Raising the Bar, or Knocking You Down With It?

Blue Bloods, it’s a CBS show that’s been around awhile. I’ve seen a few episodes here and there, but I’ll admit that I’m not a regular viewer. I’m more of an NCIS fan I guess. As such, CBS may very well not care what I have to say about one of their most recent episodes.

Here’s a portion of the IMDB synopsis of the show titled Rectify; “Frank considers implementing a more rigorous fitness test after an officer has trouble keeping up with his partner…”. The rest is about plots not part of this discussion. So the way Frank, played by Tom Selleck, stiff arms a compromise out of the Police Union President, Johnny Lyons (actor Stephen Rowe) is by digging up an old photo of him when he was at a much heavier weight, and essentially threatening to expose that Lyon’s did so by way of bariatric surgery. Here’s the clip of that exchange.

As I said, I don’t watch the show enough to know if this is typical behavior for the character of Frank. But as anyone that has been to this blog before, they can likely predict some of the reactions from those in the audience (or those like myself that just heard about it second-hand) to this little bit of interaction. You can read about some of those reactions over on Twitter via an article over on cheatsheet.com.

My friend, Ted Kyle, of ConscienHealth had a few things to say about it as well over on his blog (which if you do not read on a regular basis, you really should). He mentions and links to some info on the very real occupational risks for officers, but here’s a portion I want to add my own thoughts to;

Bottom line, the show delivered a false narrative about obesity and its treatment. It labeled a central figure in the plot as “taking an easy way out” with bariatric surgery. Characters shamed and threatened to disparage that person because of his medical history. They called bariatric surgery – falsely – a cosmetic procedure.

I definitely agree that Lyon’s treatment for obesity was grossly misrepresented, and he was essentially both body shamed and treated with bias by Frank and his Deputy Commissioner, Garrett Moore (actor Gregory Jbara). And unfortunately, as many people effected by obesity tend to do, even those who have been successful in treating it, he capitulated rather than have how he chose to treat his own obesity be revealed.

And… I get it. While I personally have never really felt like I have had to hide how I chose to dealt with my obesity, I have gotten to know many others who feel they have to. Have had to deal with a pervasive bias and stigma surround obesity, and treatments such as bariatric surgery.

image credit: maxpixel.net

When it first came out, I made comments on a few Facebook postings and on Twitter on how the only one who took the “lazy way out” was the writers. Using bias and stigma to simply further a plot point. And I still stand by that… mostly.

I realize the way these procedural shows work is that you have your long-term plots that play out through multiple episodes, or even an entire season. But peppered into each show are smaller plots that are in a way, filler. And from what I’ve seen, this issue around the physical tests for officers is one of those. If so, then yes. This was lazy writing. it used bias and stigma to allow the lead character, Frank, to essentially bully over another character to get his way. Or at least mostly his way.

As Ted called it above, it’s a false narrative about obesity and the treatment of bariatric surgery. And as I think more about it, it’s a fine position for Frank to have taken. Because unfortunately, as I mentioned, it’s a very pervasive one. So to have the characters of Frank and Moore not only believe these things, but act on those beliefs, is… well… believable. And it’s just as believable, unfortunately, for Lyon’s to back down in the face of it.

And like I said, as part of a minor sub-plot though, that gets left right there, it was a quick and easy way for the writers to wrap things up that allowed Frank to come away with a win… and a pithy quote about “raising the bar”. When instead, it really only used that bar to beat Lyon’s down.

But I believe there’s a way this could have instead, played out to not only help dispel some notions about obesity and bariatric surgery, but also have allowed for Frank and Lyon’s to have an even more beneficial compromise. Not just for their public images, but for the officers as well.

In my version of this script, Lyon’s could have held firm, not been made to feel shameful about his obesity treatment, and even championed it, for fellow officers who may benefit from bariatric surgery by demanding treatment be covered by their insurance plans (I don’t believe this was ever covered in the episode, but given the prevailing attitudes, I’m willing to go on record that in their fictional world it is not covered, just as it very often is not in the real world either). And there are likely other things revolving around stress and such that could have been raised.

Instead of making this an issue simply about the “lard” an officer is carrying on his body, make it about promoting better health and access to care for those officers. Make it less about shaming someone over their past and how they chose to improve their own health, and make it about how to help others improve theirs.

While CBS has yet to make any sort of comments on the fallout of this little sub-plot, maybe… just maybe… they are actually listening. And if so, it’s not too late for the writers to revisit this particular one and improve on it. Shows like this are often great ways to address social issues. Obesity, weight bias, access to care; these are some major social issues right now that I’m sure impact a great portion of their viewing audience.

I know I would tune in if they did.

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