Playing the Buffoon
What do all of these characters have in common?
Little John (from Robin Hood)
Pumba (from The Lion King)
Gus (from Cinderella)
Chien Po (from Mulan)
Baloo (from The Jungle Book)
Lefou (from Beauty and the Beast)
If you said “they’re all from Disney movies,” you’re right. But that’s not quite what I’m getting at.
THEY’RE ALL FAT.
Now, I’m normally a promoter of showing people of all body types in movies (and TV shows, and magazines and just about everywhere else), but these characters also share some other characteristics.
They’re all buffoons, foils, and sidekicks. Many (if not most) of them are presented as bumbling idiots and are pretty much only in the movie for comedic effect. None of them are the protagonists of the story, none of them have love interests in their films, they aren’t heroes and they don’t save the day. (They’re also all male, I’m not sure what to make of that, but there it is). The best that can be said for any of these men/male animals is that they’re “nice” or perhaps “a good friend”. Disney has done a pretty good job of showing us the place the fat people should occupy in society. They are relegated to a second class existence and are portrayed as dumb, useless, smelly, cowardly and unattractive. By comparison, the protagonists of all of these movies are good-looking, smart, courageous, and of course, SLIM. Take Lefou for instance. Because he is fat (and therefore an idiot, obviously), he can’t even be the antagonist of the story. No, he can only be the sidekick to the antagonist (who himself is in excellent physical form).
But it isn’t just Disney out there spreading the message that fat people are incompetent fools whose purpose in life is to be laughed at. Disney just provides some of the most clear-cut examples. Many other films and TV series are guilty of only showing fat people in peripheral roles, or as idiots. For instance, in The Simpsons alone, there are at least three fat characters who are specifically shown as either dumb, or worthy of ridicule for some other reason (Homer, Chief Wiggum, and Comic Book Guy). This message that “fat = stupid, laughable, incompetent, and secondary” is so pervasive that we almost don’t even notice how discriminatory it is. Weight has absolutely no effect on intelligence, competence, or worth as a person and the television and film industries need to stop acting as though it does when they create characters.