Another ''moral panic''
Every sane person is appalled by the ridiculous hysteria going on these days about the so-called childhood "weight epidemic." As Paul Campos has called it, this is a typical "moral panic" - a mass public fear about a fictional social "problem."
Today, we condescendingly look back upon witch-hunts and other examples of mass hysteria of the past, thinking ourselves so superior to the misguided individuals who instituted those moral panics. But we're no better. We're seemingly blind to the fact that we're engaging in exactly the same kind of sheep-like behaviour today.
There is, of course, no such thing as a childhood "weight epidemic." There have been bigger and smaller children since the dawn of time. The art of the past shows lots of plump children - perfectly happy and healthy ones, just like today's. Except now, suddenly, these perfectly normal kids are being demonized in an appalling, Soviet-style, state-sanctioned policy.
Alas, this isn't the first example of this kind of moral panic in North America. The most notorious prior instance involving children took place in the U.S. just a few short decades ago, in the 1950s, when comic books (yes, of all things, simple comic books) were targeted by a self-appointed moral czar named Dr. Frederic Wertham as corrupting the youth of the time.
Here's a great video about this mass hysteria, an excerpt from a film called Comic Book Confidential. First, it introduces the horror-comics genre, then it shows footage of the moral panic:
Looking back, the footage seems so ludicrous. Mass comic-book burnings? Congressional hearings about comic books? That ridiculous video showing kids coached into stabbing trees with knives and holding rocks like weapons after reading comics? It looks surreally stupid. Yet the abysmal reality is that there really was such a mass panic, such a moral hysteria, and people believed it.
That's exactly what's happening today. A few decades from now, people are going to look back on us, on the people living in today's society, and think us idiotic for becoming hysterical, just because children enjoy McDonald's Happy Meals, or because they look curvy. Yet we're behaving just like past generations have, caught up in a moral panic, unable to recognize our own absurdity.
Will we wake up? Will we stop buying into this "epidemic" myth, this government-sanctioned fiction funded by the diet companies? I hope so, but past examples - like the '50s comic-book hysteria - make it unlikely.
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