May 28, 2022

"Despite the camp absurdity of her scenes, she is not a clown, and despite her nakedness, her work doesn’t straightforwardly concern..."

"... either masochism or self-love. Instead, fat stigma is toyed with, embodied, and satirized, sometimes through sexualized caricatures of gluttony. 'Good Morning' shows her—with her underpants pulled down and stuffed with a loaf (or more) of sliced white bread—holding a knife and a jar of Nutella.... A fat woman is by cultural default already an object of ridicule; inviting laughter by clenching a baguette between her legs, or ironing a pizza to her chest, could easily spin out of her control. Perhaps Susiraja’s blank affect is the key to her peculiar power to retain the upper hand. Indifference is one of the purest forms of defiance, but her disciplined impassivity, her refusal to cue the viewers’ reaction, is more than that. Her unwillingness to feed us meaning is more provocative, and disquieting, than an obvious dare, and it leaves a more lasting impression."

Writes Johanna Fateman, in "Iiu Susiraja’s Self-Portraits Are More Than a Dare/The photographer uses her own body without straightforward interest in either masochism or self-love" (The New Yorker). Lots of stunning/hilarious photos there. Perhaps a paywall will stop you, but here's her webpage. You can see the same photos there — and even more.

Wait. How do we know "she is not a clown"? It can't be the "blank affect." One of the prime ways of clowning is to do ridiculous things while maintaining a flat facial expression. There's a special and well-known word for it: deadpan.

The OED tips me off that "pan" was once American slang for "face" or "mouth." To quote "Great Comics" (1924): "Open yer pan afterwards about this and you'll be in stir for the next thousand years."

And I see that Nathanael West used "dead pan" in "Miss Lonelyhearts":

"You're morbid, my friend, morbid. Forget the crucifixion, remember the renaissance. There were no brooders then." He raised his glass, and the whole Borgia family was in his gesture. "I give you the renaissance. What a period! What pageantry! Drunken popes... Beautiful courtesans... Illegitimate children..." 

Although his gestures were elaborate, his face was blank. He practiced a trick used much by moving-picture comedians — the dead pan. No matter how fantastic or excited his speech, he never changed his expression. Under the shining white globe of his brow, his features huddled together in a dead, gray triangle. 

"To the renaissance!" he kept shouting. "To the renaissance! To the brown Greek manuscripts and mistresses with the great smooth marbly limbs... But that reminds me, I'm expecting one of my admirers — a cow-eyed girl of great intelligence." He illustrated the word intelligence by carving two enormous breasts in the air with his hands. "She works in a book store, but wait until you see her behind."


Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Yes, being deadpan doesn't mean you're not a clown. Buster Keaton.

Achilles said...

The woman has talent.

It also takes effort to maintain that weight. If she just lives normally she drops 100 pounds.

It takes a lot of training and discipline to remain that fat.

John Borell said...

I suspected I would regret clicking on the link to see the pictures.

I was correct.

Lurker21 said...

Thank you. I never realized that being fat was an art form. Knowing that makes it much easier to live with all these excess pounds.

Howard said...

We live in an age where fat shaming and fat hiding in popular culture is going away. Look at all the clothing commercials featuring plus size models. However, it's almost only plus size women. You don't see morbidly obese men in ads wearing tights and doing yoga.

The caveman art figurines are of morbidly obese women whom are called Venus. This indicates that there is an evolutionary drive that makes it okay for women to plump out. Men don't have that luxury.

Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
And live in hilltop houses, driving 15 cars
The girls come easy, and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny, 'cause we just won't eat

David Begley said...

Does she get paid?

cassandra lite said...

There are no more lines to cross. Piss Christ wouldn't even get a yawn today. Today's decadence makes 1932 Berlin look like Sparta.

khematite said...

To the Mothers of Deadpan: Virginia O'Brien and Keely Smith:

lonejustice said...

You know, I think publishing just ONE of her photos would have been enough to get across the general idea.

Temujin said...

