“Keep the humiliation coming in the comments, it motivates me.”
Welcome, visitors from Your Fav is Problematic/anyone who got here by searching for “John Green”, I guess. This is the very first post on my site and is now almost 4 years old. Yet I still get hundreds of hits a week on this post, which is linked from the Your Fav is Problematic tumblr, so I wanted to make some updates to it.
First: you’ll note that the first comment on this post (the first comment ever on my blog, actually) is from John Green himself. HE was thoughtful and appreciative of my post. If you have come here to defend him to the death, to stan for him, to explain to me how I “don’t get” the joke, please do not waste your time. John Green himself, as a thoughtful reader and ally, did not do this and you should take that as a lesson.
Second: I DO “get” the joke. In fact, that is still the exact problem. If you have come here to talk about how HE DIDN’T REALLY MEAN IT, you are still part of the problem. This kind of shaming and humiliation is NEVER a joke and it NEVER happens in a vacuum. That was the entire reason I wrote this post – because I wanted John Green and nerdfighteria to consider that when they “know better” but still act like this they are feeding into the problem.
Third: I don’t retract one single thing of this because in the years that have passed Nerdfighteria and John Green have only CONTINUED to hammer away at the PIZZA things which is unavoidably about fat jokes. They can spin it about being about something else , about being nothing else than just liking to eat pizza, friends! But, as this post and that video and even Green’s apology makes clear – it’s NOT. In the comments of the original post it STILL asks you to wear the Pizza John shirt “to remind me to slim down!” So why doesn’t the answer on his tumblr mention that? Oh right, because that’s insulting and problematic! Pretending like that’s not the entire root of the meme doesn’t mean it’s NOT. It just means you know it’s problematic but still wanna make money off the joke. And that’s fucking gross.
It’s a joke about how much pizza Green ate (that’s why he was so fat, giggles!) That’s what it’s rooted in – John Green ate SO MUCH PIZZA and had a silly mustache and now it is the fandom in-joke that will not die and is still sold and promoted (it was a huge fundraiser effort at Christmas, just in case you weren’t tired of laughing yet – the 12 Days of Pizzamas – and yes, that’s a link to the still active JOHN GREEN IS FAT Facebook page, which as of July 2013 was asking people to pay attention to John’s “double chins” because hahaha!) there is simply no escaping that it has its roots in “parody” comments like “Gross, huge. TOO MUCH FOOD! You are disgusting!!!!!” It’s not a parody when someone says that to you or when someone says that to fat teens. It still hurts, it still means something deeply cruel, and it still says STOP EATING ALL THAT PIZZA AND MAYBE YOU WOULDN’T BE SO FAT, FATTY!
You don’t get to negate that because you say it’s a joke, because you say it means something else and your critics just don’t get the context you meant. YOU don’t get to dictate the terms of what makes a fat person feel insulted or belittled. People with privilege and power don’t get to dictate the terms of what “counts” as insult and harassment to marginalized people.
You don’t get to negate fat hate because you are an ally, because you would never “really” be mean to someone about their weight, you don’t get to negate that by playing it off as “hipster” fat hate. It’s not. It’s just plain fat hate and when you pose with your oh-so-cute PIZZA JOHN shirt believe me, your message is coming across loud and clear.
I stand by that, and I stand by this post, all these years later. I still think the question of who’s doing the laughing and what does that mean? is worth asking. Also worth asking, in this orgy of PIZZA JOHN merchandise: why does the JOHN GREEN IS FAT Facebook page still exist (4,700+ likes), is still endorsed by Green as “hilarious” in the comments of the original FAT video, and still make jokes about the food Green crams in his face?
I still think John Green is an important ally and, more than ever, I think that his voice carries weight. I wish that he would more carefully consider the PIZZA JOHN meme and its sad history within his fandom. And I hope that all you visitors from Your Fav is Problematic or casual searching or whatever will read this post, see my points and my links to research, and consider that same thing yourself.
At the end of February, John Green posted this vlog. Watching it made my skin crawl, but the quick response of his Nerdfighter-fandom (creating the pizza shirt, several admins of one of his largest fansites posing wearing it their profile pics on said fansite, “hilarious” responses in the YouTube comments-section filled with “fake” insults like: “Keep your chins up, land whale.” and “You are sick!!!! Gross, huge. TOO MUCH FOOD! You are disgusting!!!!!”) made it even worse.
For my readers who may not be familiar: John Green is a ROCK STAR in YAlit. (one of his friends, the author Maureen Johnson, told me that being out on tour with him was like being with “the nerdy Beatles.” I can totally see this.) He won the most important award in the field (the Printz Award) for his first book when he was just 28 years old. Besides the writing, he does the hugely successful vlogbrothers project and has a devoted fanbase known as nerdfighters. And, also, he’s awesome. Let me just state that right away.
