February 19, 2023•626 words
When I first read that Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka book was being expurgated to remove insensitive terms, I had the same initial reaction I have to all news of this form: censorship = bad. Moreover, who really wants this? Who are these people removing the words fat and ugly from books, and why do they think this is better for the world?
But for the first time in a long time, it sort of clicked for me. There is a war against “normalcy” and its very definition. To the expurgators, which in this post I take an unusually sympathetic stance with, the idea that there exists a normal range of body aesthetics is a dangerous one. The idea that people can be ugly is also rather unnecessary. In Mr. Beast’s case, the idea that blindness needs curing by a non-blind person insists on a definition of normalcy which excludes anyone who falls outside that range.
A concept of normalcy is comforting, and one must exercise existential caution when venturing outside its bounds. But to insist that being fat or obese does not meet the standards of normalcy is to invite ridicule to those in that state. The idea then is that its classification as abnormal and the subsequent ridicule it invites is necessary to prevent people in that state from being complacent in it, lest we breed a society of apathetic misfits. But does ridicule really work in steering the population towards normal ranges? I can't speak to this, but I would venture to say that fat-shaming, for example, probably doesn't do much. Some people can be whipped into shape; most, probably not, as is clear to see.
It seems the idea behind inclusivity of the fat and ugly (two words that were removed from Willy Wonka) is to say: tough love doesn't change anything. Only love does. Which, ugh, I mean, I can kind of understand? The fear amongst those who seek to conserve normalcy is: "if we make fatness ok, then people will become and stay fat and think there is nothing wrong with that. But objectively, there is." And the fear amongst those who seek to abolish normalcy is: "if we vilify fatness then a large population of people will spend their lives in misery being ridiculed and feeling like something is wrong with them." To that the conserving team says, "Well yeah, there is something wrong with them—they're out of shape!" To which the abolishing team says, "And so what if they are? Let that be."
I can honestly see both sides. Like I said in a previous post, not every problem has to have a solution. It's ok to hold two opposing arguments simultaneously. Yes, removing any objective standard of health could seem to theoretically reduce overall fitness in a population. But also, fuck evolution right? The abolitionists seem to to say, "It's not all about fitness and competition. If nature can't be merciful to us, let us be merciful to one another. So we'll have a population of fat people. Can they not live a good life? Can we not be kind to them? Can we not vilify and otherize them?" I can empathize with that, even as a natural selection genuflector.
Obviously this post really only uses obesity as an example. The war over normalcy is being fought on a hundred different battlefields. In some I see mercy and compassion. In others I see chaos and randomness. Good intentions, bad solutions seems to be the unsheddable trademark of the emotionally rash. Perhaps what wages now is not any lasting solution to any problem, but the "show your work" part of problem solving.
One thing is for certain: the gods are quite entertained; senseless mutation is their fetish of choice.