Dorothy Woodend

Why Blockbuster Movie 'Logan' Is a Superhero Saga for Our Times

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die...” — Ecclesiastes 3

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A Cruel Summer of Wretched, Big Movies

It’s been a bad summer for big movies.

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'The Wailing': A Horror Revealed in Hindsight

Director Na Hong-jin's film The Wailing is a horror movie best watched backwards. By which I mean it's a film that only reveals itself in hindsight and in some ways it doesn't even do that. After seeing it, I was tempted to re-watch the entire 156 minutes to see where the real clues lie and where various red things are placed to distract one's attention and understanding.

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'Lady Dynamite': TV's Weirdest, Funniest Show Is Also the Truest

Thank you, Emily Nussbaum. The New Yorker's Pulitzer-winning columnist has opened my eyes once more. Her recent review of Lady Dynamite made me take another look at Maria Bamford's new series on Netflix and I am very happy that I did.

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Michael Moore's on a Quest to Steal the Best Ideas of Other Countries and Save His Own

The indomitable, inimitable American writer and activist Rebecca Solnit was in Vancouver last week to give a talk. Her speech, titled We Can Be Heroes, kicked off on a rather surprising note of hope. Yes, folks, hope -- that most resilient and pernicious of seeds has taken root in these dark days of climate change, whitey Oscars and general blarghiness. It's easy, almost ridiculously so, to look around and see mountains of things that profoundly suck (Solnit's best one-liner was a quip about snatching the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left). But despair isn't useful -- it leaches out the joy of everyday living and replaces it with enervating bitterness and passivity.

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Will Naomi Klein's Film on Global Warming Change Everything?

Sometimes I have a sinking feeling that all of the films, books, essays and performances that we in the arts carefully write about, think about, worry endlessly about, don't actually change very much. Maybe the effect is cumulative, or maybe that is just what we tell ourselves, so that we can keep going.

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Um, Now Can We Have a Girl's Coming of Age Film?

Oh boys. You've been in the spotlight for such a long time, it's little wonder that you are loathe to give it up. The coming of age story for young men has been a cinematic staple for decades. Long before Rushmore's Max Fischer, there was Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and Bud Cort in Harold and Maude. But what was once charming and sweetly endearing has curdled into something kind of gross.

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'Into the Storm' Blockbuster's Lead Role? The Weather

I must admit that I have a bit of a storm fetish. Perhaps it comes from growing up in the Kootenays. On late summer afternoons, thunderstorms tend to roll in like clockwork, transforming blue skies to black in a matter of moments. Sunny beach scenes turn into Armageddon. Boaters bolt for cover as the wind kicks up and huge yellow-green waves threaten to dump water-skiers and fair weather sailors into the dark depths of Kootenay Lake. When lightning arcs across the sky, the dogs whine to be let in so they can hide under the dining room table, and the humans run madly around unplugging their various computers, routers and even the phone. If you're lucky, you get a front row seat to the ultimate fireworks show, lightning, thunder and curtains of rain roiling across the valley. Ten minutes later, it's usually all over and everyone goes back to doing what they were doing before.

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'Guardians of the Galaxy' Looks Like Quite the Sci-Fi Flick Blockbuster, But...

Already this summer we've seen a bevy of films released: some good (Snowpiercer), some bad (Tammy), a lot that were simply kind of okay (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and even a few genuine surprises (Edge of Tomorrow). It doesn't take much to please the summer filmgoer, and I include myself here. All we truly desire are a few moments of escape, a bit of fun and 90 minutes in an air-conditioned theatre.

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Why 'Snowpiercer' Is the Must See Movie of the Summer

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer.

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Tom Cruise's Latest Sci-Fi Flick Might Seem Like a Flop, But It's Actually a Hoot

On the face of things, Edge of Tomorrow looks like a perfectly conventional science fiction epic starring Tom Cruise, and on one level that's exactly what it is. But there are multiple levels at work here, and like any good video game you must fight through to the end to find out whether it was worth playing.

