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The good, the bad, and the grotesque

Don't listen to the government: dismemberment is not a side affect of obesity
 
 
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The other day when I ordered a sandwich from a fast food joint and the cashier asked "fruit or fries with that?".

My reaction: Whhhhaaatt???

It seems that finally all the talking heads warning America about an obesity epidemic is actually making some difference. I ordered the fruit -- for 55 cents extra -- and happily ate a less-unhealthy meal.

Thankfully, corporations are actually taking a little responsibility for the health of their consumers. In fact, Business Week reported recently that "Kraft and PepsiCo have created rating systems to designate healthier foods. McDonald's said it would begin printing detailed nutrition information on its packaging in February," and even Walt Disney said "it would remove characters like Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and Chicken Little from candy and food products it determined to be unhealthy for children." Will wonders never cease?

These are the kind of changes that are useful to the American psyche. Children should grow up thinking that fruit is a normal option, so that hopefully the increasing rate of child obesity will be reversed. (A new report showed that one in three U.S. adolecents are considered physically unfit.)

However, with the good comes the bad. And, of course, the bad is coming from our silly government, which has employed the Ad Council to make some grotesque obesity commercials that offer more puzzlement than encouragement. The series of ads, which have been released over the past months with little fanfare, show passers-by finding lost body parts in a very Law and Order-like fashion. In one ad, a couple kids playing on the beach find a body part:

Kid 1: "Check it out man!" (pokes a lost belly with a stick, as if it's a corpse)

Kid 2: "What is that?" (other kid says with a disgusted face)

Kid 1: "Looks like someone's belly. Probably lost it walking on the beach"

Kid 2: "Just leave it. Let's go." (still disgusted)

Then there's some happy music and a reminder to "walk instead of sitting around."

My reaction: Whhhaaatt?

The ad council has a whole series of these commercials, with people finding missing body parts including a pair of "thunder thighs," someone's "spare tire," a chin, and a butt. To see the commercials yourself, click HERE.

The Ad Council certainly has good intentions, but they are mixing all sorts of metaphors that don't add up. The commercials resemble something from a thriller about a serial killer in which a passer-by discovers a dismembered body at the scene of a murder. Equating weight loss with dismemberment? Probably not the tone we should take with this one, guys.

Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.