The Truax

Once upon a time I worked for an advertising agency. It was a small family-owned office that catered to industrial clients like conveyor belt manufacturers, industrial-grade metal wire suppliers, and sewage-treatment plant equipment companies. On the one hand, it's sort of weird to think that companies like this would need advertising -- but when you're one of three or four companies that sells high-dollar equipment and raw materials to oil companies or city governments and the goal is to become a long-term contracted supplier over a series of years, every edge counts.

So even though when viewed in a vacuum the products in our ads were kinda dull -- the commissions that my boss would pull down were nothing short of staggering. Not that I got to see any of them (it was one of my first jobs out of college, and although I eventually wormed my way into doing bigger and better things, I was essentially hired as a runner) -- but that there was always a lot of motivation to do whatever was necessary to keep these big whale clients happy, no matter how last minute or outlandish the request might have been.

One of the most memorable of these experiences was when the conveyor belt people called and asked us to help him woo a potential logging company client by finding a suitable high-volume printer and distribution house for a children's book written as part of a community outreach/PR project.

The book, called The Truax -- was written essentially as a rebuttal to a Dr. Seuss book called The Lorax.
The Lorax, as many of you may remember -- spoke for the trees.
The Truax, on the other hand -- spoke for the logging companies.
The story was that although commercial logging has always been a staple industry in the Pacific Northwest, the overall image of logging companies was taking huge hits to its public image not only at the hands of pro-environmental groups, but from eco-friendly cartoons, toys, and literature that would literally have the bright eyed children of loggers coming home from daycare or elementary school saying things like, "Why does daddy hate the earth so much?"

The Truax was a cute enough book, and I suppose there was a certain sense of logic to the thing -- but even as I worked on the project I couldn't help but ask myself if this was really all that great of an idea.

I mean, My parents read The Lorax to me when I was a kid. I saw the cartoon. Maybe things would have been different if I'd grown up in logging country, but I never really saw it as an attack towards any specific industry, even with that catchphrase about the trees that the Lorax guy kept spouting off. If anything, The Lorax to me was a rant against urban sprawl -- which is not only a danger to forestland, but to loggers as well when you think about it.
Which always made the idea of logging companies calling out Dr. Seuss seem really dumb to me.
I mean really, what do you gain by attacking a kid's book? How much benefit does a major corporation earn by trying to correct the social impressions of preschoolers? And in the end, is it really enough to balance out the cost of looking like a complete killjoy to the rest of the world?
It's something I like to call the PETA problem.
Is there anything out there that people -- and I'm talking about rational, educated, ecologically concerned people here -- is there anything more universally despised than the public efforts that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals make in the name of their cause?

And it's not like any of us out here are pro-animal cruelty -- but between all their publicity-hound grandstanding protests and flying off the handle at things that aren't really any of their goddamn business (remember when they got all mad at the veterinarian who put down the critically injured horse at the Kentucky Derby?) -- PETA ends up doing a lot more harm than good when it comes to their cause.

In other words, because PETA's public image is so utterly annoying -- it's hard not to sometimes think that all animal rights activists are like that, and dismiss (or even oppose) their ideas wholesale because of the attitudes and actions of a relatively small percentage of their total population.

A good example of all this is the recent slew of controversies that have popped up in the media and around the web surrounding the recent Pixar animated film Wall-E.

At first it sounds kinda silly. I mean, it's a kids movie. A (perhaps overly) sweet-hearted love story told over the backdrop of a cautionary tale about the effects of our continuing reliance on technology. Think the second half of Bambi mixed with a healthy dose of Idiocracy (without all the references to handjobs and hookers).

It's an entertaining film. One of the better ones Pixar's put out in a while (which is really saying something when you think about it). You leave the theater uplifted, your child spends a good part of the next few days talking in a robot voice -- what's not to love?
But people are pissed.
Specifically, fat people.
For those of you who haven't seen the film -- one of the main establishing points in the plot is that the Earth has been neglected to the point of over-pollution as a result of never-ending urban sprawl and consumerism at the hand of the Buy-n-Large corporation. At some point, it was decided that there was simply too much trash -- so people boarded a giant spaceship, headed off into space for a "temporary" pleasure cruise while an army of Wall-E bots cleaned everything up in preparation for their eventual return.