I cannot even grasp how this is considered either art or hilarious. To me it's neither. And yes, I'll confess here that images of the morbidly obese are hideous to me. I see nothing funny or arty about these photos. And no, I have no curiosity at all about her body. I don't want to see it. Good for her that she does this and gets galleries to support her, to host exhibits. But one wonders how it comes to be that in all of the world, the editors of The New Yorker thought this was worthy of their magazine. They've clearly run out of things.

I've seen some great work done by photographers using a deadpan sort of delivery, with either themselves or their subject offering the deadpan. Those did not turn me away. This does.

Earnest Prole said...

Like many I’m saddened to see a morbidly obese person; I reflexively think “dead woman walking,” but at least this woman has a sense of humor about it.

mikee said...

Emmet Kelly, a world famous clown, specialized in deadpan humor, although he also sometimes used a broom and dustpan in his act.

Lem said...

'She's not a clown until WE say she's a clown'

The clown from POTUS past: "Officials at the Missouri State Fair have banned for life a rodeo clown who entertained spectators during a bull riding contest while wearing a Barack Obama mask. "The rodeo clown won't be allowed to participate or perform at the fair again," the Associated Press reported Monday. "Fair officials say they're also reviewing whether to take any action against the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, the contractor responsible for Saturday's event."

In that clown's case I would translate "dead pan" as a 'loss of bread'.

Ann Althouse said...

Wikipedia has a good article on Deadpan — with lots of examples.

"Early in his vaudeville days, Buster Keaton developed his deadpan expression. Keaton realised that audiences responded better to his stony expression than when he smiled, and he carried this style into his silent film career.[7] The 1928 Vitaphone short film The Beau Brummels, with vaudeville comics Al Shaw and Sam Lee, was performed entirely in deadpan.[8] The 1980 film Airplane! was performed almost entirely in deadpan;[9] it helped relaunch the career of one of its supporting actors, Leslie Nielsen, who transformed into a prolific deadpan comic after the film.[10] Actor and comedian Bill Murray is known for his deadpan delivery.[11]

"Many popular American sitcoms use deadpan expressions to deliver dry humour, including Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, and My Name Is Earl. More recent examples are Andre Braugher as Captain Raymond Holt from the TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing in Friends, Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, Jennette McCurdy as Sam Puckett in iCarly, and Louis C.K. in Louie. Another example is the comedy of Steven Wright.[12]

"Deadpan delivery runs throughout British humour.[13] In television sitcoms, John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers and Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder in Blackadder are both frustrated figures who display little facial expression in their put-downs.[14] Atkinson also plays authority figures (especially priests) while speaking absurd lines with a deadpan delivery. Monty Python include it in their work, such as "The Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch.[15] For his deadpan delivery Peter Sellers received a BAFTA for Best Actor for I'm All Right Jack (1959). A leading figure of the British satire boom of the 1960s, Peter Cook delivered deadpan monologues in his double act with Dudley Moore.[16] In his various roles Ricky Gervais often draws humour from an exasperated sigh.[17] While in his various guises such as Ali G and Borat, the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen interacts with unsuspecting subjects not realising they have been set up for self-revealing ridicule; on this The Observer states, "his career has been built on winding people up, while keeping a deadpan face."[18]

"Dry humour is often confused with highbrow or egghead humour, because the humour in dry humour does not exist in the words or delivery. Instead, the listener must look for humour in the contradiction between words, delivery and context. Failure to include the context or to identify the contradiction results in the listener finding the dry humour unfunny. However, the term "deadpan" itself actually refers only to the method of delivery."

Heartless Aztec said...

Pan being first cousin to "pie hole"

Ann Althouse said...

"I cannot even grasp how this is considered either art or hilarious. To me it's neither."

But she clearly is doing it. It's very thought-out and intentional. Are you doing that thing of saying it's not art when what you mean is that it's bad art? It's still art. Also, I ask how can you know it's not clowning. I say in the post that the "blank affect" doesn't mean it's not clowning. You say it's not hilarious, but someone could be clowning unsuccessfully. And many people think clowns aren't funny.

Unsaid in the post, but thought about after writing it is the "high/low" distinction. The New Yorker writer is puffing the work and insisting that it's art and NOT clowning, pushing us to see it as high and not low. I'm questioning that. But I also want to question the whole urge to see high and low and not a complex interaction. Visualize clowning as high and serious art as debased and then mix it all up.

