‘Dear Fat People’: no one should be safe from mockery
Don’t you sometimes miss the eighteenth century? When King George IV – a man with an uncontrollable appetite for food – ruled Britain, few satirists of the time showed reluctance in lampooning him for his chubby looks. Despite the monarchy’s overwhelming power, it was seen as a fair game. But things have changed. Cracking jokes about personal appearance is the new high treason.
Nicole Arbour, a Canadian comedian known for her YouTube channel, has sent the Twittersphere into overdrive. The reason for the fury? She made a video titled ‘Dear Fat People’, in which she dared to joke about people who are – let’s not mince words – fat. The humourless lot attacked one of the last strongholds of non-safe space, the internet, by forcing YouTube temporarily to suspend her video together with her entire channel. If this had happened even 10 years ago we would be stunned by such a censorious reaction. But, in the age of political correctness, the outcome was rather predictable.
The transatlantic offence police decided that Arbour’s video wasn’t just unfunny, but morally abhorrent. ‘Comedy has moved away from fat jokes that obvious’, stated Guardian writer Lindy West. A scribbler for Salon went even further, denouncing the clip as a form of hate speech.
What this hysterical reaction misses is that comedy should be free to be infantile and regressive. Visit any open-mic event and you’ll find enough witless comedians bombing on stage to make you cringe for weeks. When it comes to subject matter, no matter how regressive it might seem, some things just don’t have an expiration date. The question should be whether a comic can make something funny, not whether or not they should dare say it in the first place.
The rage against Arbour proves how thin-skinned and self-absorbed some people have become. This active minority will do everything in its power to silence comedians in the name of tackling society’s ills. It matters little that many people laughed at ‘Dear Fat People’ – or that the comedian is evidently popular, enjoying a surge in subscriptions. The fear that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying such humour drives offence-takers to call for the policing of culture.
Nicole Arbour has re-uploaded the same video, with the new title of ‘The Most Offensive Video’. But given the far-reaching scope of offence-takers, who’s to say short jokes won’t beat it to the top of the offending list tomorrow? We should dread the idea of socially responsible comedy. Like progressive ideas, good comedy often comes from those who aren’t afraid to cause offence.
Lukas Mikelionis is a writer based in London.