George Takei and Why I Can’t Take a Joke

What a Load of CrapOnce again, George Takei has used his massive social medial platform to encourage fat shaming. (Scroll down for the update to this.) George has almost 9 million followers on Facebook, a massive platform, and today he chose to use it to post that ridiculous “Fattest Thing I’ve Ever Done” meme.  (Basically it’s story after story of people who ate a lot one time.) Then he encouraged people to post their own “fattest thing” in the comments. I’m a fan of George Takei and his civil rights work, and so it’s particularly upsetting to me that he keeps post stuff like this despite fat people asking him to please stop.

First of all, eating a lot one time is not “being fat” it’s just eating a lot one time, something this meme shows that people of every size do from time to time. Fat is a description of body size, not of behavior – it’s an adjective, not an adverb. The practice of judging other people’s eating, then associating that eating with a body size, then justifying stigmatizing people of that body size based on that platform of judgment is wrong from the beginning and, not to put too fine a point on it, some bullshit.

Despite his broad civil rights and anti-bullying work George cannot seem to work out that bullying and shaming fat people is a problem. The post today is unfortunately the latest in a history of cheap fat jokes that he has posted on his Facebook page.

Those of us who point out these issues are subjected to more fat shaming, the use of the term “Politically Correct” to minimize our request to be treated with basic human respect, as well as being told that we are oversensitive and can’t “take a joke.”

First, I can “take a joke”. His Facebook post did not affect my self esteem.  I know that fat shaming is the problem and I am not.  That doesn’t make it ok to stigmatize me or people who look like me. I think it’s a bigger problem that we as a society are comfortable telling groups of people that they need to “toughen up” and become better at being stigmatized and made fun of without complaint, so that other people can laugh at our expense without having to feel badly or have their bullying behavior pointed out.

When we suggest that some fat shaming is ok because some people think it’s funny, then we set ourselves up to constantly have to argue about where the line is between fat shaming that’s “hilarious” and fat shaming that is hurtful. The fact that something is not the most egregious type of fat shaming doesn’t mean that it doesn’t support a culture where fat shaming (including the most egregious kind) is ok. I think it’s far better to say that fat shaming is not ok in any guise and that people who want to be funny should have to do better than relying on cheap stereotypes, shaming, and bigotry. And that includes George Takei.


Immediately after I commented on his Facebook that said:”Fat is an adjective, not an adverb, fat people are just as varied in our habits and behaviors as any group of people. You are a civil rights hero to me and I’m so disappointed that you would use your platform to encourage people to engage in stereotyping, bigotry, and body shaming. At the time I’m posting this over 7,000 people have shared it. That means that in addition to your own almost 9 million followers, the fat friends of 7.000 people got fat shamed courtesy of George Takei. It’s exponential online bullying. What a shame..”

George Posted:  “Friends, please keep it civil. We all have overindulged, and this isn’t an opportunity to lash out, nor pontificate. My own husband Brad, who once was a svelt marathoner, now struggles with his own weight. I just tell him there’s more of him to love. Carry on.”

So he posts something fat shaming, then asks people not to fat shame, then adds in the old “I have fat loved ones” defense.  Such a disappointment.

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31 thoughts on “George Takei and Why I Can’t Take a Joke

  1. With Weight Stigma Awareness Week coming up on Sept. 21-25, your post couldn’t be more timely. It’s too bad that Takei is insulated from hearing, or maybe just caring, about the points you so articulately point out.

  2. “When we suggest that some fat shaming is ok because some people think it’s funny. . . ” Take that a step further and say “some racist remarks are ok because some people think it’s funny. . .” How is fat shaming different? Thanks for writing about this important topic. I’m a fan of Takei’s civil rights work too, and sorry that he has taken this route.

    1. Exactly. If someone had posted the same meme with an anti gay sentiment or an anti Japanese sentiment, Takei would be all over screaming about it being bullying. He’s got this strange blind spot or the person talking FOR him does.

  3. He’s also mocked the disabled and given “sorry you were offended but it was a joke” apologies. He has done such good work in some areas, but I wound up blocking his FB page (because just unliking it didn’t help with the inevitable 30000 shares) because every now and then, I just got blindsided by something like that. I’m not a fragile flower who can’t take it; heaven knows I get enough of it elsewhere. But as somebody who spent most of her adolescence going to Star Trek cons (back when there was only one show), I had a lot of respect and fondness for Takei, and I don’t want those memories to be tarnished by the reminders that he apparently sees me (a fat, disabled person) as a great target for jokes.

