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Land of the Obese: Population America
Peter Tatara - December 21, 2006

Clever title, no? I thought it was. I had been sitting here trying to write something about TIME Magazine's Person of the Year. The person, if you haven't heard, is me. And you. And everyone. Because of Google, YouTube, and LiveJournal, TIME decided to name everyone with a computer their Person of the Year. What the fuck? In 2003, TIME named the entire American military their Person of the Year. Fine, sure. It's merited. But, now, naming every blogger and tween posting five seconds movies of their cat is Person of the Year? You used to have to do something to be Person of the Year. This title was given to Jimmy Carter, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Now, what does it take? Downloading episodes of Naruto. TIME, I can see what you were trying to do, but you should have picked Sergey Brin and Larry Page rather than some nebulous cop out.

Anyway, I was trying to write something about being named Person of the Year, but it just wasn't jiving past the first paragraph. I got to thinking of why TIME couldn't crystallize their Person of the Year title into a single or handful of fellas and ladies. Then, I gave up. See, Americans are lazy. TIME couldn't pick a single Person of the Year. I couldn't write an entire coherent soliloquy about why that pisses me off. Actually, it doesn't. Not even moderately. I'm indifferent to the whole affair. Again, lazy.

But, why are Americans lazy? Because we're fat. And, this has me generally upset. I've got no problems with a person who eats one burger too many or has some extra jelly around their bones, but there's an extreme obesity -- physical and mental -- rotting around America that has me appalled.

A few days back, NPR told me that giving gift cards is now in vogue. I'm not going to say that we're giving gift cards because we're fat or lazy. No, what floors me are the kinds of gift cards available. In fact, I'm thinking of one in particular. The Arch Card -- the McDonald's gift card.

What? Sure, in general, gift cards are just dandy. A gift card to Best Buy or Amazon? You give one of these and you inspire the recipient's imagination. They get to think and dream about what they can do with it. Buy some music? A Wii? Put it toward a HDTV? But when you give a gift card to McDonald's, what does that say? There's no dream attached, only the choice between a Chicken McGrill and a Big 'N Tasty with Cheese.

I talked to my girlfriend about the McDonald's gift card. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I learned about it from a commercial and first thought it was a joke. The thing, even after rolling around my name for a handful of days, still seemed preposterous to me. My girlfriend just kinda blinked as I told her about it. She told me the Arch Card wasn't anything new. McDonald's, she informed me, started selling them last Christmas. I believed her because, well, she's always right. Still, I wanted to do some research on the Arch Card. I Googled it, and gasp-shock-horror, not only did McDonald's start selling the Arch Card a year ago -- they sold $40 million of 'em.

Is America that physically and mentally fat? I think so. $40 million is an interesting number. I've recently been ranting about it to anyone who'll listen. What's $40 million done to offend me? Aside from being the amount of money McDonald's made through their Arch Cards in 2005, $40 million is also the amount of money Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack was given this year as a Christmas bonus. Let me repeat that. Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack was given a $40 million Christmas bonus.

I cannot imagine $40 million. I cannot dream of ever making that sum of money in my life. I cannot fathom having that amount being plopped into my lap at a single time. How fat -- how bloated and greedy -- are we to reward our captains of industry with a $40 million pat on the back? How many other things could that $40 million buy? How many wonderful things could that $40 million be spent on?

Two mom and pop shops down the street from my apartment recently closed down. My previous employer fell apart. My own venture into entrepreneurialism was stillborn. How come? Despite all our best intentions, the money just wasn't there. It's trite to say that the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer, but, here's the thing, when there are over 40 million -- there's that number again -- Americans without health insurance, it's true. When employers don't have the money to pay for their employees' health insurance, it's true. When employees don't have the money to pay for their own health insurance (because their employers aren't paying for it) and food, it's true.

What diseased fatness exists in this country that can give $40 million to one man? I'm sickened that the same country is responsible for both a $40 million Christmas bonus and $40 million in Arch Card sales.

Everywhere I go, I see fat people. I see men, women, and children -- whose dreams have been transformed to ash by America's new caste system forever separating the lucky, lucky few haves and the millions and millions of have-nots -- drowning the ravenous wolf that is their woebegone lives with a Cheddar McMelt -- probably bought with an Arch Card. While the dreams delivered with an Arch Card are small, they are achievable, and the smile of sinking one's teeth into a Sausage, Egg, and Cheese McGriddle is much more palatable than the morose realization that attempting anything greater is as impossible as swimming from the Earth to the Moon.

Everywhere I go, I see fat people. I see men, women, and children -- money flowing through their veins -- dropping hundreds and thousands of dollars on luxury trivialities. They spend money as if it were water, buying affection, value, significance, and worth with money made from losing the lifesavings of others in stock. They wear the finest clothes and the most expensive jewelry. They look like Rococo lords and ladies. Yet, when they open their lips, coarse, vulgar, spoiled daggers spill forth.

And it's all here, both extremes existing side by side. Land of the Obese: Population America.

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