When Chris Christie, the cartoonishly rotund governor of New Jersey, lumbered up to the podium a few nights ago to deliver his victory speech after a smashing re-election success, a friend of mine turned to me and said: “That man is too fat to be president of the United States.”
We were watching the election returns together at a local restaurant. My friend is a very successful movie producer, and he prides himself on his ability to know what the American audience wants to see. Chris Christie’s landslide victory instantly made him a front-runner in the presidential field for 2016. A popular Republican governor of New Jersey, a traditionally Democratic state, is automatically a presidential prospect, but my friend the film producer was having none of it.
“Look at him,” he said, gesturing to the television. “Look at that suit. It looks like a circus tent. Americans are never going to elect a president that obese.”
He made this pronouncement with a gigantic slice of pizza about to be wedged into his mouth. But my friend can eat anything. He’s the kind of person who can stay slim no matter what he eats, which is the main reason that I constantly have to remind myself that I like the guy, that we’ve been friends for a long time, because the minute that slips my mind, I’d hate him with a passion.
“Americans don’t want to watch a fat guy waddle around the White House,” he said, with the derisive tone that naturally slender people often use to describe folks who, like Chris Christie – and, after a month or two of solid work and very little exercise, me – look like they’ve never met a piece of bread they wouldn’t eat. “They’re like moviegoers,” he added. “They want to vote for a star. For someone who is better-looking and more attractive than they are.”
This is mostly true, of course. New visitors to Los Angeles are often astonished at the non-stop parade of beautiful people who live and work here. The young man who helps you with your groceries is fit and handsome. The lady at the post office is elegant and alluring. In Los Angeles, everyone imagines they’re only about two steps away from a big screen close-up or a shirtless scene at the beach, so they work hard to be ready for the casting call. The result is that folks who live and work here tend to have a skewed idea about what the rest of America looks like.
Which is, to be frank, a lot more like Chris Christie than Brad Pitt. When the governor of New Jersey grabs the lectern for his big speech, it’s hard not to notice how far he is from the object itself, his girth creating a sizeable gulf between governor and podium.
But American audiences – and American voters – haven’t quite made up their minds about the physical requirements of either job, president or movie star.
Barack Obama is a slender golfer. His predecessor, George W Bush, was the very model of physical fitness. Yet we don’t have to go too far back – Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Harry S Truman – to find the opposite.
Brad Pitt and Matt Damon are successful movie stars and, let’s be honest, super hunky. But chubby, awkward actors like Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill are also box office draws.
Sandra Bullock is a lithe and winsome actress, and she’s the most bankable star in Hollywood. But plus-sized actress Melissa McCarthy, star of the box-office smash Bridesmaids, is also a favourite.
It’s as if the viewing public has two separate categories for popular movie stars: actors who are so much fitter and more attractive than we are that it’s a pleasure to gaze at their beauty, and those who are so fat and ugly they make us think: “Hey, at least I’m not that guy.” Either way, audiences will shell out money to see them.
After eight years of a skinny president in the Oval Office, it’s highly possible that Americans will swing the other way, to morbidly obese. So while my movie producer friend predicted that the governor of New Jersey was too fat for the American voter, I came to the opposite conclusion: maybe they’ll vote for him because he makes them feel slimmer.
I said this to my friend. He rolled his eyes. “You would say that,” he said.
Did I forget to mention that I, too, had a slice of pizza in my hand? And not my first. Nor, sad to say, my last of the evening. Maybe that’s why I’m looking forward to President Chris Christie. When he’s in the White House, I’ll be able to eat anything I want.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl