'Our Eyes Have Adjusted': Here's What That Means

(Please see update below.) I am not going to get in the middle of the Mayor Bloomberg giant-soda-ban controversy, though I lean in favor of anything that might offset the public-health costs and human tragedies of America's obesity epidemic.

Here is why I bring this up. Today in the NYT, Frank Bruni quotes one of Bloomberg's allies on part of the reasoning behind the policy:

"Our eyes have adjusted over time," said Thomas A. Farley, the city health commissioner, during a phone conversation on Thursday, when he and Mayor Bloomberg were out explaining and defending the proposed ban amid threats of lawsuits from restaurant-association lawyers and a hue and cry from the body politic unlike any I've heard in a while.

What does Farley mean? Here's what, illustrated with pictures I used in an item a few years ago while still living in Beijing.

First we have Jackie Gleason, at the left in this scene in The Honeymooners from the late 1950s. I was a school kid then and remember that he was famous as a fat man whose comic schtick involved his incredible girth:


Now, Alfred Hitchcock from his TV show in the 1960s. He too was famous for being so fat:


And, tubby Raymond Burr from Ironside in the late 1960s and early 1970s:


Have our "eyes adjusted" in the years since then? Judge for yourselves. And while you're doing that, I'll mention one more thing that has gotten my attention.

While in a gym at hotel outside Shanghai last week, I happened to see an episode of TLC's 'My 600-Lb. Life' featuring the amazing struggles and determination of Henry, one of the four starring characters the program follows over their many-year sagas of attempted weight loss. Despite an unavoidable freak-show overtone, I thought the show was incredibly powerful about the consequences of this problem -- and respectful of its subjects. Here is Henry:


Maybe Mayor Bloomberg can arrange for the series to be shown in subways, or in those NYC taxi-cab advertising videos, or on the big-screens in Times Square.

Take another look at Jackie Gleason, and tell me that Commissioner Farley is wrong.
Update A reader points out that the commissioner could have had a different sort of eye-adjustment in mind:
I think Farley may have meant something different. Our eyes have adjusted over time to portion sizes, where now a 32 oz soda is considered normal to some people. 32 oz is obviously a hell of a lot of soda, but now it's a common size at fast food chains. Even 20 oz, the standard size for bottled soda, is too much for one sitting. Farley went on to make a similar point later in the article, where he said that people will consume what's in front of them, within reason, even if it's more than they need.

Fair enough. The two kinds of adjustment obviously complement each other. I'm still more amazed by the Jackie Gleason pics though.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

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