Unfortunately, over the course of the next 700 years -- all but one of the Wall-E's has broken down and died -- leaving the earth only kinda clean with only one lonely little robot to try and fix the remaining problem.

Meanwhile, generations of humans have come and gone aboard the giant spaceship -- generations who's every need and whim is cared for by an army of robots to the point where the human race has essentially regressed into little more than pudgy toddlers in floating high chairs that have no idea how to care for themselves anymore.

In the real world, we call this an allegory.
But that hasn't stopped people like Slate's Daniel Engber from calling foul.
"Wall-E is an innovative and visually stunning film, but the "satire" it draws is simple-minded. It plays off the easy analogy between obesity and ecological catastrophe, pushing the notion that Western culture has sickened both our bodies and our planet with the same disease of affluence. According to this lazy logic, a fat body stands in for a distended culture: We gain weight and the Earth suffers. If only society could get off its big, fat ass and go on a diet!

But the metaphor only works if you believe familiar myths about the overweight: They're weak-willed, indolent, and stupid.

..It ought to go without saying that this stereotype of the "obese lifestyle" is simply false. How fat you are has a lot more to do with your genes than with your behavior. As much as 80 percent of the variation in human body weight can be explained by differences in our DNA. (Your height is similarly heritable.) That is to say, it may not matter that much whether you eat salads or drink "cupcakes-in-a-cup," whether you bike everywhere or fly around in a Barcalounger. If you have a propensity to become obese, there's only so much that can be done about it."
And Engber's not alone, either. Fat bloggers across the web are lashing out against the use of fat jokes in a children's film (and yes, I'm calling you fat. Not because I'm a heartless bastard -- but because you opened the door, lardo).

See, now you're more than just an overweight person with vulnerable feelings. Now you're an advocate. Now your blog entry is a statement of position. Now you're fat in an official capacity. It's hard to wonder if that's really what you wanted when you wrote that response to the movie, regardless of how genuine and heartfelt it was.

And before you start looking at me as some pariah -- let's get some things straight. I'm pushing 250. It doesn't look all that great on me, either. In fact, the last time I went swimming with friends, I was told that I had an "epic belly." It hurt to hear, but it's not like I could argue with them. I'm not medically obese, I'm no candidate for the staple -- I'm just a guy who loves chili fries and recreational drinking a lot more than I like going to the gym.
And for the record, I'm not proud of any of this.
But you know what else? I have absolutely no interest in protecting my right to be this way. If anything, I'm fighting a continual battle to escape it. I don't want to be like this, and I can't imagine anyone who really would if they had the choice. I realize sometimes there are genetic factors involved that make the struggle tougher, but does that really mean that these people want to be that way? That somehow they've accepted their fate, and now demand fairness and equality of treatment and media representation because of it?
God I hope not.
Look, there's a huge difference between the media championing beanpole-thin supermodels and six-pack abbed guys as the only path to happiness and an animated film using people who have become so bloated with sloth that they can't stand up on their own without the help of machines to suggest that perhaps it's time to lean society back towards an agrarian lifestyle. But one doesn't beget the other. I would love to be one of those guys who is like 5-10 pounds overweight and feeling bad because I don't look like the hulks that hang out at the freeweight section in the back of the gym.
But I've got a lot more work to do than that.
So if you want to protect someone from mean ol' Wall-E and his bully attitude towards fatties, how 'bout standing over here and taking those slings and arrows for me? Because when you get right down to it -- I'm the one he's gunning for.