  4. As a Star Trek fan I am again extremely disappointed in him. In fact, the original series was influential for social justice, for example MLK personally encouraged Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura).
    And then I even found this on Takei’s Facebook: “Some know me as Mr. Sulu but I hope all know me as a believer in, and a fighter for, the equality & dignity of all human beings.”

  5. I have him followed on Facebook, and I was horrified when I saw that particular article on my page. Considering going to leave a “Please stop fat shaming” comment, but would he even see it? Ugh.

  6. Here! Here! I saw this yesterday and was disgusted. I did leave a comment on the post and liked a whole bunch of others who pointed out the nasty nature of it. My husband said he wouldn’t be surprised if George didn’t post it himself (he has a staff?), and that he might come out with an apology like he sometimes does. Either way, I’m really happy to see your blog! One of my first thoughts was “oooooh! Ragen is gonna love this one!” :-). Thanks for all you do!

  7. I *did* leave a “please stop with the fat shaming” comment, and I left one on the original post, too. Some of those anecdotes could have been funny just as “weird things people have done,” but I guess that’s not enough.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this. It’s a shame he fell down on this one.

    1. Right. We could post pictures of “The shortest thing I’ve ever done,” or “the gayest thing I’ve ever done,” or “the mannest thing I’ve ever done.” How about “the Asianest thing I’ve ever done,” or “The actorest thing I’ve ever done.”

      But really, why stop there? Let’s add in “The rapest thing I’ve ever done,” and see how many people can’t take a rape joke, and how they’re just being politically correct, and need to grow a thicker skin, because it’s not our responsibility to be civil and NOT hurt other people; it’s their responsibility to suck it up and not be hurt.

      This is the same logic that rape apologists use when defending “It’s just a joke” rape humor. They are punching DOWN, not punching up.

      I haven’t followed him, and I doubt I ever will, now, although I am a fan of his acting chops.

  8. I thought it was just me…(which on the whole is not so surprising as I am a product of years of eating disorders, fat anxiety, and “thinsplaining”), so thank you for this post. I have to add my voice to the chorus of “what the fuck does a gay man with a long history of civil rights activism think he’s doing by shaming an entire population?”. I may have missed that day in school… The one that makes it acceptable to make a mockery of people for the sake of getting the snarky laugh (which in itself has been raised to a new art form in contemporary culture). Like it or not George Takei has a huge social platform with which to do good and, to my way of thinking, that comes with a certain moral imperative…especially if you have positioned yourself as someone for whom the high ground is the self-proclaimed milieu. The social contract with his followers that he has crafted now seems predicated on a “do as I say” model. Mr Takei has certainly promoted himself with a great deal of skill and savvy into a brand that has taken on a life of its own. That said, I just want him to be clear on the concept of false advertising… And in his own words, “You, sir, are a douchebag”.

  9. Just as I was overwhelmed with disappointment at George Takei’s post and its comments, Facebook’s ever-disturbing manipulation of my feed suggested this blog post for me to read. I was then overwhelmed by gratitude, and rather than despairing at the magnitude of microaggressions perpetuated by a leader in civil rights activism, I’m grateful to find (just as visible, to me, at least) that someone else has already so eloquently made a public statement.

  10. As I have come to say at times “It’s not that I can’t take a joke, it’s the fact your subject matter is less then desirable.” to which the response is always “what?” followed by a confused look. My reply is “That subject matter isn’t something that should be used in a joke”

    1. I think my new response is gonna be, ‘I can take a joke, it’s just you can’t make one’.

      I don’t necessarily think any subject should be off limits to comedy, but I do think you need a level of talent and finesse that the people most likely to be making the jokes will never be able to achieve.

      1. I agree. I have seen some hilarious comedy on subjects that many people think shouldn’t be used in a joke. The trick is in punching up, not punching down.

        For example, Wanda Sykes’ hilarious removable vagina routine.

      2. Basically all I am saying is they should think about what they are using as a joke. Someone once made a joke about me needing to “turn down my hearing aid because I am an old coot who can’t handle young people listening to music” I am not hearing impaired nor am I old. That comment was made after I expressed my frustration with the guy living above me not adhering to the city noise bylaw and the police and landlord are useless in the matter.

        One of my friends who is hearing impaired told said person (whom I am no longer friends with for many reason) that a disability isn’t a joking matter.

