kill all the fat and burn them, that’s totally reasonable. Leave that in.”) Here, again, is the link for their complaints section.
It may sound harsh but how else are we to recoup the tens of billions of pounds they cost the NHS and the wider economy each year with treatment needed, working days lost, hospital beds broken, chairs smashed to splinters and good workers accidentally killed when fat people sit on them?
Here Giles seems to be trying to make another wild stab at justifying his bigotry (won’t somebody please think of the tax dollars?!) But he’s so overcome with his desire to say horrible things about fat people that he can’t even keep it together for a single paragraph.
It is no business of mine what Sam does with his life. I’m not ultimately bothered whether he’s rich or poor, artist or scientist, crackhead or alcoholic, married or unmarried, gay or straight… I don’t care if he runs every letter of the LGBTQI spectrum to the end and back, and comes home with a cock in every hole and says he’s changed his name to Rita. As long as he isn’t fat.
The first sentence may be the only correct and appropriate thing he says in the entire piece. The rest is obviously total bullshit. Now might be a good time to remember that someday, who knows how soon, Sam (who might end up being fat) will read this. The idea that he would be more upset if his son had a larger body that if he was addicted to crack is obviously incredibly troubling, but also troubling is – again – Giles’ tendency to feel free to use some marginalized groups in his quest to oppress fat people. Here he uses people who struggle with addiction as well as queer and trans people showing that while he’s is definitely a fatphobe, he’s certainly not a single issue bigot.
My daughter I am less worried about. Possibly because she is as skinny as a cricket. But if at some point in adult life she pulls the ripcord, well, there are uses for a fat woman. She can be kind of cosy. Whereas a fat man has nothing to offer but his ability to consume. To bring forth upon the world a fat son is indeed a shame before God.
Not satisfied at simply inappropriately (some might say abusively) using his son for this ridiculous exercise, Giles brings his daughter into it and makes the transition to blatant and disgusting misogyny. Unfortunately he doesn’t even have enough new ideas to support the entire diatribe, so we’re back to the old “fat people eat a lot” crap. Even if this was true it would be a tired argument at this point but, again, it’s simply not. And once again I’d remind you that his son will someday learn just how conditional his father’s love for him really is. So while I’m angry at Giles for being such a blatant and vocal bigot, I’m terrified for Sam growing up with an abusive, misogynist, fatphobe for a father, and I would support child services if they removed the kids from the home.
But it’s hard to know what to do about it. I’d put him on a strict diet and buy him a hamster wheel but my wife is not the moral absolutist that I am and she is the one who does the Ocado orders. And cooks most of the food. But is a bit of a lazy tart. Sorry — a busy working mother with many other important things to think about, who knows her way down the path of least resistance.
So Giles also doesn’t respect his wife. This is my not-surprised face. In good news, it looks like Sam may have one decent parent.
So the boy eats a lot of white carbs, sugary cereals, pizza, fried chicken… much like a poor child in America’s morbidly obese central heartlands. Which is why Sam looks like one of them. He doesn’t like fruit or veg and none of us can be arsed to force them down him. But he does like a tub of ice cream and a long run at the television of an afternoon. And on even the shortest car journey he expects his iPad and a sack of Kettle chips.
So he gets them. And I say, “Can’t you give him a carrot instead?”
And my wife says, “If you want him to eat carrots, you try feeding him a fucking carrot!”
So I let it go. And I feel ashamed. But then I see these middle-class kids with their weekday screen bans and their steamed fish and vegetables and no chocolate or sweeties and 10 hours’ oboe practice a day and it makes me want to puke. And I find that I’m kind of proud of our somewhat slutty stance on it all, or lack of one. Otherwise, I suppose, I wouldn’t be admitting to it here.
This is quite the juxtaposition of bigotry – marginalizing an entire swatch of America, middle-class kids, and those who play the oboe is not beginner level oppression. Giles is a piece of shit, but at least he’s good at it? Let’s be clear – giving kids (of all sizes) lots of food choices and helping them to develop a healthy relationship with food is a positive thing, giving kids food and then shaming them for eating it is just fucked up and is basically trying to give your kid an eating disorder.
