By Elaine Wolff
If anyone's ever made bad news sound better than Larry Hagman, I'd like to hear it. The relaxed twang millions of Dallas fans worldwide recognize as that of morally bereft oilman J.R. Ewing narrates a down-and-dirty documentary titled Fat City, an unsentimental, hour-long look at Houston, Texas, thrice voted fattest nation in the city by a national men's health magazine. Under a southern-fried rock 'n' roll soundtrack, the camera pans steamy streets filled with beer bellies and barbeque beams, while Hagman reels off a bevy of unappetizing statistics: Two-thirds of all Texans are overweight; one-third qualify as obese.
Fat City spends quality time with four of the latter - Diane, an unapologetic, quarter-ton woman who proudly shows off a picture of herself in a see-through net catsuit; champion eater Bud who has been banned from two all-you-can-eat restaurants; Richard, who declares, "I'm still pretty limber for a fat boy"; and 305-pound, 34-year-old Tiffany, the only one who seems concerned with losing weight. One of the show's theories, in fact, for Texas' overweight achievement is that we take a perverse pride in it. "Bigger is definitely better," says Richard with a shrug, as he drives his pickup truck.
A penchant for driving where feet or a bicycle would do is one of the lifestyle choices also indicted during the show (one woman laughs and shakes her head while pointing to the bus stop, visible from her front porch, to which she drives her son every day), as are the elephantine proportions served at most restaurants nowadays. "I don't know full," observes the friend of another woman, who says she didn't realize how large she had become until she made a life-size wire frame version of herself.
Despite the breezy delivery and upbeat soundtrack, it is heartbreaking to watch Tiffany's son cry as he watches his mother check in for stomach stapling surgery, a tricky procedure that carries a real risk of death. Surely there's a better way.
Speaking of perverse pride, lefty critic Christopher Hitchens, wrongly pilloried by his progressive colleagues for taking a pro-invade-Iraq stance (aren't we the free-speech advocates?) comes to Texas to check out the Bush aesthetic on the theory that it might be going global in Texas: America Supersized. While the documentary - which to Katha Pollit's delight, one would think - features the British Hitchens variously driving a truck, trying on 10-gallon hats, and riding an over-the-hill steed, it is not the sappy paean to cowboy attitude the opening sequences suggest. We have to endure Kinky Friedman describing Jesus, Gandhi, and Bush all as "cowboys" in spirit, and a teary-eyed interview with Elaine Vetter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, but by the time we get to football and suburbia, it becomes apparent that Hitchens is crafting a very clever satire.
Indy filmmaker Richar Linklater - who unlike Ivins or Friedman feels no need to romanticize the "spirit" of Texas while condemning the consequences - leaves the most lasting impression. Under the veneer of the appealing cowboy myth he observes, men like Bush and Tom DeLay engage in "predatory" and "mean" behavior. •
By Elaine Wolff
Fat City and Texas: America Supersized premiere Sunday, August 8 at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. respectively on Trio, Cable Channel 233. For the schedule for Trio's "Texas: America Supersized" month of programming, visit www.triotv.com.