Pixar wasn't saying all those girls who wish they looked like the models on TV but can't find a way to burn off that last 5 are going to doom the planet to ruin. Pixar was pointing the finger at me with my remote control, my comfy couch, my lime-flavored Tostitos and salsa watching I Love Money while my gym membership lingers unused and ignored. The guy who's got a fridge full of something called Vitamin Water, but no vegetables. The one who's actually listed Wii fit as a "pro" when it came to trying to decide whether I should save my pennies for a Playstation 3 or the new Nintendo system instead.
Pixar's trying to get through to me.
And I want to listen. I want to get back to the way I looked when I was doing the River Run every year. I want to get back to the point where I'm using this blog to rant about the jerks who hog the bicep machines in the gym instead of describing in detail my dream strategies for stealing food from my coworkers at lunchtime.
And it's gonna happen. I'll figure it out eventually.
But until I do I'm not gonna stand up in front of all my big-legged brethren and rally them to action like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. If anything -- I'm gonna do everything I can to get out of those ranks, as quickly as I possibly can. Because being fat sucks. Honestly, there's no pride in tempting heart disease, no glory in having to shop at "that end" of the store, or not being able to run across a playground with your son as much as you'd like.

These are not things I'm in any way willing to defend my right for, regardless of how much it stings my pride to see my bad habits and appearance lampooned in movies and TV.
It's like so many of us have no problems putting on that pounds,
but can’t help losing our sense of humor somewhere along the way.

[Listening to:  Clutch"A Shogun Named Marcus" ]

Comments

I'm Frank said…
Well said.

I think the fatties who complained about the movie are just upset because they want those floating loungers and the ability to eat all their meals through a straw, but technology simply isn't moving fast enough for them.
Anonymous said…
Why do you just assume that people who complain about Wall-E are fat? One of the sites you linked to is an eating disorders awareness site. It makes perfect sense to me that a site like that would complain about size discrimination shown in the media. Not everyone who is against weight-based discrimination is fat.
Hex said…
Frank -- well you gotta admit, it was a pretty sweet chair..

anonymous -- I don't assume that fact, which is why I also included a link that summarized the various complaints that the movie has brought forth. Aside from the overweight, the movie has drawn the ire of Conservatives who think that the anti-consumerism message of the film is leftist propoganda, and those who are crying foul at Disney of all people bankrolling a film that says we buy too much useless crap.

I do, however, think that there's a difference between fighting discrimination and not being able to understand the difference between discrimination and a literary device used to forward a point in a story. The whole point of the story, from the Truax to Peta to this Wall-E nonsense is that if you're gonna fight the good fight for your cause -- how bout aiming your attack where it might actually do some good for a change?
Anonymous said…
Erm, did you even read the caveat listed at the top of the one post on the ED site? Obviously not...
Heff said…
I haven't seen the movie, so I'll save sacred commentary space for Lard Asses.
whatigotsofar said…
Great thing about fat people complaining, is that you can shut them up with a slice of pie. Unlike those damn PETA freaks. You can entice them with food, they don't eat. Ever seen a PETA freak have lunch. They eat treebark and dirt. That ain't food! I don't care if they can teach a lion to eat tofu, I ain't eating that damn hippy granola.

But, I guess if we show PETA that Truax story (with that delightful Mr. Guardbark character), they'll think treebark is an animal too and then be left with nothing but dirt to eat.

But, of most importance, there's nothing wrong with being fat. I'm fat and that just leaves more of me love, baby.
Wil said…
Well thanks Heff, I'll take it from here. Let me just weigh in on this. Damn fat people! Next they'll wanna get married or try and take away our guns or some shit!

I haven't seen the movie either but I'll go with your explanation of it, sounds good to me. I am quite sure I would in no way be offended by it, that's just silly. Being fat indeed sucks, more than anyone who's never been there could possibly believe or begin to understand. It literally effects (affects?) EVERY aspect of your life. And fatness to this day is still not covered under our goofy politically correct code of society. Don't talk about blacks or gays or physically challenged but fat people, fire away, they deserve it! People like "i'm Frank" prove this point.

Oh well, we all have our crosses to bear, it's just that mine is a lot more apparent then some others'. Good conversation. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run to McDonald's and then over to the playground to scout out some kids to molest, LOL.
So@24 said…
Waaaaaaaaaaaall E...
Amanda said…
I'm pretty sure I'm a fat chick. I have the potential to be fatter, if the gene argument holds water. In the move I saw nothing offensive. I didn't even see anything that was against fat people. I saw a logical consequence to a certain pattern of behavior. Specifically, an exploration of one way life might play out if white America (don't recall seeing too many people of color) continues to rely so heavily on consumption and convenience that we no longer ever have to leave our chairs. The natural consequence such overindulgence would be atrophy of mind and body. It already is.
Monster said…
It's way fashionable to organize against Disney, so any and every advocacy group that can do it does it.

