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A reference to James' weight gain or not? You tell me. The black thing on his neck is the nicotine-sucking device. It sounds pretty practical, actually. Edit: or not. See discussion below. Also his coat looks really tight, so I'm leaning more and more on "fat joke" here. 

So you know, I'm going to gush at the Baltarstar Blog but don't feel calm enough for that yet. I have yet to watch the entire episode properly. But here's something I'm thinking of, re: the health themes. (No spoilers about the plot here) The episode was written by Paula Yoo. 

In this episode, Charles Grant, time traveller from the 1940's, is trying to adjust to 2010 in various ways. One of them is that Dr Allison Blake is trying to get him to quit smoking. But he loves to smoke and relishes his last cigarette. Allison installs a device under his skin that sucks the nicotine out of his blood. "So I can carry on smoking and they will they'll scrub me clean," Grant exclaims and lights up. To his surprise, the device sends a pain impulse into his nerves. "Did I mention the device has a negative reinforcing impact?" Allison smirks. While bantering about this, Grant asks her out for a drink, and she says, "It seems like you're trading one vice for another." Grant says sexily, "Trust me, I have an endless array of vices for you to cure, Doctor Blake." Mmmmm. This was nice chemistry right there. Um, right, analysis. Yes. 

Later, Jo Lupo meets Grant at Café Diem (where you can order anything you can think of). Lupo has a super-health-smoothie with fruit, weed and protein, which Grant surveys derisively: "That your lunch?" Lupo says yes, "It's the perfect meal. [health talk I couldn't care less about] Looks like you could use some." I'm not sure if this is meant as a fat joke - see screencap; she looks at his belly with what could be derision - or, well, something else. James gained some weight before this show, but is he big enough to be fat-scolded? I'm not sure. I've certainly seen many scenes where a slim woman tells a chubby man to try a low-calorie choice, and then the man opts for a huge cholest-fest.

Grant says, "Like a hole in the head." (is this a 40's phrase?) "Call me old-fashioned but I prefer to eat my food, not drink it." He orders a "steak with potatoes, eggs, butter... two fingers of Scotch." The café owner looks downright excited: "A man's order if there ever was one!" Lupo smugly lists all the bad things in his food: "Cholesterol, starch, salt AND liquor - you'll be dead before dessert." Grant says, "Oh! Dessert! -Coconut cream pie." (The way he eats could be a weight reference too. OR a "they lived like this in the 40's" reference.) Jo sips on her smoothie as she says, "No wonder the life expectancy for men your age is 20 years shorter." Grant rolls his eyes and says "everything that makes life worth living" is supposedly bad for you. "Pretty much," Lupo says. "I can't take this. I need a cigarette," Grant says and lights up. The pain hits him, but he smiles through it: "It's worth the pain." Lupo tells him, quite annoyed, that he can't light up in here, "Second-hand smoking is terrible...", but they're interrupted by plot spoilers, so I won't go further with the recap. 

The scenes here seem to operate on three levels: 
1. Guy from the 40's doesn't know as much about health hazards as we do and needs to be re-educated. He puts on an amusing but futile resistance. Like he says, "Old habits die hard." 

2. Smart, slim, self-controlling women smugly scold an indulgent (chubby?) guy who just wants to live a little. 

3. Health is the ultimate goal of every sane adult, and putting your pleasure before it is just nearsighted and dumb.  

Number 1 I have no issue with. It's funny, well played, and feels realistic. One might ask if we've gone a bit too far in the health-fascist direction, though, and it would have been nice to address that idea. (Grant does say doctors "got away with sucking the fun out of life", but I'm not sure if this is presented as valid criticism. Allison shoots it down with "These will suck the life out of you if you don't quit" [removes cigarette from his mouth]. But OK, this is just one aspect of the episode, and it's a light comedy, so I'll cut them some slack. 

