Fans and the media come to Melissa McCarthy’s defense
“Not again,” I thought to myself when I flipped on the TV to ABC News and heard the teaser for a story on actress Melissa McCarthy (Identify Thief, Bridesmaids, Mike & Molly):
Size matters? The red hot controversy tonight. The actress that makes so many of us laugh and the critic making so many of us steaming mad.
I didn’t even want to think about what hateful ugly things were being said about this beautiful and talented actress because of her size. I didn’t even wait for the story to come up–I grabbed my phone and pulled up Google News to see the headline for the USA Today story, “Melissa McCarthy trashed in scathing review.” I clicked right on it, expecting the typical–happy, successful fat people are bad health role models and should be chastised, or the like–but what I found was a defense of Melissa McCarthy against a vile and vicious attack from reviewer Rex Reed (I won’t dignify his remarks by repeating them. Click on any the USA Today link to get the full details).
I was pleasantly surprised. Then, I went back to Google News. The next article, this one from the LA Times: “Critic makes few friends calling Melissa McCarthy ‘tractor-sized.’” In this article I find that Twitter is on fire, defending Melissa McCarthy against this personal attack.
ABC finally gets to the story, and it’s an extremely positive discussion of “Weight Wars,” discussing this attacks and public statements about Chris Christie and Adele. Thus, an ugly attack on a person-of size becomes a national news story, not as a cautionary tale, but rather as a defense against mean-spiritedness and hate speech*.
However, the real question here, is: Why is one ugly review worthy of so much news coverage? The answer: social media response.
I just came from spending the day at a social media conference, where one of the big discussions was the power of social media in giving voice to the “average” person. So, while I’m thrilled that so many news sources are coming out in support of the big girl, the story they are really covering is the fan response on Twitter. The “traditional” media industry is looking for ways to engage with social media followers, and Melissa McCarthy was getting a lot of social media action.
So, the next time someone asks me why social media is important, why it matters what someone else had for lunch, I’m going to point to this example–social media can rapidly change the direction and tone of public discourse. And as a result, a beautiful big girl can have a country rally to her defense when attacked by a blathering bigot.
*To add a questioning footnote: all of the news coverage I’ve seen contains the same quote of Melissa McCarthy saying that she sometimes wishes she were a size 6 and she’s “working on” her weight. I do wonder if the media would have been less accepting of her if she said her weight didn’t bother her all. However, I’ll take the positive coverage where we get it.