fat-phobes, intention, & the emperor’s naked ass

A particular comment keeps occurring about my art, one I am very interested in. It’s been said many times in many ways, but here is a quote from the comments on Big Fat Blog that represents the idea well enough:

The thing that bothers me about [MOCS] is that most fat-phobes who view it will not get it all – it will go right over their heads, and they will use it to reinforce all their nasty stereotypes about fat people. This isn’t going to enlighten them or educate them or shut them up – their minds are closed too tightly for that. If even science can’t change their minds, how the hell is satire going to do it? And fat people telling those fat-phobes that they just don’t get it and are too bigoted to get it isn’t going to change anything either.

This is an astute concern and observation. The MOCS project can  absolutely be mistaken as aligning itself with fat stereotypes rather than combating them. (It wouldn’t be very good satire if it didn’t.) Yes, people might use the ‘obeast’ concept as fodder for further fat phobic behaviors. But here’s the thing: I know this and I think of it as part of the art. Let people act like fat-hating douche bags, and let others see them do it. I want these bad behaviors done right out in the open, rather than snickering behind our fat backs.

Let’s not pretend that fat phobia doesn’t exist (although people do), or that my art could even make it noticeably worse than it already is. If fat phobes mistake my art as a call to wave their ignorance around, they are simply confirming the very system of discrimination that I am critiquing. This performance of ignorance is part of the art as much as the fat-positive conversations that have been caused by it are.

What does it change? I honestly don’t know. What does running a fat-positive blog change– or for that matter commenting on a fat-positive blog? Maybe change can be measured not in the ways that we impact other people’s ways of thinking or behaving, but in the way we impact our own ways of thinking and behaving.

I have no trouble laughing at fat phobics who don’t get my joke and I do think there is something cathartic about doing so. Maybe it’s as simple (for me) as deciding that I’m not the butt of their jokes anymore; they are the butt of mine.  Fat phobics are people with metaphorical spinach in their teeth.  Or to switch metaphors to a slightly better one, they are the nude emperor sauntering through town in his new clothes. The emperor might think he’s making a fashion statement, and his devotees might agree for awhile, but it comes down to it he is buck-ass naked. I for one am not going to pretend I see his clothes anymore.

On another note, questions of intention in art have been raised– another topic of great interest to me. How does intention shape works of art– does it? should it? Damn right it does. Intention and context are accepted features of Postmodern art. (Thinking that a piece of art should stand alone and be context independent is so Modernist, no?) Why were Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes art and not just packaging or marketing materials? Because he intended for them to be art– and specifically art that commented on the commercialism and mass production that he was mimicking. Why is Fred Wilson’s museum work brilliant satire rather than straightforward exhibition design? Because he intends for it to be.  I haven’t invented a new genre of art here. Artists like Fred Wilson and  Jimmie Durham have been doing work in this vein for over thirty years. However, what is new here (at least for the art world) is the assertion that Fat is a social identity worthy of  noticing and defending in the same mode as race, gender, sexuality, and so on.

If you have thoughts please comment! oxox

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