Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What would you do?

Last night, ABC News' Prime Time program was devoted to the theme, "What Would You Do," which included a segment in which a fat actress was sitting at a beach, minding her own business, when a group of teenage girls (also actresses) begin verbally harassing her about her weight. The purpose was to see what the public would really do when confronted by unacceptable behavior in public. See the link for the video.

Disturbing as the results were, they were no big surprise. It was a little surprising that, according to the narrator, more women intervened than men. Many people opted to mind their own business and not get involved. This, in spite of the fact that none of these fake teenage girls posed a physical threat--they looked small enough to break like an after dinner toothpick. It made you really root for the people who had the nerve to confront them. One, a British tourist on vacation, was moved to tears by their cruelty. Some just intervened because it seemed the right thing to do. Some had specific personal reasons. One of these was a women studying eating disorders who understood up close the difficulty fat people have in our society. Another was a man in the company of his children. When one of the girls told him, "Mind your own business," he retorted, "What my kids learn is my business." They are learning from their dad to have the courage to confront cruelty. Lucky kids. When a group of boys (also actors) began harassing her, one guy was about an inch from clocking somebody.

But most people had that frozen look on their face of the purposefully disinterested, hardened yet fearful. I've seen it before when I saw a man beating up a woman in public that he apparently knew(twice, in different cities). In that case, I could understand an element of physical fear, but as I said, that was not the case in the ABC program. Did people figure the fat lady got what she deserved? Maybe, to some degree. It was scary how close the actresses, with only ad libs, came to mouthing everybody's favorite fat prejudices: "Where you BORN that fat? Why don't you stop eating for about a year?" Maybe a disabled or black person would have had more defenders.

But if people has thought the bullying was appropriate, the fear/hardness would not have been there. They seemed too embarrassed to be involved, and seemed embarrassed at their own lack of nerve. What were they afraid of? People are afraid of the unknown: will I be embarrassed, will I get yelled at? Gee, this wasn't what I signed on for when I went out for a walk on the beach. But that's what life is--a bunch of things that just might happen, just might embarrass you, that you didn't sign up for. Every day that we put on our shoes and walk out of the house is a challenge to be more courageous than cautious. You just never know the second that challenge will come up, and you need to be ready for it.

No comments: