The season finale of NBC’s The Biggest Loser featured a 13-year-old boy named Biingo. He overcame obesity through determination and the support of his family. And when his ‘before’ segment ended, revealing the new and improved Biingo, his cheery disposition and disarming innocence could have won over even the most cynical viewer.
But this account of season 14’s end isn’t really about Biingo. No, it’s about what this kind of programming perpetuates: a culture in which sheer spectacle can alter the proportion at which normal behavior is celebrated. In case you didn’t know, The Biggest Loser documents people from all walks (and waddles) of life, allowing a national audience to witness their attempts to get healthy. These ‘contestants’ cede their privacy for 15 minutes of fame, more of a motivator than it has any right to be in this instance. And while a strong argument could be made in favor of the program’s potential to inspire viewers with similar plights, the posit weakens by virtue of the inherent attention benefit participants experience.
Our society’s obsession with fame should be exposed as just as powerful an influence as are impending heart attacks, diabetes, and being Wal-Mart scooter-bound. Instead, thousands of obese Americans clamor for the opportunity to make a display their failure, announcing to the world that they’ve finally decided to give up the Twinkies. And this show’s 14-season run confirms the American appetite for sob stories in which the subjects are responsible for their own physical hardship.
In Biingo’s case (he turned to binge eating to cope with a family move), his parents fell asleep at the wheel, and they are lucky Michelle Obama didn’t find them before The Biggest Loser did. But in most of this show’s individual stories, these ‘losers’ succumb to bad health because of a failure to seize control of their lives, which adults are expected to do every day without applause. The prize of showing off their new bodies to millions of people nationwide is an affront to everyone whose mental and physical struggles and triumphs go unrecognized daily.
The phenomenon makes one question why a show about deadbeat dads finally getting their acts together isn’t also a huge hit…which reminds me of some wisdom from none other than the great Chris Rock:
A nigga will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A nigga will say some shit like, “I take care of my kids.” You’re supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? “I ain’t never been to jail!” What do you want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!
And you thought you knew what the ‘N’ in NBC stood for.