Lem said...

Oh, ๐Ÿ™‹๐Ÿฝ‍♂️ Here is another case of a clown being declared not a clown.

Headline: “San Francisco Giants Manager says he won't stand on the field for the national anthem until he 'feels better about the direction of the country' after Texas school shooting”

We have to take the Giant's manager serious ๐Ÿ™„

Paul said...

I'm a 67 year old gent...

I guess I'll make some photos like that with me in t-shirt and BVDs... yea... sure NYT will put me on the front page... sure... maybe even Times!

Now on the serious side... WHAT THE HELL?

Narr said...



It's deadpan humor and art. Or, Art. I won't quibble. Not the sort of images I'd steal and hide behind my bedroom door, that's for sure.

Fatty fatty two by four,
Can't get through the bathroom door!

Fat fat the water rat.

Yancey Ward said...

That is making lemonade from lemons, I suppose.

Yancey Ward said...

"However, it's almost only plus size women. You don't see morbidly obese men in ads wearing tights and doing yoga."

Howard, just start your own self-photography website. Just don't link it here.

Lurker21 said...

Look at photos of wealthy or distinguished men of a century ago. Before the First World War, being fat was a status symbol for a man. It meant he had arrived and was successful. It wasn't quite the same for women, though clothing concealed a lot and women's figures were expected to be more substantial than today. So if you were an evolutionary biologist back then, you might conclude that men had an evolutionary drive to get fat to attract females.

R C Belaire said...

My eyes continue to burn.

Ann Althouse said...

In nearly every New Yorker cartoon with a husband and wife (or 2 friends), the person delivering the line has a deadpan expression.

Ann Althouse said...

"In nearly every New Yorker cartoon with a husband and wife (or 2 friends), the person delivering the line has a deadpan expression."

I'm really tired of that! Very similar drawings are used over and over again.

Bender said...

one wonders how it comes to be that in all of the world, the editors of The New Yorker thought this was worthy of their magazine

Because their world is infinitely smaller than the rest of the world.

retail lawyer said...

Lets talk "carbon footprint".

Gracelea said...

She's Finnish- I never think of Scandinavians being fat; I assumed she was Eastern European. Also she's almost 50; she must be really starting to feel the pull of gravity.

The photos are cartoonish send-ups of fashion shots and start to wear thin (so to speak) after a few dozen.

If I were her family, I'd be worried about her health. And she doesn't dare lose weight or her career would be over.

JAORE said...

Perhaps, when she dies "prematurely", they can have an big, open casket where she's nude except for strategically placed pumpkin pies.

Not funny? What if I told you it is "art"?

The worst part of the No Fat Shaming/Obesity Glorifying is the demand we not even consider health.

realestateacct said...

I thought fat people were supposed to be jolly.

realestateacct said...

They look like the pictures that people take to paste on the refrigerator to encourage restraint.

Drago said...

Looks like Woke "Sports" Illustrated has their next cover girl.

Earnest Prole said...

I'm really tired of that! Very similar drawings are used over and over again.

She no longer laughs at my joke.

stunned said...

I like her confidence and a sense of humor.
I think she is fun to hangout with.

Buckwheathikes said...

Much like "funemployment" the NY Times is obviously laying the groundwork for all those up-and-coming articles about how you really didn't want to take the fam to the Grand Canyon this summer after all, it being so hot and all, and so $6 a gallon gas is really a good thing.

Temujin said...

"Are you doing that thing of saying it's not art when what you mean is that it's bad art? It's still art."

Yes. I am.

I like to think that art (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. In my eyes, this photo exhibit is just not art. It's an annoying thing to look at. It's a gimmick. A variation on a bad theme. Actually irritating. So yes, I guess you could just say it's bad art. But to me, art is pleasing. Or it moves me, mostly, but not always in a new or positive way. I know, I know- art should make you think. Feel. Be pushed from your comfort zone. I don't necessarily agree with that. It can do that, yes. But those that try too hard just to do that tend to lose me.

