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+1 vote
Despite this probably seeming straightforward, there are some layers to this question.  First off, where does this come from, and secondly, is it a stereotype actually believed or more like a joke?  Also, it's not like just capitalists can be fat.  I'm somewhat overweight but I consider myself an Anarchist (specifically, a mutualist).  So what's up with that?  

I'm sorry if this is a stupid question, but it's just something I have never really understood and finally decided to ask it here.

3 Answers

+3 votes
uh oh. pet peeve alert! :)

i don't think it's that complicated. first, westerners are (literally) insanely fat phobic, second, in western societies fat is associated with greediness.
that combined with a desire/expectation for things to look like what they're supposed to be (evil is supposed to be ugly, good is supposed to be beautiful and vice versa) gets you some stupid fucking shit.

this despite the fact that fat in the us and in the uk is much more prevalent among poor and working class people, vs those who (for example) have more choices in their diet and the time/money to go to the gym.

i will restrain myself to those comments.
uh i guess i won't after all...
it's also probably a factor of cartoonists wanting to make bad guys look bad as a propaganda technique.

edit again: for people looking to read stuff, i got a lot out of Shadow on a Tightrope, although i have no idea if i would stand behind it today.
by (52.9k points)
edited by
+1 vote
The representation of capitalists (and some politicians) with a large belly probably dates back a couple of centuries, and the underlying idea back to antiquity.  Originally they were representations of men with 'enormous appetites' (and not just for food!), and who had the means to satisfy those appetites.  If you were powerful, you weren't 'fat' - you had 'gravitas' (Churchill is a fine example).  Skinny men were viewed as weak; and not without cause, since the laboring classes were chronically malnourished, and would be represented as wasted beggars.

This material condition continued to exist until quite recently, and the representation continued as a convenient short-hand (the meme ossified into a thought-fossil).
Ironically, as Dot pointed out, now the underclass subsists on industrial regurgitations and we balloon in weight, while the svelte ruling class dines on organic vegan chicken breast and hand-picked quinoia polenta before attending their monthly liposuction appointments.  (Note to self, do not get me fucking started on Quinoia!*)  Now the belly is more associated with greed in the powerful, and with weak-will in the rest of us; though i think shadows of the original fossil still haunt our minds.

And you will note that the above meme concerns _exclusively_ men!  Women had their own shorthands (or something.)

*This really pisses me off.  Another example of the upperclass foodies stealing a staple from another culture, completely without context, and their aspirational drones flocking along behind... And as a result, the people who ate the stuff for centuries can't afford it because every wannabe from Manhattan to Beverly Hills has a pantry full of the stuff.  And some rich bastard got richer trafficking the stuff, and the people who subsisted on it now have to subsist on the same industrial shit we have to because they can't afford anything else.  None of which has anything to do with the question, or my answer.  It just really fucking pisses me off.  Thank you for not listening.
by (2.0k points)
What i wrote was mostly from the viewpoint of the original (sycophant) cartoonists.  The more radical caricurists quickly adopted the theme of a few satisfying their wants in the face of the dire needs of the many - the rich greedy bastards we now recognize.
0 votes
Being a fat person for years, I think that what you all say is very true.

But in the same time, out of very theorico-historical considerations back to antiquity, the contemporary caricature of the fat capitalist also have two other main aspects.

First, a very social one : during the beginings of industrial capitalism in western Europe, a vast majority of proles were literally starving to death.
Which explains for example that one of the first main claims of the worker movements were often only : "bread". Like "Work and bread", "Peace and bread", etc. Even there always were fat poor people, this terrible situation should explain the fact that obesity or the simple fact of being fat was seen as a "bourgeois desease" (just like cancer) or bourgeois priviledge.

Now a day, the food is often very bad on a qualitative point of view, but most of the time, even most of the poorest people in the western world don't starve. We eat shit. And we eat a lot of it.

So the problem is that now the fact of being fat is more a popular or cultural thing than a question of class.

The other aspect of traditional "fat capitalist pigs" caricatures is that they were also linked to vicious antisemitic prejudices against jews being fat bankers, and against jewish men in general being fat and/or "ugly".

It's pretty amazing to realize that there is less differences between most of the stalinist or marxist caricatures of capitalists (or the "capitalist octopus") and the nazi or fascist ones before WWII. I'm not saying that they all were antisemitic, but that it was culturally compatible to it. As I think stalinism is compatible to antisemitism. And stalin himself was a paranoid antisemitic.

Often today, capitalists, or bankers are also pictured as slim three-pieces-suits characters without a face or any personnality : which seems closer to reality on a "sociologic" point of view ;-).
by (2.2k points)