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Why Watching Christian Blockbuster 'Noah' Is Like Sitting in a Giant Bathtub

"Are you there, God? It's me, Noah!"

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Hollywood Has Joined in on the Exploitation of Iraq with New Film

The other day my mother said she'd just read a great novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called Half of a Yellow Sun. The story, about Biafra's struggle for independence from Nigeria, chronicles the life and death of one disparate group of people. "It was great because it was actually about something: death, war, survival," said my mother. "But it didn't make anyone pathetic."

Her words echoed in my brain as I watched The Situation, a new film directed by Philip Haas, and written by former war correspondent Wendell Steavenson. The film takes place in current day Iraq (although it was primarily filmed in Morocco) and it makes everybody out to be pathetic. And while this is a major problem, it is not even the film's greatest flaw.

In the film's opening sequence, two young Iraqi boys are accosted by an American military patrol. It's past curfew and instead of sending the boys on their way with a warning, the Americans throw them off a bridge. One of the kids swims to shore, but the other drowns. You might think the plot of the film would hang on this crime and its aftermath, but you'd be wrong. This is merely an aperitif, a little amuse-bouche as it were, for the pottage yet to come.

Hot journalists

While the country threatens to dissolve into a seething stew of civil war, insurgency and occupation, a beautiful blond journalist is falling in love with an Iraqi photographer. The real meat of the story is that of Anna Molyneux (Connie Nielsen), a Western reporter eager to carve a career out of the bleeding beast of a dying nation. Anna is hot on the trail of corruption and violence in Iraq; or perhaps, she's simply hot. Men everywhere take one look at her blond, world-weary beauty and keel over. Quite literally. Her part-time boyfriend is an American intelligence officer named Dan Murphy (Damian Lewis) and the other man in her life is Zaid (Mido Hamada), a fellow photojournalist, and the most sensitive, new age Iraqi man ever conceived in the febrile mind of a screenwriter. It's a Harlequin romance with a little grit thrown in.

Digging for journalistic gold in the film's version of Iraq is pretty simple since corruption is basically in the air, the soil, the water and most especially the people. Everywhere you look, someone is murdering someone else in the name of politics or profit, and the difference is often negligible. Anna's friend Rafeeq (Nasser Memarzia) takes her to the drowned boy's funeral, and she tries to pass him a mysterious letter, which he refuses to accept. The letter, it turns out is from her boyfriend Dan who is trying to enlist Rafeeq for the American cause.

Dan is apparently trying to build infrastructure in the form of hospitals and incubators, but like most liberals, he's a milksop, an ineffectual puddler who does more harm than good. His various white elephant projects amount to very little, except to keep him busy. Meanwhile, the Iraqis themselves are fighting and killing with wild abandon. The local sheikh, Tahsin (Saïd Amadis) keeps his men loyal with money and loose women, while the neighbourhood terrorist, Walid (Driss Roukh), is stealing arms from the police and stockpiling them. All in all, it's a mess, with the American soldiers blindly bumbling about, shooting the shit out of women and children and menacing anyone who even looks at them twice. The message is clear: war is hell, but rebuilding is even worse.

'United in graft and corruption'

The film goes to some length to illustrate how bad people can do good things and good people can do bad things. But whether they're bow-tie wearing college boys armed with freshly acquired doctoral degrees, or old Ba'athists looking to get plum assignments from the Americans, everyone is united in graft and corruption. Each character is compromised, with the possible exception of too-good-to-be-true Zaid, who, by the rules of Screenwriting 101, is therefore doomed.

When the film is laying out the players, it has some interest, but that all goes quickly to hell, as the love story between Anna and Zaid comes to the fore. Love is perhaps the least likely thing to happen in the middle of a firefight, but the film would have you believe that romance can blossom between bursts of gunfire and bombs: a quick glance here, a near kiss there. "You can't kiss me in front of the Mujahideen," says Zaid, before he heads back into the fray. It might almost be funny, if it weren't probably true.

