Friday, May 15, 2009

What the Biggest Loser Taught Me

Yes, I watch The Biggest Loser. I almost quit watching after every episode became two hours long (during the writers' strike), but my husband always tapes it, so I watch along. 

I won't bore you with my qualms at watching people work out for hours a day and lose 15 lbs. in a week. I'll let you make your own judgment calls on that one. But this season's winner has brought something to my attention that I feel I should comment on, if only because it's something that plays out both in my real life and in my writing. 

The winner, a woman named Helen, seems overall to be a nice person. I should be happy she won, happy she gained control over her weight and lost as much as she did. I should be happy she got all that money. 

But I'm not. 

And it isn't because I was particularly rooting for either of the other players. It's because of one event, which occurred somewhere in the middle of the show's running. At one point, Helen, who came to the ranch with her daughter as her partner, convinced her daughter to volunteer to go home instead of her mother so that Helen could stay at the ranch.

In contrast, another parent-child team made it all the way to the finals, yet Ron (aka, "The Godfather") had only one interest: his son. When they both came up for the final vote, and viewers were going to make the decision, he pled only for them to vote for his son Mike. Not a word pleading for himself. As much as I didn't care a whole bunch for his tactics throughout the season, I respected him for that. 

Had I been in Helen's place, and be at the ranch with my daughter, there is no WAY I would ask her to go home. Never. And while Helen kept losing and losing, her daughter didn't, and she still has far to go before she is where she should be. Perhaps Helen will earn back my respect when she turns her attention towards her daughter and returns the favor.

And this all leads me back to writing (although by now you are probably wondering how). A character in the world I've created could be mostly likable, yet one particular trait or action of hers could turn readers against her. It could be infidelity, or even something as simple as a caustic comment at the wrong time. But that little trait or event could haunt my readers, making the end of the novel or play something less than satisfying. 

Readers can be forgiving. Scrooge was a highly unlikable character, yet his reform is so goofy it actually works, and has for well over 100 years. But Scrooge had to face his own shortcomings. Helen didn't face hers. It's the same reason I detest romances where the guy rapes a woman, and then they fall in love. Nope, doesn't work for me. I need to see more than regret with something like this... the bigger the sin, the more extreme the repentance. 

Think about Oedipus Rex. When he discovered he'd slept (for years) with his own mom, and fathered four kids with her, he didn't say, "Oh, well," and remain king. And his sins weren't even intentional. Yet he lost his mind from remorse, and poked his own eyes out so he wouldn't have to look on what he'd done anymore. THAT is what I'm talking about (and it's another reason I love myth... people do take responsibility for what they've done, often in big ways).

Perhaps I'm unforgiving. But if I am, I'm sure some of my readers will be, too. What do you think?


  1. Oh, I hear you.

    I read a book for someone where a character, presumably an empath, did something so horrible and insensitive and downright awful I couldn't stand it. He devastated another for his own failing and walked away never acknowledging he'd done any wrong, was, in fact, sanctimonious over his part in all of it.

    I could never stand him after that. Blick.

    (I forced myself to read further because the writer was a friend who specifically asked me to - it continued to decline and descend into more and more horrible things and decisions and judgement calls, more hypocrisy, etc. When I told her how disturbing it was for me, she blasted me for telling her my opinion. Who asked me? *Sigh* In all the things I've reviewed, though, that's the only time that ever happened; most writers are better about it.)

  2. I had a hard time with Helen over that....That's really the only thing that made me not care for her...though, if it were my mom and I, I'd probably insist she stay too.

    I agree with characters...there has to be some kind of redemption to make me forgive them....even a character with the worst behavior needs some humanity to make readers like them a little...

  3. I think Helen would have been redeemed for me, Kelly, if she'd even mentioned her daughter EVER... or said she wished her daughter had been able to have the same support... or SOMETHING. But it was all about herself, and even though I think too many mothers become too selfless, it still bothered me.

    Ron and Mike were both obviously focusing on the other son throughout the whole thing... and the cousins were bent on helping to change the mentality of their entire culture. Much different, in my opinion.

    I think characters can do terrible things... but if they are unrepentant, or even blame their victims, they cease to interest me. I have shut books on such characters, and I will when I encounter them again. No sense in torturing myself, even for a friend.

  4. About Biggest Loser, don't forget about the mother who did do the right thing. Cathy willingly left her daughter Kristin on the ranch to continue her weight loss adventure. Helen has much bigger problems in her marriage than losing weight. Yes, I am a fan of the show. My sister and I watch every episode and converse by telephone to critique the players.

    As to the twisted portrayal of rape and love, don't forget the Luke and Laura storyline from General Hospital. What were they thinking when writing this junk?! Scrooge's reformation totally works for me because he sees the error of his ways, has true remorse, and goes about trying to fix what he can. Anyone who honestly tries to redeem themselves has to be acknowledged. Way to go Scrooge, and God bless us, everyone!

  5. I've heard of the Luke and Laura thing... and it freaks me out--makes me avoid daytime drama like the plague.

    And yes, Anonymous, Scrooge rocks... and when I taught "A Christmas Carol" in class, my students realized that, to an extent, Scrooge represented a sort of Everyman... a person who was more like us than we probably wanted to admit, but who also had the same capacity to grow from our mistakes, to improve.

    Who doesn't want to believe they can get better? That the world can't get better?