        As my boyfriend says “Funny jokes are fine, as long as the subject matter doesn’t harm anyone.”

  11. I’ve been a really big fan of George Takei’s my entire life – which makes this even more sad and depressing. It makes my heart break that he’s perpetuation stereotypes about fat people.

  12. Takei’s husband has my sympathy. So even if he was still a marathoner, his no longer svelte body wouldn’t count?

    He totally missed the point. You wanna swap gross overindulgence stories, go right ahead. Knock yourself out. Overindulgent=fat any more than math whiz=Asian.

  13. So, his husband is struggling with his weight. Does he not see the problem, here? He should be accepting it, not poking fun at HIS OWN FREAKING HUSBAND!!! If his husband is faced with fat hatred from the man who claims to love him, OF COURSE he’s struggling. How can he accept that “there’s more of him to love,” when his husband expresses shame and hatred at fat and fat people?

    That’s like the old argument, “I hate X people, but I’m OK with YOU. You’re not X enough for me to hate.” GRRRR.

    1. I used to totally dislike dogs. Then, my parents got a dog who is downright adorable. What’s more, she is Part of the Family, which means it’s my JOB to love her! I’m still not a “dog person,” but I have learned that there are LOTS of dogs who are downright adorable, and have stopped being anti-dog.

      Now, I judge the dogs as I meet them (or see them on YouTube – so many dog videos!). I have befriended a lot of dogs, and found them very easy to love.

      It’s not that Puppy isn’t dog enough for me to hate. It’s that I’ve stopped hating dogs.

      Having a Fat Friend (replace Fat with adjective of your choice) or Fat Lover, or Fat Relative, or Fat (person you like/love/work well with) can be a stepping stone to getting over your prejudice. The trick is to realize that having *A* Fat Friend/Lover/Relative/Person you like/love/work well with is problematic, unless that Fat FLRPYLLWWW is literally the only fat person you know. It’s not proof that you’re not a bigot. It’s step 1 on the path to overcoming your own bigotry.

  14. I saw a documentary on Takei (either on Netflix or Hulu, can’t remember which or the name of it) and he fat shamed his husband, Will Wheaton and even himself throughout. The man has done a lot of wonderful things but I don’t think he’s going to be seeing past this particular blind spot. Sad.

    1. I was going to mention the documentary. I love so much of what George Takei has done, but he clearly has his own issues about weight. Too bad he can’t see that he’s hurting other people.

  15. I stopped following Takei’s FB page years ago for this verry reason. His anti-fat bullying makes me sick. He once posted a cartoon that fat-shamed SANTA, for goodness sake, with one of his trademark snide puns introducing it. It’s so disappointing. You would think that someone who has gone through some of the worst things that can happen when prejudice goes unchecked would have a little empathy for other oppressed groups.

  16. Takei has entirely lost my respect with his hypocrisy, and this is far from the first instance. If you’re a crappy human being, fine…you’ll get dealt with as a crappy human being. But to go around saying you’re a proponent of equality and that you’re against bullying, to be celebrated as a positive influence because of those stances, except that it turns out you’re only into equality for yourself and that you’re only against bullying of yourself and people like you…that’s a special level of crappy human being.

  17. Let’s see, what’s the fattest thing I’ve ever done?
    Well, my fat ass has continued working despite the fact that my sciatica has become bad enough that there are days when I can hardly walk. Fortunately I was able to find a job doing home care for infants who need extra medical care (my current patient has a g-tube because she has severe gastric reflux and can’t keep food that doesn’t go directly into her stomach down) so I don’t have to do heavy lifting any more. I’m fat, and I do this.
    So, I think that’s the fattest thing I’ve ever done. Or does he mean the stuff that I did when I weighed 310 pounds, because that was my heaviest weight?
    By the way, my weight loss didn’t occur because of reductivist dieting. It occurred because of endocrine issues. I was actually more mobile when I weighed 310 pounds than I am at 275, because my sciatica wasn’t as bad then. So fuck this size shaming shit.
    I always liked George Takei. It’s a shame that he can’t get his head out of his ass about the harm that fat shaming does.

    1. Fattest thing I ever did was The Year of High-Dose Steroids. All things told, I’m glad I did that fattest thing. Otherwise, the idiopathic lung failure would have no doubt killed me. (Fat or dead. Fat or dead. I’ll take fat.)

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