The character of Anna, however, is what ultimately tips the film into bad taste. I'm sure female war correspondents everywhere are shaking their heads. (Lara Logan, I'm looking at you, babe.) When Anna runs off trying to get "the story," as she says, leaving a trail of bodies behind her, her two swains rush after her to attempt a rescue. The fact that Connie Nielsen is not even slightly believable as a war correspondent is part of the problem. But it is Anna's level of solipsistic self-absorption that is ultimately damning. While she whimpers, "Please stop shooting," a little boy is killed right behind her, and she fails to notice.

The Iraqis fall in heaps, there are bodies everywhere, but at the end of the film, Anna is free to leave, her white skin and blond hair unscathed. She can walk away from the carnage and head back the land of malls and flowers, somehow wiser for her pain. The unspoken fact of 70,243 civilian casualties (many of them Iraqi women and children) has gone largely unreported, but white lives, be they soldiers or American civilians, are duly noted and agonized over.

War: the fiction

It is here where the film deserves to be excoriated: the agony of a country in the middle of bloody dissolution isn't entertainment, it's something else entirely. Exactly what, I don't know. But it begs the question about the role of art in situations of atrocity. Certainly, there were films made about the Vietnam War, after it was over, or even in the case of Hearts and Minds, while it was still going, but to fictionalize a still very real war while it's happening seems at best in poor taste, and at worst cheap, exploitive and racist. The number of documentaries released in the past year (Iraq in Fragments, My Country, My Country, etc.) also makes fiction itself seem somewhat irrelevant. Surely nothing could be as strange as real events and, in the case of Iraq, nothing quite as terrible either.

Wendy Steavenson's war reportage is immensely better than the film's story, so one wonders exactly what happened between her writing about her own experience and the muddied plot of the film itself. (Steavenson spent a number of years in Iraq, had an Iraqi boyfriend and wrote about her experiences in Granta, Time Magazine and other publications.) That's Hollywood for you, I suppose. But it also brings to mind the sense that Western journalists can go to war zones, get their stories, and then return in triumph, having lived through the fire, to write about their experiences. The old line about a day for the news, a week for an essay and a month for a book come to mind. It's a little too easy to be cynical about the motivation of journalists, but the lurking issue of cultural appropriation keeps raising its ugly little head.

The film's message about Iraq is muddled at best and, at worse, simply another case of using horror to sell a movie. It seems odd that some of the most decimated, tragic places in the world are often the setting for western love stories. Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie used the backdrop of dying African children to fuel their passion in Beyond Borders, and although The Situation isn't quite as howlingly terrible, it too falls victim to the vampiric impulse to use the real suffering of people as a form of strange entertainment. Real war, real death, real carnage become fictionalized stories, merely something to watch. This is not just in bad taste or exploitative, it's parasitic.

Fictionalized accounts of real people and real events make the leap to the screen mighty quickly these days. The film, A Mighty Heart, which chronicles the death of Daniel Pearl is playing at the Cannes Film Festival this week, only a few years after his death. Other films at Cannes also obliquely addressed the issue of war, but very few chose to depict it directly, and even fewer mentioned Iraq.

Using a real story as the basis of fiction certainly isn't new, but the artist must be up to the task of clarifying or mediating reality, otherwise sentiment takes the place of emotion and art becomes cheap junk. The central question, perhaps, is what makes the difference? Is there one defining thing that makes the raw stuff of current events into art? Is it the skill of the artist, the nobility of their intent, or some strange alchemical process that nobody truly understands? How does a novel like Half of a Yellow Sun, which also uses a tragic story to make a profound statement about humanity, achieve the opposite effect of The Situation, which leaves you feeling ill used and manipulated? It's a mystery, but you know it when you see it, or at least you ought to.

World of Horror

Ten thousand years ago years ago Stone Age people painted half-human/half-animal monsters on cave walls. Flash forward 100 centuries and filmmakers continue to scare the pants off viewers with images of gore and ghouls. But in the last five years the general audience's appetite for terror has increased exponentially.

