Apple has a new ad for the iPhone 5s and its fitness-related apps. Shots of people exercising — no fatties of course! — are edited to the "Chicken Fat" song, an institutional horror for people who were children in the 60s and 70s. The ad gives the impression of people in constant motion, hoping and striving to avoid the worst possible fate: being fat. This ad should be a thoroughly embarassing career-ender for its creators. Apple should immediately retract the ad. Both Apple and the featured app makers should apologize and learn how to value weight diversity.
The "Chicken Fat" song is a Cold War-era relic. JFK commissioned it from "Music Man" creator Meredith Wilson for the 1961-62 school year, as part of the presidential physical fitness program. Because fat children put democracy at risk. Now, First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move program is "dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation" and has schoolchildren dance to G-rated versions of a Beyoncé song. Because "obesity [sic]…is the terror within," according to one recent Surgeon General.
After 50 years, how is vilifying fat children still an exciting new idea?
I first heard the "Chicken Fat" song in third grade. In Southern California, rainy days meant recess was in the media center, not on the playground. We did callisthenics to a vinyl LP of Robert Preston singing, "Go, you chicken fat, go!" (If he had turned up the verve another notch, he'd have sounded like an evil villain.)
At the time, I remember my face flushing with shame at each of the song's cheesy putdowns. It was patriotic, outdated, eager to enlist joiners...and wished me gone. I was a slightly chubby child with a round face. I remember even now where I stood, and the color of the burnt orange institutional carpet, in that moment when our brilliant and energetic teacher Mrs. Lyday ( a fat woman) lowered the needle on the library's institutional grey record player. What was she thinking? What were my classmates thinking? Nothing good. I had never seen chicken fat and didn't understand what it had to do with me. Not only does the song compare people to an animal part (one associated with traditional Jewish cooking), in a classic dehumanizing move, but it calls people chicken too. How many children suffered through this song, with its toe touches and jumping jacks, over the decades?
Just the previous year, in second grade, Mrs. Handy played the "Free to Be You and Me" album for us and we sang along. I already knew that the groovy, we're-all-in-this-together, your-feelings-matter populism of that album didn't include me. I'd known since the first days of kindergarten. I was the fat kid.
Meanwhile, Apple is proud to air an ad that makes anti-fat bigotry seem nostalgic and cozy and a civic duty.
I suggest writing to Apple and the makers of the apps featured in this ad. Better yet, write reviews in iTunes or wherever you buy apps. Let them know that their affiliation with prejudice-promoting content damages their reputation and their appeal. Post any responses you get, in comments here.
To quote Apple's tag line from this hateful ad: "You're more powerful than you think."
Argus: Your Personal Tracker
7 Minute Workout
WeMo: syncing with your bathroom scale
Health Mate: steps tracker
miCoach smart ball by Adidas
TRX Force: military conditioning program