I try to look on the positive side. Such as the possibility that having a fat adult son — who I will unquestionably continue to love with all my heart no matter what — might help me to lay aside my prejudices regarding fat people and bring me to a more respectful place vis-à-vis the fat and ever fatter future we unquestionably face as a race. And that being grotesquely flabby, sweaty, knock-kneed and impotent would mean that Sam was unlikely ever to have a girlfriend or any mates or be invited to parties, so he’d have more time to work at becoming a nuclear physicist or getting filthy rich and supporting me in my old age.
And then other times I think, “I’d best get the chubby fucker’s jaw wired before he’s old enough to stop me.”
Classic abuser technique. First he spends the entire article being clear that if his son is fat he would be perfectly happy to kill him and burn him, that he would rather he struggle with a drug addiction than be large, that he would consider him to be a “shame before god,” and that his son would (continue to) be the recipient of every piece of fatphobia with which Giles’ little essay is dripping. Then Giles does the whole “I still love you, maybe I can be better” rap. But, as we’ve learned, Giles can’t hold it together for long, so he throws in a few more stereotypes and then leaves a little reminder that he is capable of physical abuse.
My heart goes out to Sam, I hope that he can somehow escape this situation clinging to a healthy relationships with food and his body, and I also hope that he can avoid becoming the super bigot that his father is modeling to him and anyone else who will read his work.
As far as Giles goes, I think we all know where he should go:
Final reminder to take some action here:
File a complaint with Esquire UK
They will require the following info (you can copy and paste to avoid giving the article traffic.)
- The piece is called “Man & Boy: Giles Coren “I Don’t Care What My Son Becomes… As Long As He Isn’t Overweight”
- The link is http://www.esquire.co.uk/life/a18073/giles-coren-overweight-son/
- The publication date is November 9, 2017
The column is intended as black comedy, so it doesn’t make sense to call it out as if it was serious about the hyperbole.
Wow, Giles Coren is terrible at comedy. He should do something else.
Yeah… I’m always skeptical of the narrative when the article commenting doesn’t link back to the source material, but does link to several different forms of #activism.
Here’s the original article, if anyone is interested:
Of particular interest might be the last paragraph:
I read the entire piece as the author having his tongue lodged so firmly in his cheek, his teeth had started to ache. I don’t understand the mindset of someone who could actually read this and could assume that Coren was being serious.
And as for “I’d also like to be clear that this isn’t Giles first day as a human-shaped piece of garbage, having previously published a piece (also for his Esquire column) where he said it was ok if his daughter didn’t do well in school because she could just marry a banker.”
Yeah, let’s share some of his other previous articles (I couldn’t find the daughter-banker one, and guess who didn’t link it?):
“Welcome aboard this giant metal tube of death” “If every airline went the way of Monarch we’d be spared a lot of foul air, pointless holidays and giant chocolate bars”
“Butterfly weddings are out . . . bring on the hornets” “As no one can get married now without releasing some creatures, why not try wild dogs, orphans or prison inmates?”
“Snowflake dogs turn their noses up at squirrel” “The barking-mad millennial trend for ‘clean eating’ is transforming White Fang into a toothless quinoa lover”
I think I’ve found a new favorite satirist.
And right out of the gate we have the “black comedy” defence, cousin of the “just joking” defence and the “its satire” defence.
Sorry, saying something was a joke is not a free ticket out of being criticized for hideous opinions and gross insults.
I understand that suggesting that fat people should be killed and rendered into candles was a joke.
What’s not a joke is the implication that fat people are contemptuous and disgusting. That is the underlying premise of this piece; without the premise, the “jokes” won’t work.
It’s like the antisemitic joke “how was copper wire created? Two Jews found the same penny on the sidewalk.” I can understand that the joke is not meant to be taken literally – and also recognize the joke’s antisemitic premise about Jews being cheap and obsessed with money. Without that underlying antisemitic premise, the joke wouldn’t have ever been made.
I feel like satire is quickly becoming a lost art.
When John Swift penned “A Modest Proposal” he was neither advocating cannibalism nor attempting to normalize it. He was criticizing the ineptitude of Ireland’s political class, the hypocrisy of the wealthy, the tyranny of the English, and the abysmally poor living conditions the Irish people were mired in.
Now, I’m not going to say that Coren and Swift are on the same level, but they’re playing for the same team. The idea was to be so offensive as to provoke thought, but to make it a slow build, to give the goat away at the end either by flat out saying it was satire, or suggesting something so insane it would be blatantly obvious to anyone who really stopped to think about it that it wasn’t said in anything approaching earnest. Melting fat people down for tallow was Coren’s “Eat your kids!” moment.
And ya’ll missed it.
If you read any of the guy’s articles, you will notice two things.
1) He is not funny.
2) He offends all sorts of people. I read a random article, and before I got bored, he offended: Chinese people, Indians (from Asia), judokas, ping-pong players, a bunch of other sports’ fans and players, short people, fat people (again), Irish gypsies…
The guy has found a niche. It’s a big one, so there is a lot of room in it. As someone who is short, and whose daughter will probably remain short, I dislike his disdain for short people, but the idea of getting up in arms about is weird.
Now, if had a chance of demonstrating to him the benefits of judo/sambo and getting away with it, I’d take it. I’m no saint.
Jeff, it’s easy to say (in effect) “well, this was a bit of Swiftian satire, he really meant something else.” What’s your opinion of what that something else was?
Your smugness would make more sense if ANYONE here were arguing that he was earnestly advocating that a law be passed. But no one here is arguing that. I’ve already said, explicitly, that I know it was a joke. It is blatantly obvious to, I feel confident, everyone here.
You’re like a child watching a card trick, and smugly saying “you know, he can’t really pass the card through that glass. That would be obvious to anyone who really stopped to think about it. And y’all missed it.”
Yes, Jeff. Yes, it is obvious. Yes, we know. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Now please stop telling us stuff we already know as if we didn’t know it. Or, if you’re not willing to do that, go away and let us have grown-up talk.
“C’mon guys, it’s a joke.” If you need to say that – or you need others to say it for you, you are terrible at comedy and should find something else to do. Or at least stop telling that joke.
Not at all. It is just really hard to do well, and totally awful when done poorly.
As a palate cleanser, here’s Giles’s sister Victoria with a much kinder (and better-written) take on the subject. (I actually saw someone link this before I had the misfortune to see quotes from the article cited here, but in case some of you didn’t have a similar experience…)
Thanks for that link, Harlequin. I thought the article was going to be a response to Gile’s article, but it’s actually from 2016. Still good, and a relief after reading her brother’s column.
Odd trivia: Victoria is married to the brilliant comedian David Mitchell (of Mitchell & Webb).
I think that dark comedy has an important function to people, as it allows us to grapple with the forbidden. To gain empathy with people who have extreme viewpoints, to examine the validity of our taboos, to take a break from civilization and relatively safely appease our dark side (like one may play a violent game to hurt without hurting a real person), etc. It is also a way to convince people in a non-antagonistic way, by having people agree with increasingly extremist views, until the cord snaps, pushing them to reexamine the things they take for granted. Jonathan Swift did this masterfully, as a previous commenter noted.
I think that the need for this differs per individual & per time and place.
I once read The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi and it really connected with me and moved my thinking. I reread it later and it did nothing for me. I was no longer in the same place, mentally. I think that dark comedy is even more hit and miss for people & when it does miss, it tends to be disliked greatly.
It is easy to condemn that which does nothing for us and offends us. It is easy to condemn gay people walking hand in hand if you are straight too. All kinds of people have theories about which things are corrupting to society and should be banned. When the outgroup does it, their concerns seem silly and based on a false belief system. When the ingroup does it, ‘our’ concerns seem valid and based on an obviously correct belief system.
Are they always wrong? Are we always right? So much is unknown and so often it turns out that ‘obvious’ beliefs run contrary to scientific fact. Is it tolerant to take our individual perspective as the norm and force it on people? Do we create a better world if we have a strong tendency to blame others for arousing unpleasant feelings with their speech or does it create a world where the main feeling that is being aroused is fear of offending?
I don’t think that there are easy answers, but I would suggest that in general, more open-mindedness would be beneficial.
I think Amp @8 covered a lot of what I think about this. We know this was meant to be black comedy/satire. We know these forms can have great benefit when done well. The piece that is the subject of this post was not done well.
I can not believe that you are comparing the piece criticized in this post with Primo Levi. How in the world could you read anything by Primo Levi and have it do nothing for you? He is objectively brilliant.
Bullshit. It is really hard to condemn things like fat hatred – things that we know to be wrong, but for which most of society is against us.
Are you seriously comparing criticizing this trashy article with being homophobic?
“Banned”? Where did that come from? Complaining to a publication because you think something they published is offensive and/or poorly written is not tantamount to “banning”. It is responding to speech with speech.
A Modest Proposal satirized mercantilism and the cutthroat use of it by the English against the Irish. What are the analogues of that for Coren? Who is the subject of his mockery? Lax NHS, enabling the continued existence of fat people and ensuring that they still have equal access to medical care? Well, that won’t be happening anymore, to the delight and relief of Coren and his new fans.
And this is why right-wingers (which Coren is well known for being) are so shit at comedy. They love bullying marginalized people but they hate the nanny state for making health a virtue* and object to broccoli on political grounds and people like Jamie Oliver on the grounds that he is humorless in his zeal to shame people’s food choices, rather than that he knowingly contributes to anti-fat bias. But Coren’ll have his cake and eat it (but not feed his son with it, oh ho ho), so fatties are gross but he’s glad to have them around to prove touchy-feely liberals wrong about something.
*I’m not condoning that idea
Amp @ 8
I admit, it’s not well done because the target isn’t particularly clear. He could have been targeting actual bigots, or parents that treat their children poorly, he could have been talking about the general state of affairs, how shitty food is more available than healthy alternatives, he could have been making an argument for universal healthcare. I’m not saying it was done well. I’m saying it was obvious what he was trying to do.
And I just want to point out… because I feel like it’s missing: There’s a material difference between “It’s poorly done satire” and “this person believes this, and is human garbage.” I feel like if the people who wrote the article, for example, actually understood it to be satire, there would be a whole less hostility to the author. If we accept it wasn’t done seriously, then I don’t understand the reaction.
Jake @ 9
Seriously? @ 7
It’s not a joke, and it’s not supposed to be overtly funny. It’s satire…. It’s supposed to be bitingly sarcastic, he’s supposed to say things that he doesn’t actually believe, in order to demonstrate how stupid the point he is arguing is, mocking other people who would make it, and that mockery amuses people.
I didn’t compare the piece to Primo Levi’s book. I used the book as a general example of how writing can be enlightening to some and not so to others; or even to the same person at different times. In my case, it was enlightening on my first reading and I took little from it when rereading it.
In general, you are reading my comment as a specific defense of this piece, when almost all of it was intended as a far more generic comment about the patterns we fall into. This piece is just the outrage du jour. Signal-boosting it to people who are likely to be offended & hurt by it just makes people upset, feeds anger and reduces the capacity of people to understand the other. It causes damage with no benefit.
Articles on the Internet tend to decay fast unless they get signal-boosted. They get far more attention by sharing them with others to get outraged over than if you just ignore them. Why play this game? Why let yourself be played? Why undermine yourself?
So…I tried not to play this game and have a different debate, about alternative ways to view the world.
The petition asks for the piece to be taken down and the writer to be fired. That is way more than just “complaining to a publication.”
If it fails, it’s useless. If it succeeds, I now fear you, since I don’t trust ‘you’ (or any group who censors) to not over reach.
And it utterly fails to achieve its goal. You will find no greater fan of dark comedy and sarcasm than me. When my satire or sarcasm fails, I don’t insist that people don’t get it. I realize that it doesn’t work and I don’t repeat it. People don’t wander around defending my failed sarcasm and blaming the audience for my failure. This is because I understand dark humor and sarcasm and I’m capable of seeing when it has failed.
Giles Coren has failed. Not only in this piece but in over 90% of his writing that I’ve read. Giles Coren is not funny. Giles Coren doesn’t understand what makes dark comedy or sarcasm funny. Defending Giles Coren’s failure in the fields of satire, comedy and sarcasm does nothing but show what a massive failure he is in his chosen field.