In 2003 alone, some 300 horror flicks worldwide were released in theatres or re-released on DVD or video, including "House of the Dead" from Germany's Uwe Boll, Briton Danny Boyle's apocalyptic thriller "28 Days Later" and a litany of Hollywood-style offerings ("Darkness Falls" and "The Order"). When real life for many is scarier than anything on the silver screen, why is the lust for fear universal? And do the Japanese find different things scary than the Argentines? Is Indian horror vastly different from French?

When putting together his book Fear Without Frontiers (FAB Press, 2003), Steven Jay Schneider was surprised to learn that horror is just about the only cinematic genre that hasn't been co-opted by Hollywood. Tinseltown has usurped the kung fu genre, and even some Bollywood romances have a taste of the American romantic comedy. But from country to country, Schneider found, horror has retained "specific cultural conventions" -- from 1930s Mexican vampire movies to Austrian home-invasion flicks.

"There are some things that are capable of scaring mostly everyone, cross-culturally -- doppelgängers, being buried alive, castration anxieties, etc.," Schneider explains. "Mostly the types of themes and imagery that Freud wrote about."

But other scariness is very particular, such as Malaysian vampire films inspired by the folkloric figure the langsuyar (a creature who sucks the blood of children through an opening in her neck). And you won't find many zombie flicks in Indian horror because of the Hindu practice of cremation. "The Japanese have a number of horror films with vengeful female killers [including "Freeze Me" and "Odishon"],"says Schneider."This likely has a lot to do with the repression of certain aspects of female sexuality in Japanese society."

Japanese horror cinema has also taken a particularly violent turn (witness the bloodbath that was Shion Sono's "Suicide Club"), and some lay the blame directly on the country's prolonged financial slump. In a recent interview with horror-fan magazine Fangoria, Hideo Nakata, director of the smash hit "Ringu," said, "In Japan, we have a rising tide of children killing parents, parents killing children, as well as killer cults. Horror has changed greatly over the past 20 years. Young people have become accustomed to true terror."

Sam McKinlay, programmer for the Cinemuerte Festival in Vancouver (a film festival specializing in horror films) maintains horror is directly influenced by external events, even years after the fact. The Great Depression, for instance, produced versions of Hollywood horror classics: "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Mummy."

"The first wave of slasher films ('Night of the Living Dead,' 'The Shining,' 'Halloween') were a response to the violence of Vietnam," he theorizes. "During Desert Storm, the new breed of funny, self-reflexive slasher films made its official comeback with 'Scream' and its sequels." This summer, immediately following the most recent war in Iraq, horror films took top spot at the box office with "Freddy vs. Jason," followed by "Jeepers Creepers II." Now ironic, tongue-in-cheek horror (of the "Scream" and "Freddy-and-Jason" variety) is being replaced by good, old-fashioned terror. The much-hyped remake of the brutal "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is now in theatres, and another prequel to what many consider the scariest movie of all time, "The Exorcist," is set for release next year.

While films like "28 Days Later" and "Ringu," along with their Indian, Spanish, Italian and Korean counterparts, have created a huge market for smart but relatively cheap horror films, increasingly crosscultural film fertilization results in some surprising hybrids. While Nakata's "Ringu" employed traditional Japanese supernatural stories, he also admitted to being influenced by the "Amityville Horror" series. The Italian giallo (or thriller) genre grew into the US slasher film, but sometimes, the offspring is less than stellar.

If Quentin Tarantino ripped off the yakuza films of Kinju Fukasaku, and Guy Ritchie ripped off Tarantino with "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," and "Dog Soldiers" (a British werewolf flick) ripped them both off, well you get the picture, after a while it becomes impossible to trace references back to their point of origin. McKinlay has some strongly held opinions on this form of filmic appropriation. "The horror industry is like a vicious circle as everyone takes a bit from everyone else, but the US system of killing films for the American audiences will always be a travesty."

