Magazine | June 25, 2012, Issue

The Sticky Slope

Hands off my soda, Mayor Bloomberg

The best way to give somebody bad news is, first, give him a doughnut. This is basically the idea behind what we in Hollywood call “craft services.”

Craft services — also known as “Holy cow! Look at that huge table of snacks!” — is, well, a huge table of snacks, originally designed to feed, water, and otherwise satisfy the between-meal cravings of the various craft guilds that populate the business. Following the principle that hungry people are cranky people, and that cranky, hungry people are the last people you want handling six-ton pieces of equipment and million-dollar sets and wires with 18 zillion volts of electricity crackling through them inches from the neck and face of America’s beloved TV and film stars, free Snapple and unlimited Cool Ranch Doritos look like a pretty bargain way to deliver a safe and sane workplace.

But that simple calculation has morphed, over time, to include the need to placate everyone involved in a production. I had a show on the air, years ago, that involved a lot of complicated location filming. We had weather trouble and airplane-noise trouble and crowd-control trouble and all sorts of trouble that could really be solved, it turned out, only by an enterprising craft-service guy passing out a tray of mini egg-salad sandwiches at ten o’clock in the morning.

An egg-salad sandwich doesn’t solve production problems, of course, but it’s soothing and eggy and pleasantly bland, and doesn’t take much energy to chew, so eating one — or, in my case, eating a fistful — is a little like sucking on a mayonnaise lollipop. You forget what you’re supposed to be upset about.

I know of a major television showrunner who had the craft-service person whip up, at the end of a long shoot, a mini chocolate soufflé. As they were shooting pickup shots and retakes, the showrunner would sit in a director’s chair, face and lips smeared with gooey chocolate, staring slack-jawed and glassy-eyed at the monitors. “They’re just mini soufflés,” he would say, as if that somehow made it less elaborate. But the truth was, they weren’t mini at all. They were served in one-quart ramekins with a double-big spoon. Like a big chocolate pacifier.

So when New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was thinking about banning, within the city limits, large sugary drinks — you know what I’m talking about, right? those giant sodas people cart around? with the tapered bottoms (because the cups are too huge to fit into a normal car-seat cup-holder) and those super-wide straws? — people naturally reacted with unhappy surprise.

We like our fat cups of sugar and fizz. It’s a little lift in an otherwise stressful day to step up to the fill-’er-up dispenser and get yourself a tankard of Type 2 Diabetes. And we know that this is just the beginning. It’s a sticky slope: From sodas we’ll get to french fries, and then to pretty much every large-sized carbohydrate ever invented, until we’re all walking around in sour moods with tripwire tempers wondering how to get through the day on carrot sticks and fair-trade iced tea.

#page#This has happened on every show or film set I’ve ever been on. Eventually, somebody gets all up in the craft-service table, somebody with clout and an obsession with health, and suddenly the chips and M&Ms and Double Stuf Oreos get replaced by good stuff, healthy stuff, like rice cakes and power bars and things with carob and antioxidants.

And then, suddenly, people start to lose a little of that extra flab. They have more energy. Things happen faster. Pants button. Polo shirts get tucked in again.

But before you know it, the entire production is at each other’s throats. The network is feuding with the studio, the studio is trying to fire the producer, and craft guilds — the whole reason we have craft services in the first place — end up cranky and hungry and a little careless with the 80-pound lights dangling above the head of the million-dollar star.

In other words, there’s a place for junk food in our lives. It’s the grease — in many cases, literally — that keeps us all a little more emotionally stable. Unfortunately, in excess, junk food also makes us fat.

So Bloomberg’s logic is pretty airtight. Sugary drinks make us fat, and fat people get sick a lot, and since we’re all responsible for each other’s health-care costs — you remember when we decided that, don’t you, a year or so ago? — banning those sodas makes economic and social sense. Fewer fat people, lower costs. Think they’ll pass the savings on to us?

Fat chance.

For liberals, what you do with your body turns out not to be such a private matter after all, which is a bit of a switcheroo. I guess the rule is this: If a woman has a big fat stomach that’s filled with a fetus, it’s her body and her choice. If it’s filled with pizza and soda and Ben & Jerry’s, it’s time for Mayor Bloomberg to step in.

They make the same argument about smokers — raise the price! punish the bastards! — though for some reason they rarely make it about cycling — that’s a pretty upscale sport, with its tight-panted riders and DayGlo helmets, but there are an awful lot of gruesome accidents — and they almost never make it about sexually transmitted diseases, especially those that are transmitted in currently chic ways, like between two guys who are about to get married.

No one’s trying to ban extreme sports. No one’s trying to outlaw Grindr, the smartphone app that helps homosexual gentlemen find each other quickly via satellite technology. No, it’s all about tacky fat people just trying to get through the day, trying to give themselves a little mood bump in the face of a dismal job picture, a faltering world economy, and an uncertain future for their children. It’s been a non-stop cascade of bad news for them, and now the liberals are begrudging them their doughnut. Well, not the doughnut, but the super-size drink it comes with.

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