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"Biggest Loser," "Ugly Betty," and Downright Mean

by Alex Pols (2018-07-16)


I’ve found myself in a nasty quagmire a few times lately over 
meanness.  When I heard about the shows “Ugly Betty” and “The 
Biggest Loser,” I couldn’t believe the shows’ titles.  Whatever 
the actual shows were about, those titles are MEAN.  I decided 
not to watch either just on principle.  Not even to see what they 
were about.

Around the same time, “Borat” hit the theaters around here.  What 
did “Borat” mean?  No negative connotations that I could 
determine, but the reviews both piqued my interest and turned me 
off at the same time.  I did have what I called a perverse 
interest in seeing it, even though I was worried that I would 
laugh and then be embarrassed that I had found something funny.

I couldn’t talk anyone into going with me.  Drew doesn’t like 
comedies.  Meg wasn’t interested.  But then we were all at a 
party where several people raved about how much they had liked 
it.  Meg went without me, and then reported back that she hated 
it and found it had “no redeeming social value at all.” Since 
Meg has a finely tuned ethical barometer, I believed her.  She 
did say that the guy she went with laughed and that made her mad 
-- at him.  Since the premise of “Borat” seems to be tricking 
real people into acting like their real selves on film, no matter 
how caddish they are, I am glad I did not go.  Tricking people 
and laughing at them is not something I find funny.  No matter how 
boorish they are.

Then, I slid into some very disturbing conversations with “The 
Biggest Loser” fans who tried to convince me how great the show 
was, how it was really educational (fat people would learn how to 
eat and exercise by watching it), and how the 
biggest loser was really a winner.  Somehow, I couldn’t be 
convinced.  How could a show that played on the commonly 
understood phrase “the biggest loser” (as in “He is the biggest 
loser") possibly be construed as a positive experience for people 
struggling with weight?  Which more and more people in this 
country are doing every day.

Rather than break my pledge to myself not to add to the Nielson 
ratings of “The Biggest Loser,” I Googled the show and found this 
Entertainment Weekly review which put my 
worst fears into words.  Here are a few of them:

But there’s a loathsome, mock-the-fatty undertow to Biggest 
Loser. Part of the ugliness comes courtesy of the editing. .... 

Loser’s challenges are even more manipulative: Many of the stunts 
have no goal but to ridicule - or punish - the contestants. One 
can argue that forcing out-of-shape folks to climb to the top of 
that L.A. building was a lesson in perseverance. But what’s the 
point of making them squeeze in and out of car windows too small 
for them? Or forcing them to build a tower of pastries using only 
their mouths? Or compete for a bag of lard? (Thereby forcing a 
nation to make an immediate, collective ‘’tub of’’ reference.)

More Googling, this time on “Ugly Betty”, brought up the ABC 
“Ugly Betty” website.  The banner across the top reads: “Ugly is 
in!  Go to the ABC store to buy this T-shirt and get an Ugly 
Betty ring free!  ABC’s net proceeds to benefit Girls Inc., 
inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

Then I go to loveawake.com where I find the following:

BE UGLY ‘07 
Girls Inc. is teaming up with ABC on the “BE UGLY ‘07” campaign. 
The campaign encourages people to be real in a superficial world, 
just like the title character of ABC’s hit show, Ugly Betty. 
Girls Inc. kicked off the partnership at a luncheon event hosted 
by ABC Entertainment and CosmoGIRL! magazine, where Girls Inc. 
girls met the show’s star, America Ferrera. Congratulations to 
America Ferrera and the Ugly Betty team on their recent Golden 
Globe wins!

First off, the girls in the accompanying photo with “Ugly Betty” 
start America Ferrera (what a name) did not particularly happy or 
in on the joke.  And Ferrera was by far the prettiest girl in the 
picture.  And co-host COSMOGIRL???  Go on over to that site
No ugly girls there.

ABC has made a half-hearted attempt to defend the show name “Ugly 
Betty” by starting a “movement” to reclaim ugly and make the term 
a positive one.  Like black folks reclaiming n****r and gay folks 
reclaiming queer, faggot, and dyke.  The difference that self- 
serving ABC does not see is that n****r, queer, faggot and dyke 
are only okay when used by the minority group with each other, 
usually affectionately.  Those terms have a far different 
connotation when used by the non-minority group members.  Ugly 
has a long ways to go.  Who would ever want to be called “ugly,” 
whether or not the namer was ugly, too?

Even more ridiculous is that the “Ugly Betty” character is not 
ugly!  The actress who plays her is beautiful, and the “ugliness” 
seems to be glasses, braces, and a bad fashion sense.  She looks 
like a gawky 13 year old girl who could easily become a real 
beauty in just a few years.  What about someone truly ugly?  A 
disfigured actress who looked it?  Would that be so funny?

What about a reality series about people who were messy and 
needed help getting organized?  We could call it “The Dirtiest 
****”!  You name the minority.  Lots would fit.  They could get a 
free house makeover.  Why stop there?  How about a free new house 
to the dirtiest?

Segue to a story from the Netherlands: 

Dutch shock at proposed dating show for ‘visibly disfigured’ 

The Netherlands, the country that has pioneered reality shows 
like “Big Brother”, is planning a new first - a dating programme 
for the visibly disfigured. 

The broadcaster SBS 6 is seeking candidates for its “Love at 
Second Sight” show due to be launched in February. 

"Do you have a visible serious handicap and are you looking for a 
partner?” says an appeal on its Web site. 

"The programme is a platform for people with such problems to 
share experiences and feelings in a positive way with the rest of 
the Netherlands and to show that they are absolutely not 
pitiful,” the broadcaster said. 

"The main aim of the programme is to remove prejudice about these 
people, to create more acceptance and respect and, of course, to 
find the love of their lives.” 

But the majority of Dutch viewers are turned off by the show that 
was initially set to be called “Monster Love”. 

A poll by the mass circulation De Telegraaf daily showed 85 
percent do not like the idea, with only 9 percent in favour.

“MosterMonster Love”?  Need I say more???