Kornhaber: The incredible thing he said about Rosie O’Donnell last night was that no one could disagree with him about what he said about her—as if there was a universal standard under which she could be written off completely.
Farrell: Right, and also what was her great crime? It was disagreeing with him. And she’s an outspoken woman who also makes people laugh, which makes her particularly hated. The mockery of him he can’t stand, and so the only response back is to say she’s really like an animal, out of control, ugly, etc.
Kornhaber: The gender double standard is clear, but for many people his hacker comment probably brings to mind a man. I was reading an interview with an Apprentice producer who said that Trump always wanted to keep a fat man on the cast so people could laugh at him. He’s also made fun of Chris Christie’s struggles with weight, right in front of Chris Christie. What does it mean for a man to be making fun of other men’s weight?
Farrell: There have been some interesting cultural analyses that have been done of representations of fat men. The fat man can be the everyman who everyone can identify with and isn’t threatening. Often he’s a humorous character: easy to mock but maybe quite likable, too.
But that also slides into a man who’s perceived as not being sufficiently masculine. Not being sufficiently strong. Not sufficiently male, really. So I think when he mocks other men for being fat, it’s like the alpha male kicking the other men who aren’t as great of a man as he is.
When he said [the hacker] could just be “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” we don’t know if he was thinking about a man or a woman. But my sense was that he was imagining a man. I think that was just a statement that he could be some kind of loser who snuck into the DNC because we don’t have the cyber security we were supposed to be having. [Weight] was a quick way to paint a loser.
Kornhaber: What role has weight played in presidential politics before?
Farrell: Grover Cleveland was really mocked for his weight, Howard Taft was mocked for his weight. I’ve written about the fact that I find it unsurprising that the Obamas have been very concerned about weight because weight is a way to signal being civilized, being the most professional. When Bill Clinton started to gain weight, he was made fun of—that was like, “See, he’s out of control with his weight and his sexuality.”
So weight has certainly played a part before. What’s new is that I don’t have any records of any presidential candidates going around just mocking fat people. Or calling women fat, at least publicly.
When Trump said, “Hillary Clinton doesn’t look presidential”—he denied it then last night—that was actually a really interesting phase, because she doesn’t. We’ve only had male presidents, so when we think of presidents we think of male. She doesn’t look like a man, she looks like a woman. So he was getting to that whole issue of body politics there. Obviously I’m not saying she doesn’t look presidential, but I’m saying body, body weight, body size, skin color, sexuality are all things that have been attributes about whether or not someone is “looking presidential” or not.