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Ezequiel marcos Siddig
Sylvia Rivera: 1951-2002
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The Cult of Jared
How does a 22-year-old kid become a superstar in America if he's not in a goofy all-boy band or a Hollywood summer blockbuster? Well, he loses weight. Lots of it. And he does it eating at Subway.
Jared Fogle rocketed to stardom after he dropped from 425 pounds to 190 on a strict diet of Subway sandwiches. He lost 245 pounds in less than a year. Since then he's appeared on “Oprah,” the “Today” show, every dog-and-pony radio show around the country, and in those Subway ads. Now, to ensure that we don't reach Jared-saturation point, Subway is running “Friends of Jared” ads, within which we learn about others who've successfully lost weight while eating at Subway. In these ads, we see Jared waving shyly at his friends like a benevolent pastor. Most of these friends he met for the first time the day the commercials were shot.
With his glasses, sweet smile, and conservative attire, Jared Fogle couldn't look like a nicer, more all-American kid. His face is open; he seems friendly, sincere. Even his posture is touchingly awkward. He's the kind of guy who wins Mom's approval on her daughter's first date. These unquestionably genuine traits, coupled with Jared's phenomenal weight loss, have helped Subway sell a lot of sandwiches.
If you research his diet, you'll find that Jared lost weight by reducing his calorie intake from about 3,000 calories a day to about 1,000. Those calories happened to be delivered in sub sandwiches. After he lost 100 pounds, Jared says he stopped hiding in his dorm room and was determined to start walking everywhere he needed to go. Diminished calorie intake and exercise. Folks, it ain't no miracle of Subway that Jared lost weight. He reduced his calorie intake by two-thirds. Subway didn't succeed in helping Jared lose weight; it succeeded in making him a celebrity. Even so, Subway's website quotes Jared as saying, “Subway helped save my life over and over. I can't ever repay that.”
The Subway website has a whole section devoted to Jared. We have Jared's Stats, Friends of Jared, Jared Press Releases, and Jared's Dietary and Menu Information, but this warning also appears prominently on every Jared page: “Individuals lost weight by exercising and eating a balanced, reduced-calorie diet that included SUBWAY® sandwiches with 6 grams of fat or less. Their results are not typical. Your loss if any will vary. SUBWAY® does not endorse the diet Jared created and cautions anyone embarking on a weight-loss plan to consult their physician.”
In other words, Subway wants to ensure that, while you're spending more money at Subway, you understand that you may not actually be dieting healthfully.
It's a delicate balance that Subway maintains between selling subs and not endorsing Jared's diet—and it is “Jared's diet,” never “the Subway diet”—but Subway is clearly having their cake and eating it, too. Subway spokesperson Michele Klotzer was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “We're very proud of Jared's accomplishment, and we're pleased that our low-fat sandwiches could fit into his meal plan, but it's not a diet that we endorse by any means.”
Similarly, in a press release, Subway's corporate dietician Lanette Roulier hammered home the fact that her company doesn't endorse Jared's diet: “It's great that it worked for him, Roulier said, “but I would rather he had eaten a balanced breakfast and more fruits and vegetables.”
Eh? Subway would rather Jared ate more broccoli than subs? To me, these comments seem ripe with a form of chutzpah akin to that which the tobacco companies flaunt every time they sponsor an anti-smoking cigarette. “Eat our subs and you might lose weight, but be careful because this ain't a legitimate diet and we don't want to be held responsible if it proves unhealthy for you”—that seems to be rather a mixed message they're sending.
Let's face it, though: Jared's popularity is as much a comment on American society as on Subway. Jared rose to fame because his diet stimulated a tremendous psychological mechanism, one rooted deep in the American psyche. That mechanism involves a fear of gaining weight and a gut-wrenching, sometimes debilitating desire to do something about it.
America is home not only to the most “obese” people in the world, but also to the fittest, and those ads must also have influenced hordes of other Americans suffering, not from excessive weight, but from the unforgiving body culture rampant in the United States. Unlike the “obese,” these people suffer through every day worrying about that scintilla of flab on a body that's otherwise healthy or, in some even sadder cases, practically emaciated. (Insert your own tirade about all the unreasonably thin stars appearing in magazines, movies, and TV shows here.) In America, thin isn't just in, it's all. So, there's the unfortunate dichotomy: millions of Americans desperately need to lose weight and millions more desperately need to stop worrying about losing weight. Big Business profits from both groups.
Jared Fogle rose to fame for the same reason that every new diet book tops the bestseller list; for the same reason that dieting is the favorite subject of TV talk shows, soft television news, and nearly every major women's magazine. Jared offered yet another new way for people to lose weight. At least that's what we're lead to believe. But in 2002, though we have more diet books than ever, we also have more unhealthy people and we have more healthy people agonizing over their weight problems. Does a diet book ever come out that offers us anything new at all? The principles for successfully losing weight remain the same, but they're not the quick fix some of us want. Jared's diet isn't revolutionary: he reduced his calorie intake and started exercising. To be brutally objective, his success was due as much to his native strength of will, as his diet. He was lucky to have that willpower, not lucky to have stumbled into Subway. Still, with Jared's innocent assistance, Subway has cashed in on one of America's greatest fears, the fear of being fat.
People worry about their weight and the market responds to their fears by churning out endless and often costly advice. We must know that what really we lack is not the right diet book, but the right eating habits, the right amount of determination or, most frustratingly, the “right” genes. Strategists for the aforementioned businesses must understand these dynamics too, even as they tap into the described stimulus-response mechanism. Can we argue, then that corporate America's eagerness to benefit from this mechanism is (at some level) an exercise in inhumanity? I think so.
Jared had a dire health problem. He desperately needed to lose a tremendous amount of weight and he did it. So far, as we're constantly reminded, he's kept it off.
Nonetheless, his enormous popularity—the success of the Subway campaign—tells us a lot about our society: We're gravely concerned with being or becoming overweight. We're incapable of doing much about it. We're more than slightly awed by those who can do something about it. Subway has turned that awe into big bucks. Z