Although purists screamed that US-made "Ring" purged all the subtlety from the original, the film's executive producer Roy Lee has no such reservations. As 'Asia's Man in Hollywood' according to a recent profile in the New Yorker he has sold the remake rights to some 17 Asian hit films, including Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on ("The Grudge") to Sam Raimi, executive producer of "The Evil Dead" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Dark Water" (to be released through Disney), another spookfest from Nakata. Lee thinks that horror is the most translatable of genres, because "all cultures are pretty much scared by the same things." While he has mostly mined the film cultures of Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, Lee's most recent acquisition is from la hell province: Québécois filmmaker Éric Tessier's "Sur le Seuil."

Directed by Tessier from a screenplay co-written with author Patrick Sénécal, the story revolves around a horror novelist who chops off the ends of his fingers in an attempt to stop himself from writing. "Sur le seuil" is a first for Quebec cinema, but given the popularity of horror around the world, its entry could not have come at a better moment.

Canadian films are on the cutting edge of horror. The big Mack Daddy of Canadian scaries, David Cronenberg was recently chosen as one of the top 40 directors of all time by Empire Magazine in the UK, and a special tribute to his inimitable directorial style will take place at L.A.'s American Cinematheque January 29-February 4th. Screenwriter Karen Walton, who penned the cult hit "Ginger Snaps," admits that most Canadian horror makers are "direct descendants of Cronenberg. I'm from that generation that grew up on his films, his philosophy resonates, the body betraying, illness, lust, the mind, I'm a great fan of psychological complexity of his films."

According to Dr. Andre Loiselle, Professor of Film Studies at Carleton University, Cronenberg's films tap into our fears of "the violence from within." Loiselle argues this stems from Canada's colonial past, when early settlers huddled together over the long dark winters. Isolation led to claustrophobia led to sudden explosions of violence.

British film critic Nigel Floyd has written about horror films for more than 20 years and in that time he's seen them come and go. Unlike the trend of remaking Japanese or Canadian horror for US audiences, Floyd doubts that the same fate will befall British films.

"The British tradition of horror (i.e., Hammer Studios) was very much a product of British society, it wasn't until I saw "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" that I realized horror films didn't have to have people wearing cravats in them. These were very gentlemanly films. Very stuffy and aristocratic. There's always the danger of British films aping Hollywood, and ending up not knowing what they want to be exactly." He admits that the mix of US and British traditions can lead to some hellish results such as Heather Graham channeling Dick Van Dyke's 'mockney' accent in "From Hell." Crikey!

"British horror is always sputtering and threatening a revival," says Floyd "but what you have to realize it is still very much a cottage industry in England. They are strictly one-offs."

While "28 Days Later" was something of an exception with a whack of money from Fox Searchlight, other films like Rob Green's "Bunker" and "Dog Soldiers" were made very much on the cheap. "One of the things that sets these films apart from studio dreck is that they were made by one (oft times insane) individual. These are renegade filmmakers, not some pop video hack making Friday the 13th part bazillion."

Scary movies, as a form of sublimation, may be a psychological necessity during times of stress, as evidenced by the explosion of horror film making during economic depression, war or other real horrors. While Hollywood stripmines world cinema in search of the next big hit, independent filmmakers around the world will continue to churn out fictional versions of the darkest parts of their national psyches.

Dorothy Woodend is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.

Big Boys Rule on the Small Screen

Last night I was watching "Andy Richter Rules the Universe" and I had a thought. "The Drew Carey Show," "King of Queens," "CSI," "Boston Public," "George Lopez," "Grounded for Life," "According to Jim," "NYPD Blue," "The Sopranos," "The Simpsons" -- what do all these shows have in common?  

Big boys.

No longer simply comic foils or chubby sidekicks, the leading men of these shows are supersize stars. Big men on TV aren't new -- Jackie Gleason was no size 2. But have there ever been so many all at once? It's a virtual overload. According to the National Center for Health Statistics 61 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. In a culture where so many are overweight, is this phenomenon spreading over into the entertainment world?