Feel free to delete this, but I’m having a hard time posting a comment, it’s possible that it’s a WordPress issue, or that it got hung up in filters (I posted the text of the petition, and there were a whole lot of expletives in it), it’s also possible that you finally pulled the pin and banned me… If that’s what happened, just let me know, and I’ll stop trying.
I’ve only read the articles I posted to my comment above, so I don’t have a particularly broad base from with which to comment on his career, but I found his piece on releasing animals at weddings fairly good.
As to the rest… Perhaps. I’d figure that someone must get something out of it, otherwise he’d be out of a job naturally, but let’s say that his entire career has been a trainwreck of poorly constructed humor…. Why do we care?
If we know it’s supposed to be humor, but it fell abysmally flat… Why is he a garbage human? why are we calling his place of work? Why are we boosting his reach? Why are we harassing him?
I just want us all to take a step back and look at the trains that we’re respectively on. Here’s the text of the petition:
I mean, if I acted as if I was confused as to whether the people who posted the petition and the criticisms, or reposted the entirety of the criticisms and linked to the petition without comment, realised that it was meant to be satire, it’s because I was. Despite Amp condescending to me that I was taking a very childlike view on this… I just have to say, when a piece that obviously attempted to be satire, even if it failed, is called “violent hate speech“… I think I could be forgiven for that confusion.
*I edited the more egregious words with stars because I think they were blowing up WordPress’s filters.
Or as John Scalzi put it so well, “The failure mode of clever is asshole.”
For those claiming it’s satire: What is it satirizing? If Ragen Chastain were to write “I’m your neighborhood doctor, and I have a cure for obesity: Let’s melt down all the fat people and turn them into candles!” THAT would be satire. (Not good satire, but satire). It would be satirizing the “one simple trick to cure fatness” attitude that is so popular among both medical and laypeople.
If Barry wrote “I’m a dad, and my kid is a disgusting fatass! Also he might be a fag! I’m going to torment him until he shapes up and knocks it off!” THAT would be satire. Not good satire either, but satire: It would be satirizing the way that parents claim to love their children but actually bully, torment, and project their own issues all over those same vulnerable kids in the name of love.
This is not satire: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” It does not “expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices” in terms of fat-phobia and terrible parenting. It is an effort to “poke fun” at the left by, extremely late in the piece, mocking a straw-man version of “leftist parenting” and then defiantly saying “I hate that shit,” while never rejecting the basis of his whole piece, that fat people, and specifically fat kids, are disgusting and awful.
If I were to write an essay in which I started off by saying “Immigrants! I hate those smelly lazy criminals!” and went on for a number of paragraphs about how smelly, lazy, and criminal immigrants are, then belatedly complained that Republicans are anti-immigrant and I hate those smug, priggish assholes so I guess I’ll keep voting for people who are pro-immigration, without at any point suggesting that maybe immigrants aren’t all smelly lazy criminals, I would not be successfully satirizing Republicans. I would be making their argument for them, and then rejecting the idea of voting for them only on the basis of the fact that they annoy me.
That is not satire. That is bigotry combined with petty mockery. That is the epitome of Scalzi’s point above.
“It’s a joke” “It’s satire” and the like are often used as cover for people to normalise behavior that it would be socially unacceptable to overtly support (eg. anti-Semitism, as Amp discussed @5, rape jokes), and the dehumanization of marginalized people. Hence, all the people above asking, essentially – if this is satire, what is it satirizing? The answer is, nothing. This piece just mocks fat people, and then throws in a few lines that could plausilbly be read as satire were they in a different context as window dressing.
I’ll add to this that it is possible for a joke to be both offensive and incredibly funny. Some of my favorite jokes are both. This column, however – like so much of Coren’s work – is offensive without being funny. We know he’s trying to be funny. We get that. The problem is that he is not funny. Not at all. And what does that leave? An offensive screed by someone who is not funny and fails to get his (any?) point across. He’s a written version of Andrew Dice Clay, but not even that low bar of funny. If Giles Coren is funny, I’m a world class vocalist.
