So how do you discuss that which cannot be discussed in polite conversation? Namely, obesity. Southwest Air even uses the words “delicate policy” to describe how employees should handle a supersize passenger who requires two seats. The incident this week with director Kevin Smith (whom I’ve never heard of but who has 1.6 million Twitter followers) raises two difficult questions:
1. Does having 1.6 million followers entitle you to rant and rave profanely
, loudly and publicly just because you have a very large, er, online presence? Update: does being a celebrity (albeit one some people haven’t heard of) entitle you to be a boor?
2. Is it fair to other airline passengers to be seated next to someone who physically spills over into their space?
My answers, politically incorrect though they may be, are no and no. I won’t go into the specifics surrounding the recent incident with Southwest Air (see the Southwest blog and Kevin’s blog for details). But I want to make several points. First, social media leverage does NOT, in my opinion, give you license to publicly AND PROFANELY bash a company or organization. It gives you the power, but not necessarily the license. There are always exceptions. But there is something called good taste. And Kevin Smith doesn’t seem to have it. Maybe that’s part of his schtick. But it doesn’t work for me.
My gut is that there are some unintended consequences here. Kevin is raising more issues than he perhaps intended. Namely, what does it mean in American society to be obese? How big do you have to be before you are perceived as obese (leaving aside the BMI definition)? Is obesity a medical condition? Is it a handicap? Is it a syndrome like Asberger’s or ADD? All require accommodations of some sort, some legally mandated, some not.
Second point, obesity is a real problem. It’s a problem for 39-year-old Kevin, a young man (see his Wikipedia entry). It is likely contributing to health problems he is having now or will have in the near future (think diabetes Type 2). It is shortening his lifespan. And it is OUR problem. Obesity is a nationwide epidemic that contributes to billions of dollars ($1.5B) in additional healthcare costs that we all, in one way or another, are paying for. Jargon but true. Bottom line, obesity is a hugely controversial issue. This is about much more than Kevin and whether or not Southwest Airlines treated him courteously. (For the record, I do not condone embarrassing or humiliating someone in public.)
I realize I’ve come full circle here. By kvetching as loudly as he did, Kevin has in fact sparked a conversation about obesity that we should be having more openly.