Funny fatties have been around a long time. Aristotle traced the origins of comedy to processions common to the Dionysiac celebrations in Greek culture. One of the principal figures in these processions was a big fat guy, usually a comic actor wearing a padded costume, with a protruding stomach and big bum -- the komast. The word seems to supply a likely etymology for the word comedy (i.e., song of the komos). The Ancient Greeks worshipped the muscular male body, and probably found the paunch and big bum of the komast funny. They weren't alone. America has had a long tradition of fat comedians, from Gleason, Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy, Lou Costello, Buddy Hackett to John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley and Drew Carey. Which begs the question, are fat men funnier than skinny men?

Entertainment honchos seem to think so. "Saturday Night Live" is never long without a hilarious hefty. Comedian Horatio Sanz is the current large man in situ, following in the footsteps of Chris Farley, who vowed to "Live fast, die young, and leave a 296-pound corpse" and famous fatty John Belushi, who also OD'd and left a big casket to fill. The New Yorker's James Wolcott called Farley "a party animal without a party." And found it "almost cruel to watch this heavy young man heave and breathe hard and hitch up his belt and thump himself on the chest to dislodge food from his throat."

Even if Wolcott doesn't think fat is funny, others appear to, judging by the success of SNL and other fat-focused shows. But just exactly who is laughing at whom? And is there a degree of complicity between the entertainment industry and audience members?

Paul Budra of Simon Fraser University, a professor of English Literature and an expert on popular culture, makes a distinction between film and television. Despite the success of a few notable examples like Eddy Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" or Mike Myers as "Fat Bastard" -- who is featured again in "Goldmember," the third segment of Mike Myers' Austin Powers magnum opus -- Hollywood doesn't seem ready for a flood of big men on the big screen.

"It is hard for me to imagine a complicity between Hollywood and the increasingly overweight population of America." As proof, Budra offers the experience of a Hollywood screenwriter and producer friend. He wrote the movie "Speed," but created a hero dramatically different than the one that ended up on the big screen. His original screenplay cast the lead as a middle-aged, overweight cop with an addiction to painkillers.  "The studio said rewrite it for Keanu Reeves," Budra says. "And the woman driving the bus can't be an overweight African American. She's going to be Sandra Bullock. The very idea that realistic character actors, large actors, be cast was a non-starter."

TV, on the other hand, appears to be warming to big-sized characters. "Television producers have recently been more open to casting character actors instead of good-looking mannequins," Budra says, noting that part of this trend could be tied to the aging of the general population. "TV producers have to plan for an audience that is increasingly comprised of boomers over the age of 50. By the time one is 50 the chances of going up a size are pretty good -- I'm beginning to find this out myself.

"If you're doing a show about street life in contemporary American cities, you will have to include large people or throw the pretense of realism out the window. Comedy, on the other hand, has always used overweight people as the brunt of often very cruel jokes."

Alan Steadham, Director of the international Size Acceptance Society (ISAA) agrees "Comedies don't usually win Oscars. With few exceptions (such as Kathy Bates), fat people are not portrayed in the lead roles. They may land a supporting role or two but never the lead. It's a Hollywood hang-up."

When fat people are portrayed on film, they're usually played by thin actors in fat suits, a phenomena that's been compared to a modern version of the blackface minstrel show. Change "Black Like Me" to "Fat like Me." The ISAA, however, doesn't agree with this analogy.

"There are actors who have clearly donned fat suits for quick, sarcastic gags, such as Myers and Martin Short (as Jiminy Glick). Eddie Murphy and Gwenyth Paltrow ended up being sympathetic to the plight of plus-sized people after their roles, says Alan Steadham. "Murphy referred to 'The Nutty Professor' as his "kiss to fat people."  Paltrow went on record about the discrimination she encountered (and was unprepared for) while in fat suit. Public stands like Murphy's and Paltrow's created better awareness about the issue and was beneficial overall."

The love/hate relationship between average folk and celebrity culture is nowhere quite as evident as on the tons of websites devoted to altering photos of rail-thin celebrities by adding a few hundred pounds through the magic of Photoshop. But the websites also make it clear that there's a double-chin standard in the entertainment biz: Type "fat celebrities" into any search engine and dozens of images pop up on the screen -- almost all of them women: Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Courtney Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Still there is a pretty clear division between fat men and women. Fat is somehow more palatable for men. Jack Black and Jason Alexander might be chunky monkeys, but they're still considered normal, whereas Gwyneth Paltrow at 300 pounds-plus is big in the extreme (cue hilarity). In each of the aforementioned shows large men are never paired with an equally large women. Instead, they're given slim hotties like Courtney Thorne-Smith or Leah Remini. How many real fat women are on TV right now? I can count them on the fingers of one hand.

