Tonnes of Fun

August 9, 2011

You can't look away, because his mass is exerting gravity on your face.

Sadly, I don’t watch as many documentaries as I used to. Korean docs (or what passes for them) are, for the most part, some of the most glaringly obnoxious, badly produced pieces of irredeemable crap I’ve ever witnessed on a television, but I’ll save that rant for another time. Fortunately, my wife likes to seek some out online in her spare time and she happened upon a particularly good, albeit sensationalistic, one a few days ago when I was still at work. Upon my return home, she announced that I simply had to see Half Ton Man, knowing full well that I tend to have an excitable and intemperate reaction to the subject matter, hyper-obesity.

Patrick Deuel was the eponymous man of astounding mass and, at his peak, he weighed in at an unfathomable 1,126 pounds (511 kg or, as this was a UK doc, 80 stone). Now, we all know those numbers don’t mean shit just sitting there so please peruse the footage at your own leisure. This programme was part of a Channel 4 series sensitively titled ‘Body Shocks’ that was little more than a loose series of documentaries that cobbled together some real life tales of freaky congenital birth defects and other oddities for rather blatant exploitative entertainment purposes. I saw the very first of these some time ago, The Boy Who Gave Birth to his Twin and it was a marvelously bizarre, deeply satisfying viewing experience.

Half Ton Man threw us right into the action with the titular big fella having the wall of his home knocked out so the emergency services could load him on to some kind of reinforced super-ambulance and whisk (or, at least, doggedly trundle) him away to the nearest hospital. Patrick was so massive that if he turned on his back the weight of his flab would crush and suffocate him. His skin was stretched beyond its capacity to the extent that fluid was being secreted by his body all over the damn place and apparently was managing to threaten to drown him internally as well. Or that could have been a different kind of fluid, it’s hard to recall the specifics. The guy was all kinds of super-fucked up, at any rate. He’d been confined to a bed for seven years, the last few months of which he spent lying face down. He looked like a giant shape-shifting alien that was slowly trying to consume Baron Harkonnen prior to adopting his form. Patrick Dueul was truly awesome, in the original and strict sense of the word.

The documentary didn’t feature Patrick Dueul alone, however, it also talked to Rosalie Bradford, an individual who held the record for the most weight lost by a woman (917 pounds/416 kg, if you were wondering) and Michael Hebranko, who once held the equivalent record for men before suffering the mother of all relapses. The documentary featured old footage of Michael appearing on talk shows in the early 90s following his incredible weight loss and then led into contemporary footage of him confined to a wheelchair today, dangerously swelling to his own half ton. It was Michael that inspired me to write this post. At one point, we are shown footage of him being rescued from his house with the trusted wall-demolition technique where he has a blanket over his head in a vain effort to protect what remains of his dignity. “This is not a circus act, this is a disease”, was the statement he made from under the blanket. However, in the next scene we see Michael sitting in his home explaining in detail how he regained all his weight (and more). “I’d eat hot dogs but I couldn’t just have one. I’d eat 22 hot dogs.” Now, excuse me, but that is the very definition of a circus act. That’s about eleven times more hot dogs than I’d eat in a sitting, and I have a reputation for being something of a ravenous glutton. Not a circus act? Get the fuck out! Buddy, the next time you eat 22 hot dogs I’ll sprinkle some sawdust on the ground around you and play an accompanying drum roll and we’ll soon see what’s up. This guy talked about eating 24 pork chops! What the fuck is that? I haven’t even seen 24 pork chops at a single time. The most I’ve seen is eight, and that’s when I had two on my plate and I was dining with three other people who were eating the same damn thing. Where do you keep 24 pork chops? How big is your fucking fridge?

There was some discussion of a legit genetic disposition to extreme overeating provided, and they wheeled out some morbidly obese lab mice to prove the point, but I think it’s interesting that there are very few places in the world where this disease can play out to such extremes. If we are to accept the premise that the pathological overeating compulsion of the people in this programme is in fact a disease then it should be acknowledged that specific social, economic and cultural factors play a huge role in producing the incredible results that can see a human body reach a mass of half a tonne. There are very few places in the world where you can be in a modest financial situation, be out of work, bedridden for years, and yet still be able to consume 15,000 calories per day whilst waiting for the paramedics to knock your wall down and hoist you into a reinforced ambulance. On the other hand, there are a lot of societies wherein it is simply impossible to do that. You would be told “I’m sorry, but we just don’t have 36 pints of soda for you to drink today.” I don’t intend this as some lazy anti-American observation, on the contrary, I’m a lifelong Amerophile. However, I think the combination of modern mega-consumerism, an abundance of unhealthy snack food and junk food, and a culture of sacrosanct individual rights and responsibility means that no one; not a loved one, certainly not the vendor, and most definitely not the state, will ever intervene to impede or deny a person’s choice to eat until he or she is massively deformed, heavily disabled and close to death. Equal parts enthralling and shocking, Half Ton Man made for damn good television.


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