Monday, July 12, 2010

Memo To Augustus Gloop: This Time, It's Personal

I had run-ins with the media cool merchants long before my body imploded. If I had them on trial, I'd offer Roald Dahl's book Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory as my first exhibit and the hapless Augustus Gloop-the most pathetic character in the halls of fatdom-as their first victim.
The book is essentially a Seven Deadly sins story in which five of the six children who tour Wonka's factory succumb to their moral deficiencies: yet only Augustus Gloop suffers for a physical trait, versus Mike TeeVee's nonstop viewing diet, and Veruca Salt's brattiness.

As the factory's first victim, Augustus is a convenient clay pigeon who's chastised for his love of chocolate, then dismissed as a "fat pig of a boy who would eat anything he could get his hands and teeth on". The scenario sounds like a drug dealer demanding abstinence: why else would anyone take a food-addicted child to a place where lollipops sprout like weeds, and rivers of sugar flow?

Augustus runs to sip from the Chocolate River, only to fall inside and get sucked into a drainage pipe. Mr. Wonka's tribe of stout orange dwarves, the Oopma-Loompas, become the Greek chorus celebrating Augustus's downfall {"But this revolting boy, of course, was so utterly vile, so greedy, foul and infantile." [1]}
Fictional or not, hatred of this fat boy range true for me as a child. I remember sinking into my third grade classroom's carpet as this movie played itself out: the entire class giggled and pointed at me. I was the one who'd fallen into the river. I had visions of trying to pull Augustus out.

I thought that Mr. Wonka was a creepy jerk, and that Charlie should have tossed the Golden Ticket admitting him to his psychedelic factory--boat acid trip included--before he spat out the Everlasting Gobstopper. Like Augustus, I felt surrounded by hot dog and double pizza days and skinny kids with an insatiable fix for candy--but no physical results.

Time hasn't mitigated the '70s film treatment of Dahl's book. The fat comedian and the evil clown still coexist uneasily in some media black hole where exploitation of physical cliche's means the difference between success and failure.

[1] Dahl, Roald. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, New York, Alfred A. Knopf 1964, p.85 ["Augustus Gloop Goes Up The Pipe"]


  1. I am a drama teacher at a middle school in San Ramon, CA,and though I am producing a version of this musical in the spring, I am eliminating the Augustus Gloop character, and explaining why in the program. It's not much, but it's a start.

  2. Thanks for doing that. The fat kids don't need the pain because it opens the door for them to be made fun of.

  3. Give me a break! I was a fat kid in the 80s (now much healthier) and this book was always a favorite. I wasn't made fun of when I brought it to school (lots of the kids ended up buying it at our book fairs) and I didn't feel self-conscious either. You over-sensitive wimpy types are what's so wrong with this country nowadays. Don't coddle and underestimate your kids, they're a lot smarter and tougher than you think. This PC epidemic has GOT to stop. The real world will not change no matter how much your try to sugarcoat your kids' lives.

  4. LOL ET, trust me I am anything but PC. You know I just gave a quick response to the lady above, but you know you got me thinking, should she take the fat kid out of the play? There is part of that bothers me. I do think maybe it would best to leave kid in but couple it with open discussion. Being afraid of fatness will bring in more problems. I should have thought that one out more. I am anything but PC [usually].