Lean and Mean Essay

Abstract

Fat pig. Fat pig.

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Upon hearing the terms, we know that they are traits addressed to somebody who we can easily identify even if that person is a stranger. And they are usually derogatory.

Thus, it is no surprise that these terms were taken up by the infamous playwright Neil LaBute as a primary subject for his most recent fare on stage. True that LaBute is widely known as a rather prickish writer, however, this particular play tackles more than we expect at face value. There are more pressing issues aside from the taunt of the title.

And peer pressure is one of the ruling themes being defined.

One who is large, corpulent, fat
Being picked on incessantly
Everything needed in large quantities, including love
Satiation points totally unknown
Enough of the awful name calling already! (cited in Feinstein, 2007)

According to Amsden in his review on Fat Pig, it is “a gleefully harsh title, the barb of a wicked third-grader converted into high art. You read those two toothy words and you wince, then grin, then wince at yourself for grinning. That’s LaBute: funny in a mean way, or mean in a funny way, depending on your point of view” (Amsden, 2004). Some might reason that it is somewhat gratifying to pick on other people – if being mean can be justified at all, especially if they do not meet the standards of the norm, as Ayn Rand once wrote that most people live as “‘second-handers,’ more concerned about what other people think about us and how we live and what we’re perceived to be, rather than the more important question: what we really think of ourselves” (cited in Holder, 2007). But think about it, people who tend to scrutinize others are usually projecting their insecurities.

The discrimination against people with a large frame in our society, in any society at that, is already overrated. It is “one of the strangest hostilities still expressed in our society today is the animosity and disgust we exhibit toward those who are overweight.” When you happen to meet an old acquaintance, the first comment is bound to be: “oh my, you gained a lot!” It may be meant as an icebreaker, and it may only be an observation, but a simple comment is one of the “many reasons overeating occurs” (Feinstein, 2007).

                When Tom hits it off with Helen, “who happens to be a touch large,” it would have already presented a too happy an ending. Enter his peers, Carter and Jeannie, “two LaBute archetypes: sometimes sage, sometimes stupid, almost always nasty” (cited in Amsden, 2004). That is when their idyllic romance becomes such a “big” issue.

. . . I’m not talking about what people deserve, I’m saying what they get. You look one way, you have access to all this. . .look some other way, all you get is that. Sorry, but it’s true. —Carter, the this to which he refers being their well-paid job environment and access to model-thin dates. (cited in Sommer, 2004)

It may be an understatement to state that Carter is a prick and a typical LaButian sadist. He is Tom’s foil and tormentor. Carter sees himself as a guru when it comes to “marketable packaging,” wont to hate unattractive people. And is he blunt about his opinion! And Jeannie, though she may look like a goddess, she has the personality of a hag. She is unrequited with the idea of being replaced by one she deems inferior to her. Certainly, these two complement each other! They launch their very honest opinion on Tom as to why he should just give up Helen, who alternately fights for her honest love. Amsden questions “Does love need society’s blessing to be complete?” Which is answered regrettably, as cited in Simon, that “not even genuine affection can withstand peer pressure” (2004).

At this point, we are inclined to hate Carter especially. However, LaBute created him not only to antagonize the couple; the cynical character has the purpose of exploring aspects of social interaction that aren’t easy to face (Zimmerman, 2007). As Holder concurs:

Beyond the nearly non-stop humor and clever dialogue here, LaBute is exploring our culture’s communal lack of spine when faced with the unique concept of following our own hearts. Fat Pig leaves the viewer thinking about the nature of peer pressure and asks, in our continuously media-hyped contemporary social order, if it’s still possible to think for ourselves and honestly not give a shit about what anyone else thinks of us or our actions. (2007)

Fat Pig is about the “more universal issue of how groups treat the ‘other,’ and what happens when people try to see past those definitions” (Gross, 2007). Are we required to conform? Is it worth it to love against all odds? LaBute aptly states, “I want to know if Tom can rise above himself, if he can reconcile his public and private selves. Can he be honest? Can he be truthful? It’s an examination of what it means to love, which is really a new place for me” (cited in Amsden, 2004).

                The play as a whole is quite involving. How it will be perceived and consumed by the playgoer literally depends on the individual and his existing perspectives, prejudices and bias included. “It’s really one of those shows that will take on a different identity…” Gough says. (cited in Zimmerman, 2007)

In the end, I would agree with LaBute that we all had instances of thoughtlessly passing judgment. “You might look at a couple, not just based on size, but for whatever reason, and think, ‘What do they see in each other?’ But, ultimately, if they’re happy, who cares? That’s the message that I want to get out to the world is: ‘why would you care, if somebody else is happy?'” (cited in Zimmerman, 2007).

References

Amsden, David. (2004, November 22). Up with people. New York. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/theater/10464/

Feinstein, Joseph N.. (2007, June 28). Fat pig. Entertainment Today. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://www.entertainmenttoday.net/content/view/276/28/

Gross, Cristofer. (2007, May 14). Theater review:Neil LaBute’s Fat pig. Blog Critics. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://blogcritics.org/archives/2007/05/14/100920.php

Holder, Travis Michael. (2007, May 24). Fat pig. Entertainment Today. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://www.entertainmenttoday.net/content/view/251/28/

Simon, John. (2004, December 27). Whispers and size. New York. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/theater/reviews/10737/

Sommer, Elyse. (2004). A CurtainUp review: Fat pig. Curtain Up. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://www.curtainup.com/fatpig.html

Zimmerman, Heather. (2007, February). ‘Fat Pig’ weighs in on body-consciousness in a new way. Silicon Valley Community Newspapers. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from www.cltc.org/press/SVCNFatPigFeature.pdf