I adore him. I have all three of his books autographed, I think he’s an incredibly talented author, I think Looking for Alaska is a modern classic and will still be read and loved by teenagers in 20 years, I think he’s an ally and advocate for social justice and equality. I have a poster of a quote from Looking for Alaska hanging up in the teen section of my library and I always will, because it’s powerful, meaningful text. I have teared up when hearing him speak about his dedication to teenager’s inner lives and the importance literature can have in said inner lives.
And he completely, utterly, fucked up here. It’s important to acknowledge this. It’s important to say this. It’s important to let our allies know when they have let us down.
When you search for this video, here are just a few of the sites that link to it: Gold Coast Personal Training, Weight Loss for Women Site, and No Chubby Hubby. What ads do you see when you watch it? What videos does YouTube suggest for you? Are the they ones about diets that promise you can lose 40 pounds overnight? That’s what *I* saw. This isn’t ad spam, it isn’t random.
Watching this vlog, I knew he was joking, I knew he was being ironic. I mean, gosh, can’t I take a joke? Don’t I know better? Don’t I understand when someone is just teasing? Can’t I just give him the benefit of the doubt? And yet. I still felt a “hipster racism” vibe all over it. (what’s hipster racism? As A.J. Plaid, writing at Racialicious so eloquently puts it: “I define hipster racism (I’m borrowing the phrase from Carmen Van Kerckhove) as ideas, speech, and action meant to denigrate another’s person race or ethnicity under the guise of being urbane, witty (meaning “ironic” nowadays), educated, liberal, and/or trendy.”) In short: John Green, because he “knows better” than to think humiliation ever actually works as motivation, is ironically laughing at the idea.
And yet this idea, that fat people can just be shamed into losing weight, that all they really need is some good old-fashioned public humiliation (don’t worry, this is actually for their own good!) is one of the oldest and most UN-ironic schools of thought. And besides all that? It’s just not true. (believe me, our culture does nothing but try to make fat people feel ashamed. Ashamed to exist, to be walking around, to expect clothes that fit, to eat in public, ashamed! If that’s all it took to lose weight, no one would be fat.) It’s not true and, here’s the key part: it has harmful, real-life consequences.
In February, a Cambridge University study found that half of the six year old girls surveyed (repeat: six years old) wished they were thinner. Where are six year old children getting messaging like that from? This messaging is part of our culture, is where. It’s perpetuated by hilarious Facebook groups (it’s all in good fun!) dedicated to telling a public figure how fat he is, dedicated to posting every picture they can find of said public figure eating food. (gross, eating food. That’s such a fat person thing to do!) And when that same public figure joins the fray by encouraging this atmosphere by, indeed, saying that humiliation is welcome: it only makes it worse.
This, by the way, is all without scratching the surface of the fact that this public figure is also well-known and well-loved among teenagers, a demographic that truly struggles with body image issues. (in 2008 the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology found that approximately 10 in 100 teenage girls suffer from an eating disorder.) When I watched that vlog, as a fat person, I felt that momentary prick of shame you always feel, even when you fight it, of someone vaguely humiliating/embarrassing you. If I were more motivated, if I were more humiliated, I could lose 15 pounds like John Green. He doesn’t seem to mind the teasing, he thinks it’s funny. I guess it is kind of funny. I’m probably just being too serious about it. I shouldn’t mind, everyone is just trying to help me, why do I have to be so uptight about it? I couldn’t help but wonder what John Green’s fat teenage fans thought, what his fans who have complicated, disordered relationships with food and eating thought of the video, of the ritual humiliation he seems so delighted to take part in.
Just in case it’s not clear: I’m not trying to chase John Green out of town with pitchforks, I’m not swearing off everything he ever does and saying all anorexia is his fault and he wants fatties to cry. What I am saying is: none of this takes place in a vacuum, all of this contributes to a negative climate. If you don’t believe me, think of the last time you heard someone you know, a friend, a casual acquaintance, a co-worker, a family member, say something casually negative and hurtful about their weight: I look so fat in this! I’m such a pig! I need to lose 10 pounds! If you work with teens, think of a time you heard a teenager say something like this to you.
John Green is not fat. John Green was never fat. Nerdfighters out there, you want to “decrease suck” and “increase awesome”? Well, this is how. Fight this. Take off the PIZZA shirt and stop giggling behind your hands about this. Pretending that “But John Green was never fat, hah!” is “part of the joke” is insulting to REAL LIFE fat people and it’s feeding into a culture that teaches us to hate our bodies and feel that if we are anything less than “perfect” we deserve to be humiliated and shamed. After all, that’s good motivation, right?