Jeff: You are not banned. However, you are on “requires moderator approval,” which means that when you comment, the comment won’t appear in public until I or another moderator read and approve it.
(Oh, and swear as much as you fucking want. :-p )
I don’t think it obviously attempted to be satire. There’s nothing there that indicates satire. I do think it was obviously attempting to be funny/sarcastic and it falls flat in the exact same way that so many of his attempts at humor and sarcasm do. What it is is offensive. It’s purposely offensive because Coren thinks that offensive equals funny. Alas, it doesn’t. Yet he does it again and again and again. He is, in the end, simply offensive.
We may end up disagreeing on that, Jake… And that’s OK. What I think we can agree with is that “obviously attempting to be funny/sarcastic and it falls flat” and “violent hate speech” are probably mutually exclusive.
If we accept that the call to kill overweight people and render them for candles wasn’t made in seriousness, and literally no one could reasonably read that as a legitimate call to action, then is it really “violent hate speech”?
Because if it is, we’ve broadened “violent hate speech”, a term recently coined in an attempt to mitigate free speech protections by blurring the line between fighting words and shitty things people say, to a point where it can no longer even pretend to serve as the tool it was intended to be, because even if everyone in this room agreed that Coren was a gigantic pile of human garbage, he still has the right to write his garbage, and Esquire still has the right to publish it.
I’m impressed with those who even across the Altantic, can somehow perceive the sheer irrelevance of Giles Coren. He even mentions his wife not taking him seriously.
Not so his impressive sister. He’s know, yet manages to be forgettable, one of those no-trace types. Even someone as capable of painfully earnest humourless as myself, cannot take him at all seriously.
I took the source of his candle remark not to be satire but his Jewishness, this sort of mindless rage tends to stir up whatever’s in your “basement”. I feel that’s more serious than his apparent aiming it at fat people. Maybe even strangely affecting in its way.
What does bother me is that his lovely little boy does not grow up with the awful experience of love being diluted with rank digust. To be loathed and loved by a person whom you adore is not something anyone should jest with.
It can be so destructive to a person’s psyche in an invidious and hard to figure out way.
Without commenting on the particulars of this example, as a general principle, it seems obvious that they are not mutually exclusive. Imagine, for instance, a person calling in earnest for all cartoonists to be shot, but mixing humor into the same speech (“What do you call ten dead cartoonists in a car? …A good start!”)
Regarding Coren, whether or not this specific example is violent hate speech depends on how you define “violent hate speech.” I probably wouldn’t use the word “violent” had I written it myself, because I usually reserve that word for direct physical violence. But I realize that not everyone defines the word as I do, and I wouldn’t assume that your definition, or mine, is shared by the author of the post.
For all those being all, “C’mon, it’s supposed to be all satirical!” I feel a need to remind you that this is a fucking adult picking on a kid; most would consider that the very definition of bullying. Seriously, look at that picture of his kid. In no way, does he come close to resembling any of his father’s insults. Even if he did, even if the kid was like super-obese or something, it would still be fucking wrong for a parent to lay into a kid like that. Basic Parenting 101: No matter what, a good parent is supposed to be in their kid’s corner and not constantly tear them down. If he’s worried about the kid being overweight, then he should embark on a family plan of weight loss: stop buying junk food and try to get everyone, Mom, Dad, and kids, out and about and exercising more.
Again, it’s the very definition of bullying, someone in a position of power picking on someone who isn’t. The cliché has been repeated many times and probably will be repeated until the end of time, because it is so true: good comedy punches up. Good comedy is about taking the piss out of those higher up in terms of power. Bad comedy punches down, picking on those lower than them. Bad comedy is akin to watching someone punch a dog and expecting you to find the animal’s cries of pain to be side-splittingly hilarious.
Late to the game… But sure!
Amp @ 28
I read your two paragraphs as being contradictory. In your second paragraph, you admit that you don’t count words as violence, but in your first paragraph, you do in order to make the point I think you’re trying to make. If words are not violent, then “violent hate speech” doesn’t even exist, never mind conflating with humor.