As I live in my own head, I'll go by my definition on this one. Feel free to call this art. I'll not grant it that. To do so would lower my standards.

As for 'clowning'. I don't find it funny either. Or cute. Or cutting edge. Maybe one photo like that would have been a curiosity that could pry a smile out of me. Not sure, but maybe. All told, though, it doesn't meet the 'clowning' standard for me either. I think its a purely self-indulgent exercise. But like I said- good for her for making a career out of it.

Laurel said...

This brings to mind those ‘facial expression recognition’ tests that used to be a ‘thing’ once upon a time. Are they still?

I do not see in her face a blank expression or a deadpan intent. Mustn’t a blank canvas BE blank?

I see unhappiness. Vulnerability. Feigned indifference maybe? The extreme fat has driven her mouth toward a permanent frown.

Perhaps, in the end, our mouth is our truth.

YoungHegelian said...

"Pan" as a word for face may also be related, especially in the Show Business context, that the Yiddish word for "face" is pnim, usually pronounced as "pahneem".

Smilin' Jack said...

Perhaps a paywall will stop you...

I subscribe. It didn’t take a paywall to stop me.

Stephen St. Onge said...

        I’m really surprised you didn’t know “pan” was slang for “face.”  I can’t remember not knowing it, and I believe you’re older than I.  (I’m 69).

walter said...

Looks like she is very familiar with pans.
Can she move like Lizzo?

Daniel Jackson said...

I went over to her website; looked at the images on the opening page; I closed the page.

I have struggled with being overweight most of my life, except for two periods that required much work to maintain a BMI determined normal weight.

Two years ago, at 70, after ten years of indulgence (I was severely unhappy) becoming severely overweight (again), I had a stroke going into diabetic shock. I was taken to the Public Hospital in Essaouira, Morocco, where I langusihed for eigth days receiving insulin therapy.

Subsequently, I went from 93 kilos to 73 kilos. My diet is restricted to meat and legumes but no grains or starches. It takes lots of work, daily testing blood sugars, and fasting between meals.

I am 72 and intend to live as long as I can.

Seeing images of a person in such a state is like watching a person walk down an Amtrak express train track saying each moment, "It hasn't hit me, yet."

Forgive me: I do not find either humor or art therein.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

I usuta be listed on Wiki's page of Deadpan Comics. Some dickhead editor removed me. I put it back in. I am not deadpan any more tho, so if it got removed yet again, it's no big deal.

I liked the method. I may return to it. People usta ask me, after shows, how I maintained such a straight face. Uh... I'm the guy who wrote the material. I know all the punchlines.

Valentine Smith said...

She will now become rich and famous shed 300 pounds be beautiful have cascades of fat trimmed get the covers of teen vogue and Mad magazine proclaim climate change a hoax post a picture of a strangling Grete Thunberg dangling from between her thighs get immediately cancelled repatriated back to Finland war breaks out between the Finns and Swedes Russia invades both of them with Syrian soldiers who then seek asylum Iiu marries one writes 3 blockbuster memoirs then has healthy nonuplets.

All in 15 minutes.

Hey Skipper said...

Don't want to be a fat man
People would think that I was just good fun, man
Would rather be a thin man
I am so glad to go on being one, man

Too much to carry around with you
No chance of finding a woman, who
Will love you in the morning and all the nighttime too

Don't want to be a fat man
Have not the patience to ignore all that
Hate to admit to myself
I thought my problems came from being fat

Won't waste my time feeling sorry for him
I've seen the other side to being thin
Roll us both down a mountain and I'm sure the fat man would win

walter said...

I'd buy that for a dollar.

Lurker21 said...

Deadpan clowns go back at least as far as Watteau's "Pierrot." The sad, suffering clown has been around a long time. If clowns scare or repel us now, maybe they are only getting back at humanity for laughing at their misfortunes for so long.

I also wonder if that pan doesn't go back to Yiddish punim, but also whether "deadpan" might have something to do with mining. "Pan out," a phrase that I think is still used, goes back to panning for gold. Could a "deadpan" be one without anything valuable in it?

Narr said...

I knew Hey Skipper was a man of taste.