Creator of Insatiable Says There Is a ‘Real Danger of Censorship’ If We Talk About What Stories ‘Should’ Do
It was only going to be a matter of time before Lauren Gussis, creator of the much-maligned show ‘Insatiable’ spoke out about the critics of the show are coming out in a full-throated of the show that people were already saying looked like a mess from the beginning. With a few exceptions, the reviews have not been kind. Lauren Gussis spoke to BuzzFeed News and The Hollywood Reporter about her intended message for the show.
“I wanted to poke at all those issues through comedy. But every single one of the issues that these characters struggle with — from eating disorders to body dysmorphia, to sexuality to needing outside power and validation, to wanting to be perfect, to mental illness — I have struggled with every single one of those things,” Gussis explains to THR.
In The Hollywood Reporter interview, Gussis emphatically believes that she was using the narrative of Insatiable to talk about these issues using comedy and satire, especially since, according to her, her inclusive writers’ room included men and women who have had eating disorders. That she is attempting to talk about this in a way that makes people uncomfortable because for Gussis that is how to address the problem by playing off the tropes:
“We’ve seen that story before.” Yes, I am showing the trope, so that then we can comment on it. Because if you don’t show the trope, then you can’t comment on it, because you don’t have context. But I think over the course of the season, this isn’t a story that we’ve seen before. … I wanted to tell in theory a story where the characters’ desires are deeply rooted in real human emotion, but the things that happen are so crazy that it’s less scary to have a conversation when you know you’re in a world that isn’t quite reality. It’s over the top, so it’s OK to talk about it, because the stakes are somehow lower than talking about something that’s really grounded and dramatic. It gives people a safe space to talk about these issues.
Except people are talking about the issues and they are saying that it makes them uncomfortable and that it triggers them in a way that does not help them. In response to that Gussis says, “I think we’re in a real danger of censorship if we decide that we all have to tell stories in a certain way so that everybody else feels safe. In my own experience, growth comes from discomfort and pain. It’s present in nature. Like a snake shedding its skin, it’s literally tearing itself from its old self, to emerge in a different way. That is not comfortable.”
I would like to pause at this moment to say that no one is saying, at least not in my opinion, that you can’t tell stories in ways that make people feel uncomfortable. It’s that if you are going to tell a fat girl revenge story, maybe get an actual fat girl to exact revenge. Gussis talks about how proud she is of a scene in which Debbie Ryan eats a whole cake and it’s really Ryan eating the cake. “We’re not faking it. She’s actually doing it, and she still gets to go out in the world and be beautiful and successful, and she ate an entire cake, and there’s no shame in that.”
The disconnect here is telling because Gussis sees the importance of showing that scene and having it show the brutality of what it means to binge-eat while allowing the character to still go out into the world and be beautiful … yet did not cast a real fat actress. You didn’t want to fake eating a cake, but you did want to fake being fat.
In the Buzzfeed interview, Gussis mentions comedy and satire again as a defense:
The show features a number of jokes about statutory rape and molestation, but Gussis said she wasn’t “making light” of the issue.
“It’s functioning exactly the way that I said in terms of satire: It’s airing out that dark thing that we’re all thinking that nobody’s going to say,” she said
Gussis said that while some people might not be ready for satirical comedies that deal with the issues tackled on Insatiable, she sees it as “an opportunity for both sides of any issue” to “come together in a way that’s slightly less threatening and lower stakes because it’s a comedy as opposed to a political discussion.”
“Do I think there’s a place in culture to tell satire? I grew up on that stuff. That’s how I learned to tell stories,” Gussis said. “So I hope to God we still live in a world where that’s possible because I wouldn’t have gotten through the day without it.”
It is very dismissive to assume that the problem is that we audiences are not ready for satirical comedies about issues. My Mad Fat Diary came out in 2013 and was a dark comedy dealing with weight issues. Its main heroine, Rae Earl, was played by an actual fat actress and the series portrayed her as a flawed imperfect person, who was dealing with mental health issues and body issues at the same time. It was lauded for being funny, but most importantly being accurate and honest portrayal of mental health. Because you can do both.
One of my favorite scenes from MMFD was when Rae was talking about eating in public and how she doesn’t do it because no matter what she eats people are always going to have something to say about it. If she eats a salad or something healthy people will go “you didn’t get that way by eating salads” and if she eats something she wants people will be like “well no wonder you look that way.” It’s delivered in a pointed, but sarcastic way that shows what makes MMFD such a great show.
I think that Gussis wanted to make something along the lines of Heathers or Jawbreaker with this show and while that is a noble idea, the execution has failed, which you know what … it happens because satire is hard. It isn’t just being outlandish or funny, it’s about knowing how to situate your targets. Do you think Blazing Saddles would work if Cleavon Little wasn’t the lead?
Even something more controversial like Tropic Thunder‘s blackface has never bothered me personally (although I totally get why it would bother others) because they had Brandon T. Jackson’s character there to be like “wtf is this bullshit?”
All the problems of Insatiable wouldn’t be solved if there was a fat actress in the main role, but it would have been a start. Who knows if Insatiable will get a second season, but if it does I hope they will reach out to people like Roxane Gay and Lindy West, who have not only talked at length about these issues, but both have a dark sense of humor. Roxane Gay could absolutely write a fat girl revenge comedy. Because it’s not censorship to say that if you are trying to market and pitch your story as pro-fat women, then you should listen to what fat women are saying.
I leave you with the only use of a fat suit that should exist in any story about a fat character ever again.
(via Buzzfeed/THR, image: Netflix)
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