As to the car full of cartoonists… When someone makes a dead baby joke… Which I get isn’t everyone’s can of beans, but stay with me… There are people who find that funny, and I don’t believe that they find it funny because of some deep dark hatred for babies, or because they really want to kill babies, I think it’s more likely that dead babies are taboo and awful and absurd. And that they find that taboo awful absurdity ironically funny.
And I’m not arguing those people are good people, I’m not arguing those jokes are acceptable… I can see how for instance, if someone replaced “baby” or “cartoonist” with one of those characteristics inherent to a person that they don’t have control over, like sex, race or orientation, those jokes could be hurtful…. I just have a hard time seeing them as a legitimate call to action. I don’t believe that your hypothetical is going to kill cartoonists, mine if going to kill babies, or that Coren is going to wire his son’s jaw shut and melt him down for tallow.
And that kind of ties in with Emeryael @ 29…. I don’t believe Coren is mean to his son. I think the fact that he put his son’s picture up there (if that is his son’s picture, and not a stock photo) and his son doesn’t look overweight was part of the hyperbole. I think that if Coren was actually mean to his son, and did even a fraction of what he wrote, I’d be right there beside everyone else calling this child abuse… But I don’t think he does, so I’m not.
I want to Juxtapose this with Jody Allard for a second.
Without getting too armchair psychiatristy… Allard has written about her history of abuse before, and I think that it has biased her experience significantly, much more than she is willing to admit, I think, even to herself.
If you go through the history of Allard’s writing, she often comments about the relationships between members of her family, and how she interprets the dynamics of those relationships, and the lessons that she draws from them. Through her writing at the Washington Post, one could peer into the experience of the struggles of raising a daughter with autism, or the struggles of the dating scene, or lack thereof, for single moms , it’s always dicey, writing about your kids, especially in a not so flattering light. Especially in The Washington Post, and especially when the kids are old enough that not only are they aware of what’s being written about them, but so are their peers. It hits me as a fundamental betrayal of the parenting dynamic… You’re supposed to protect your kid, not throw them under the bus. Right?
Which is why it probably wasn’t a good idea to paint your 16 and 18 year old boys as part of the problem, in the context of rape culture. And then, after damaging her relationship with her sons by writing the first piece, doubling down and writing a second piece, which included this gem: “One of my sons was hurt by my words, although he’s never told me so. He doesn’t understand why I lumped him and his brother together in my essay. He sees himself as the “good” one, the one who is sensitive and thoughtful, and who listens instead of reacts. He doesn’t understand that even quiet misogyny is misogyny, and that not all sexists sound like Twitter trolls.”
“But Jeff!” One might reasonably ask, “Why are you defending Coren, but bringing attention to Allard?”
Well, a couple of reasons.
First off, Jody Allard is destroying her relationship with her family, is actively making the lives of her children harder, and spouts ideas that I find very questionable. But I don’t question her ability to do it, and I’m not writing WaPo for her job. Having principles means that sometimes you find yourself with strange bedfellows. I’m not overly invested in Coren’s “goodness”, I just think this is overblown, and calls for him to be sacked are unreasonable.
Second… I believe Allard, where I don’t believe Coren. Allard takes herself very seriously, serializes certain topics, and writes in a very sterilized tone. Coren is attempting to be funny, even if no one gets it… I don’t believe he means real malice towards his kid. I suppose I don’t think that Allard means real malice either… But perhaps owing to nothing other than a difference in age with the subjects… Coren’s child is oblivious, and most probably always will be, where as Allard’s children received a metric fuckton of attention over this. The degree to which damage occurred was disparate and material.
And third… Her kids believe her too. In the second article, she acknowledges that she is actively causing her sons distress, she just thinks they’re wrong, and wants to tell you why… And then writes some more. I think that speaks volumes about her mindset and priorities.
The Coren piece reads to me as “kidding on the square”/”it’s funny ’cause it’s true” mixed with hyperbole for comic effect. No, he doesn’t literally want to wire his son’s jaw shut… but he does feel grossed out by fat people and disturbed and humiliated at the prospect of his son being fat.
I think in that way it’s different from “taboo for the sake of taboo” things like dead baby jokes.