Normally, I think “Dear Prudence” on Slate is fairly sensible. She’s no Miss Manners or Dear Abby, mind you, but she’s sharp enough and dispenses intelligent advice. Not this week. This week she did this:
An then she claimed that it had all been in the spirit of satire. Of which I am a big fan. But this was not satire. It was repugnant and mean-spirited and it made no real point at all, which is the definition of satire (see “A Modest Proposal”) It was also awful animation, but that’s not the point.
Predictably, xojane.com was on it quickly, intelligently, and humanely: http://www.xojane.com/healthy/your-little-girl-is-a-gluttonous-fat-pig-as-illustrated-by-this-cartoon-of-a-little-girl-who-is-a-gluttonous-fat-pig
In some ways, I will admit that the most disturbing part oft he video (I guess I’m supposed to have mentioned that it’s likely to be triggering for those of you who watch it…) is the non-animated bit at the end, where “Prudence” (Emily Yoffee, a journalist, fellow 7 Sisters grad and sexual abuse survivor) talks into the camera in that patented “concerned” and “sincere” voice suggesting that the Perfectly Putrid woman who wrote the original letter is a “person in authority” who should write an anonymous letter to the child’s pediatrician (whose identity she would know how? It could have come up in conversation–it does between moms, but not necessarily.) to intervene. There are so many things wrong with that that I can’t actually keep count. But let’s try. If the woman who wrote the original letter is a person “in authority,” then I should get to run the Defense Department. Since there is no actual correlation between childhood obesity and adult obesity, she certainly has no statistical authority. Since the child was not being abused at home, she has no moral authority (yes, yes, I know, she’d probably claim that “overfeeding” the child was a form of abuse–the cry of I’m-carefully-raising-my-daughter-to-have-an-eating-disorder mothers everywhere). Even if there is cause for legitimate concern (Our daughter had a friend who was concerningly fat at 5–she had sleep apnea already and was badly out of breath walking from the parking lot to the beach. She grew up to be a slender woman.), there is the fact that we do not go around criticizing each other’s parenting that way. It’s bad behavior–the sort Dear Prudence makes a job out of pointing out. And there’s the hideous judginess. And I don’t find Yoffe’s degree in child psychology and/or eating disorders anywhere. And, and, and.
Aside from the middle-school-viciousness and pointlessness of the video and Yoffe’s creepily self-righteous commentary and suggestions for ill-mannered and invasive behaviors, there is the fact that Yoffe, a well-educated and generally thoughtful human who’s seen and written about a great many things, just fell back onto what looks an awful lot like her own knee-jerk prejudices and then chose to put them out there in luridly-colored, bullying animation. It’s possible that she has, thereby, seriously damaged her authority to speak about much of anything.
Slate’s posted-next-day apology,
The animation for this Dear Prudence letter, in which a child is portrayed as a pig, triggered strong criticism. The portrayal was an attempt at satire that misfired. The producers of these animated segments aim to be playful, not to demean the characters in the letters. We apologize to all those it offended.
is vague to the point of obvious insincerity, bland, coy, and altogether inadequate. It is neither an admission of guilt, nor an expression of actual regret. Some serious apologizing was in order, and this was not that by any means. The “I-was-just-having-a-little-fun” excuse is the mantra of bullies everywhere. It’s bullshit.
Also on xojane this week was this useful etiquette lesson (part of an ongoing series about the avoiding the stupid, cruel, well-meaning garbage we’re so often conditioned to say to various categories of humans):
It is an interesting universe in which the people who dye their hair multiple colors, have lots of tats, and say “dick” and “fuck” in normal conversation have a better grasp of the point of manners than Wellesley grads in nice scarves . But I’m more than willing to rejoice in manners and humanity wherever I find them these days, and xojane is beating (not so) Dear Prudence by a big mile this week.