But really people, I don't care how offended you are by a cartoon... you're walking down a path forged by SOUTHERN BAPTISTS. That is NOT the cool kids table, trust me.
Satorical said…
I am overweight, and I loved WALL-E.

Someone at Pixar made a decision early on to make the humans obese. That took balls. The consequences of overconsumption and a sedentary lifestyle are shown clearly. It's not a genetic issue for the characters in the movie; EVERYONE is fat, because of the way they've lived.

I love the fact that, for once, a family movie said anything. That never happens anymore. This one covered environmentalism, mass consumerism/sprawl, and obesity.

Good on 'em.
unMuse said…
I haven't commented in awhile, so I figured the fat post was perfect...

Anyhow.. I've seen Wall E and didn't get offended as a Fatty McFatFat. Yeah, I'm overweight. I've been eating right and going to the gym 3 days a week for 7 months and have lost less than 10 lbs and 1 dress size. I've been tested for every "fat causing" disease under the sun and my doctor just says "Well, you're just meant to be fat".

That being said, there are too many people who use their genetic condition as their excuse of fatness. There are also people who are genuinely lazy. (I know someone who had the gastric bypass only to regain all of the weight she lost.) I think there's a whole lot of over-sensitivity with this fat issue. I'm fat, you're fat, 70% of the population is fat. Historically it was a sign of wealth. (because the wealthy COULD sit on their asses all day long.)

There's a middle ground that hasn't been reached yet. It's either lumped in with Anorexia/Bulimia or looked at with severe distaste. Why can't it just be "fat"?
Hex said…
Anonymous II -- the caveat doesn't really change the story at all though, does it? I mean, if you write something about a movie that you think is bad, then they change the movie and you say it's better, then why bother publishing the story at all? Mission Accomplished, right?

Unless of course that wasn't the mission..

Heff -- That's mighty neighborly of you, bro.

wigsf -- More cushion for the pushin, eh? You stay classy, San Diego.

Wil -- the point is that there is a difference between creating an allegory on an image/idea and attacking someone. The equivalent in my mind would be someone calling out Mary Poppins for negatively depicting Chimney Sweeps.

So@24 -- My kid does such a great impression of him, it's almost scary.

Amanda -- I think sometimes people can be too vigilant about being offended. It's like they're looking for the bad instead of enjoying the good.

Monster -- just wait till the new film they're pushing, The Frog Princess comes out. People have been literally waiting to bash them on that for years, and it's almost go time.

Satorical -- Exactly. Couldn't have said it better myself.
Hex said…
Unmuse -- Good points, especially about the lack of a middle ground.

Still, I'm not sure making such a stink about the human characters in the movie is a way to reach that place. It's like people are looking for things to fight to the point where they'll concoct issues that actually leave them looking less credible when it comes time to take on a real issue, like workplace discrimination or medical treatment/drug costs to help combat the issue.
Jaeme said…
Ever since that damn movie came out, annoying office guy walks around doing the voice like some kind of idiot spazz. WaaaalllllEeeee, like fifty times a day. I get it dude, you saw the movie. STOP RUINING IT.

Epic belly. Hmm, my first reaction is to laugh because that's a pretty harsh thing to say out loud to a person. But perhaps you're too sensitive and it was actually a compliment, like epic meaning a thing so beautiful as to inspire awe.
Hex said…
Jaeme -- no, he was calling me fat.
unMuse said…
hex - absolutely. it makes them less credible. I think the whole imagined controversy is beyond laughable and way past ridiculous.
Anonymous said…
hey man, if you wanna drop some weight go ahead and join a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club. It's a great sport and does wonders for your belly and your confidence! It will be difficult at first but the rewards are just awesome. I'm a former fattie who dropped a ton after taking up BJJ.