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Thinly Read

Our crisis of national width
Scripps Howard News Service


June 09, 2005

We are facing a nationwide crisis of width.

It is a crisis of epic proportions, one that grows larger each year and will continue to grow until it is impossible to ignore. It is a crisis we see on the local news every day, especially while we're eating dinner.

(Cue footage of an anonymous overweight American, filmed from behind with his head just out of the frame. His folds rise, crest, and recede like sine waves with each plodding step.)

This, folks, is what we call the "waddle shot." It is commonly lumped together with footage of several more men, women, and sometimes children to create a 30-second montage of obese America. Such waddle footage has accompanied every network news spot on obesity ever created.

The amount of waddle footage on the daily news is reaching critical mass. It is truly a crisis, and if we don't put an end to it soon, it threatens to ruin every appetite in the country.

Network news coincides with dinner time for a reason; it's the one time that most people hold still long enough to pay attention to anything. Add in the sad truth that local news is the most banal, unchanging, humorless half-hour on television, and you can understand why the media take advantage of your mealtimes.

So why, when most people are only tuning in for the weather, would a news program choose to push such nauseating imagery on its viewers as they settle down for a meal? The achingly slow locomotion of a small continent of blubber is not conducive to anyone's digestion. And last thing we want to see as we bite into a thick, bloody steak is a herd of human cattle jostling in their sweatpants as they cross a busy street.

Why, when it goes against all reason, do the news anchors introduce this fatty footage at suppertime? Because they know we'll watch.

People slow down on the highway for bad accidents; a twenty-car pileup of glandular problems and poor diet choices is hard for us to ignore. We enjoy the spectacle of other people's problems. And more than anything, we like to look at the anonymous men and women and say, "God, what is WRONG with those people?"

Because, of course, no one watching the footage is ever actually one of those people. We, eating our portions the size of our heads, see the backsides of these overweight men and women and say it could never happen to us. We, who have not seen our own bottoms in several years and could not pick out the backs of our thighs in a lineup, know better than to ever let ourselves go that far.

Yet deep inside, the anonymity of the footage makes us uneasy. Surely, that isn't us on the television screen. But the next time, it could be. Every minute in an area of public concourse is spent looking over our shoulders for the hidden camera crew. We try to wear our most concealing clothing. In fear, we begin to cut portions and take the stairs.

Our sudden commitment to health reveals the possibility that the television news media could actually be doing something... right. In showing America its gluttonous vice at the one time it is perpetrated, news stations are truly serving the country and seeking the greater good. They are either repulsing or shaming us into fitness.

So ultimately, here is the solution to our nation's obesity dilemma: Waddle footage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, relentlessly, until America is thin again.

If we're not frightened or disgusted, we might be part of the problem.


Ben Grabow writes for the young, the urban, and the easily amused.
Contact him at thinlyread(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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