In the time when I am not gaming, creating blog articles, or reading, I write fiction. Like, quite a bit. Since being fitted with a C-PAP a couple years back I tend to have incredibly vivid dreams, and the last ones before I get up in the morning always seem to involve the same set of characters. So, I have created a mythology of sorts around these characters, and write little vignettes involving them. But, after I woke up and wrote down my notes this morning, it struck me – there are no overweight characters in these stories.
For that matter, I am hard pressed to think of overweight central characters in any story I have read, and I read a lot. I can think of fat and jovial innkeepers, large menacing bikers, and a bunch of lazy and obese programmers – but not a single overweight hero. It is as if the burden of carrying the story forward is so great that it acts like a constant cardio workout for these people, ensuring that they stay slim (or, in some cases, muscular.)
Even the oversized secondary characters in most stories aren’t treated well. They are frequently used as a kind of comic relief – a mental visual gag if you will: Let’s all laugh at the fatso as he tries to run away from danger. (Example: Any “slasher” horror film ever made.) Other times heavy individuals are used as more sinister characters: the overweight person is too lazy to achieve his goals as normal folks do, so uses treachery instead – the mercenary programmer from Jurassic Park is an excellent example. Very rarely, obesity is treated as a threatening quality – the previously mentioned “huge biker” would qualify. The original “Kingpin” character from Marvel comics comes to mind in this category. (Though a fine actor, Vincent D’Onofrio can hardly be described as obese, so his depiction of the Kingpin does not qualify here.)
In a sense, I get it. When we experience stories, especially when we read, we want to idealize the characters. We want to take their positive characteristics and find them reflecting off the fractal planes and edges of our own lives, hoping to recognize something “heroic” in ourselves. We do not necessarily want to see that which we don’t like about ourselves highlighted in our entertainment. But seriously – in the “real world” of the United States more than half of us are overweight. Why don’t the demographics of our entertainment reflect that?
More to the point, why don’t my demographics hold up? Why are my stories filled with active, muscular men and size 6 women? In real life I like large women – I do not prefer the body style that “looks like a teenage boy with plums in his shirt pockets.” (Spider Robinson) So, why am I not creating these characters? What flaw lies in me, and apparently in other authors, that does not allow for the creation of more realistic body types?
I am still troubled by this, and still don’t have an answer yet. But, the next time I sit down to write, I know I will be aware of my previous failures here, and hopefully can begin to correct them. Maybe spotting this weakness now, before any of my fiction is ever published, is the best outcome I could have hoped for.
Still Angry At My Subconscious,
PS – Just thought of an obese central character: Don Corleone, from The Godfather. But he isn’t exactly heroic, is he?