Number 2 is a common gendered stereotype I've seen on many shows. Note the café owner's phrasing of "a man's order". While this could be read as a "women rule over men" thing - Allison, as the doctor, is in a position of power -, I think it's at base patriarchal. Stemming from the "angel of the house" era, our culture has a strong belief that women are the gatekeepers of health (their own, their husband and children's), while men often represent indulgence and enjoying life. Men have more freedom, in other words. It's the women's responsibility to worry about nutritious meals, so men can be carefree and indulge in their treats when the women are away. This stereotype also ignores that health pressures can be a source of stress and self-loathing (leading to depression, high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) for a lot of women. It's a double-edged sword. Maybe Allison and Jo could also learn something from Grant, which would make the two views more balanced. 

Granted, their actions - especially Allison's - probably stem from a simple goodwill. Allison wants Grant to be healthy and helps him in a very concrete way. (Edit: oo, but see msharlyquinn's comment below - this could be viewed as a punishment, in which case it's a well meaning but taken-too-far thing, a sort of punitive collar for him.) They don't want him to feel bad, it's just a bit of tough love. My problem with this sort of dialogue is that there seems to be an in-built idea of "we are right and you are wrong, admit it and change", which I always dislike. So we move on to point 3. 

This idea of health is present in the smugness of the women's tone, and especially Lupo and Grant's banter at the café. While Lupo may be kind of right about Grant - who has probably lived on steaks and pies in the 40's -, it's not necessarily a good general rule. I'm not a fan of "grown up scolds other grown up for their terrible lifestyle", because it shows a lack of respect. If you played this scene with a Christian scolding a mocking atheist for their lack of deep thought, wouldn't it be frowned upon? To me, this is just the same attitude with another issue: "I have the truth, you're living the wrong way." Of course, it's balanced with Grant's silly ignorance with the smoothie - when Lupo falls ill, he's sure it has to do with what she drank. Lupo could be acting out of slight hurt, especially if she genuinely offered for him to try the smoothie. 

I suppose my problem is that, in general, I disagree with the reasoning in point 3. I'm not really convinced that it has to be healthy living vs. absolute indulgence, or that indulgence is childish and defiant. (See Grant's attitude on smoking in front of others.) Also, health education isn't an exact science. Cholesterol, starch, and salt are parts of a healthy diet; there's just too much of them in the meal Grant ordered. There are many schools of health thought, and I'm not sure if even Lupo's super health shake would get an okay from some fanatics. (Fruits contain sugar!) 

OK, so this post was 
a. An intelligent person analyzing popular culture
b. A boring fat feminist sucking all the fun out of a comedy show. 
You decide. 


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 7th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
My gripe was that the patch is technically positive punishment, not negative reinforcement. Anyone who has TAed for a psych class knows it's nearly impossible to get folks clear on this stuff. But come on, Syfy. Allison would know better.
Aug. 7th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
Ooh, true! That's a really good point.

You COULD read that not as goodwill but as a way of controlling him - creating a situation where he can't choose, and effectively has to quit smoking.

A kind of well-meaning pressuring/badgering. Although I enjoyed his response: he didn't succumb to it.
Aug. 7th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
..although it problematically reinforces the idea that men have no self control and have to be monitored by women to live healthier.

(Not that smoking cessation is about self control, but the issue is comically overdone so that he's not even fighting it.)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 8th, 2010 10:58 pm (UTC)
Oo, you may have a point about those ads! I hadn't thought of that before. So it's a mutual swap of new angles. :)

Doing surveys on magazines, I've often wondered why nearly all health-related magazines are aimed at women. I mean, it says something if there's a separate one called "Men's Health". Men could probably learn something from women in terms of lifestyle, but women could also learn from men - to RELAX every once in a while. I hate how all of the stuff aimed at women is full of do this, don't do that, watch out, take care of your family. Sometimes it should just be - live a little, enjoy life, in a way that doesn't improve your skin/figure/hair/teeth/nails/general health.

It might be interesting to examine how the women&health thing works in a lesbian relationship. Mary seems to worry about my health sometimes, and likewise I worry about hers. I don't think I take responsibility for her health though. Or do I? I do tell her to relax, to sleep more, remember to eat, etc. Hmmm. And she tells me to do these things also. Maybe we're each taking responsibility of the other's health in a way that a man wouldn't do.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )