Monday, July 25, 2011

Sir Topham Fatt

Is the term “fat” a derogatory word? I suppose it is depending on the context, who the term was aimed at, or the overall intent of the message. In North America, at least, its primary connotation has historically been a negative or insulting one; perhaps with roots in our fear of being judged as overweight in a fitness-obsessed culture.

Whatever the case, referring to someone or something as “fat” is generally considered a put-down and one so afflicted with the condition should strive for the opposite in order to have any social value. 

With a toddler in the house, my wife and I have become well acquainted with many of the 60+ UK-based Thomas the Tank Engine characters for quite a while now. We even went to see Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt as part of the Day Out With Thomas event held at our local Heritage Park when the live action version was making a tour through Western Canada and the American Pacific Northwest.

Seeing Sir Topham Hatt at Heritage Park was anticlimatic because, in addition to the gate admission, there was an additional fee to get your kid’s picture taken with him. As I was fuming about that, I remembered that Sir Topham Hatt used to be called The Fat Controller in some of the earlier Thomas books we have around the house.

Wait a minute, why would HiT Entertainment change the name of the most famous human on the Island of Sodor that dates back to 1945? Or maybe there were two similar-looking but different characters and I just didn’t notice. Nope, it was a name change as a visit to Wikipedia explained:

“In the American version, he has almost always been referred to by his actual name, Sir Topham Hatt, possibly because ‘fat’ is a more pejorative term in the U.S.”

In actuality, Sir Topham Hatt is the proper name for the character and it was his nickname, The Fat Controller, that was his moniker for the better part of half a century. But political correctness was about to catch up to the popular character as it was marketed globally.

If ‘fat’ is not a pejorative term in the U.K., that would help explain why Brian felt comfortable releasing a song called Fat Bottomed Girls and didn’t lose any sleep over it possibly offending someone. It’s an accepted part of the English spoken vernacular, at least in England.

So does Fat Bottomed Girls insult plus-sized women or celebrate them? I think Brian’s acknowledging that heavier, more Rubenesque females are just as desirable as the modelesque ones we typically see in the media.

However, the nude bicycle race poster that came with my Jazz album certainly didn’t favour heavier women in the photograph. Sup with that?

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