"Uh, oh -- I feel a fat feminist issue coming on." But before you run away, there's Oprah, Star Jones on The View, and Mo'Nique from the UPN sitcom The Parkers. Hey! they're all black, you say. This may have something to do with the fact that bigger is more acceptable in African-American culture than among the mighty white uptight Anglo-Saxons.

Maybe it all comes down to evolution. According to Katharine Salmon, a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University, "Different factors make women and men attractive to each other. In women this usually means big eyes, big lips, small chin, small waist, shiny hair; features that say she's young, she's fertile.

"What's important in a mate can be traced back to our evolutionary history. For men picking women this attraction is obvious, but for women choosing men it's less so .They don't always pick the prettiest man. What determines male attractiveness? A strong jaw, larger size, which generally mean a higher level of testosterone. Women also look for ambition, high status, resources, and this can mean being heavier. Hugely fat guys, I don't know, but men certainly have much greater variation in size. James Gandolfini [Tony Soprano] has a huge female following and is considered something of a sex symbol. Cultural differences shift over time. I think there is perhaps, a resurgence of the manly figure, in times of uncertainty. Bigger men seem safer, better able to protect in times of social upheaval. Like the barrel chested men of yore, Spencer Tracey or John Wayne."

Oh Daddy!

When men reach a certain age, it seems natural that they expand, get thicker. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that male waist-line expansion is almost a force of nature. The physiological changes that occur as men age lead to weight gain, but the underlying causes of these physiological changes remains an enigma. Some suggest declining testosterone or "male menopause" as a cause, but middle-age weight gain is a basic physiological consequence of aging, that can't even really be overcome by increasing activity.

Which means, you can run around all you want, you're still going to jiggle like jello at some point. This makes them seem more like men, right? There is an inherent eroticism in the thick man. Once asked how he maintained his then-envied physique, Robert Mitchum replied: "I breathe in and out all of the time. And once in a while I grudgingly lift something -- like a chair."

Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Dana Andrews, Oliver Reed or King of Kings Spencer Tracy, even the current crop of celebrities, Alec Baldwin, John Travolta and Tom Hanks have aged into barrel chested glory. Of course, none are quite as insanely sexy as Russell Crowe. As a slim young man, he was okay, but when he got thick ("L.A. Confidential," "The Insider," "Gladiator") all the ladies went AY AY AY! There is an authority and power to the thick man lacking in his thinner and younger counterpart.

John Travolta has lost little of his ability to command a salary in the millions of dollars even in XXL size pants. But the entertainment industry isn't the only one to welcome big boys. In sports, fat is also in. This past NFL season saw some of the largest players to ever hit the field with a grand total of 275 players who weighed more than 300 pounds. No longer allowed to bulk up with steroids, NFL players are busy getting bigger by eating 10,000-calorie meals. A recent article in Sports News quotes Cowboy lineman Nate Newton saying, "Fat is what got me in the league. All those pretty steroid boys, they're gone. Now it's who's got the most jiggly."

The truth may be that fat men don't have it all that bad, as indicated by an article in Salon from Steven A. Shaw -- a self-confessed Fat Guy.

"I enjoy being a fat guy, although I must confess I wouldn't want to be a fat girl. The societal deck really is stacked against them. But being a fat guy is great. I've never felt that my weight kept me from getting a job or a girl, or from gaining admittance to a club. And it has many, many advantages. Fat guys are strong. Ask any bar owner who hires bouncers, or anybody who gets  in a lot of fights, or any high school wrestler. They'll all tell you the same thing: Don't fuck with fat guys."

It's a fat man's world.

Dorothy Woodend is a freelance writer in Vancouver.

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