Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013, 1:00 pm

Editorial: Thank you, Rex Reed

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The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy star in the new film 'Identity Thief.'
Thanks, Rex Reed. Yes, we mean that bloviating bag of wind who left common decency behind in attacking the appearance of Melissa McCarthy in reviewing her new film.

(Full disclosure: We haven't seen "Identity Theft," and probaby won't; we just can't see the humor in a crime that destroys so many lives. But today's screed has nothing to do with the film itself and everything to do with our obsession with body image, so if you're waiting to find out why we're grateful to this blowhard and bully, please, read on.)

Those who were outraged by Mr. Reed's nastiness should consider the source. Remember, for example, that he once likened one of the stars of film "Sex in the City" to a witch, saying, "There's nothing wrong with Sarah Jessica Parker, that couldn't be cured by wart-removal surgery." (She later had the "offending" mole removed.) And, perhaps worse, he started the outrageous and false rumor that Marissa Tomei won her Oscar for "My Cousin Vinny" only because a drunken Jack Palance read the wrong name.
Mr. Reed is right when he says that his comments about Ms. McCarthy are constitutionally protected, but in the court of public opinion, we're happy to say, they have been deemed unacceptable.

And the resulting public outcry is why those awful comments -- which we will not perpetrate by repeating here -- are so welcome, especially coming as they do on the heels of the ongoing discussion regarding whether it's fair to suggest that his girth makes Chris Christie unsuitable to be president of the United States.

That was the subject of a piece in Wednesday's Viewpoints by GateHouse News Service's Kent Bush. In it he criticizes the New Jersey governor for reinforcing obesity stereotypes by eating a donut during an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. That reed-thin talk show host is a notorious tormentor of the ubiquitous Gov. Christie, who appears to be a leading GOP presidential contender in 2016.

Mr. Bush also laments the fact that obesity may be the last target of acceptable bigotry. Smokers might argue that point, as well as those possessed of prominent features such as larger-than-average noses. Or the very thin. (Who hasn't at least smiled when someone directs a crack like, "Get her a sandwich, stat," at a waif in a restaurant?) Indeed, exaggeration of physical characteristics by comics is as old as time. (Henny Youngman and others got amazing mileage out of the line, "My wife is so fat, when sits around the house, she sits AROUND the house.")

Ms. McCarthy understands and exploits such humor in her brand of physical comedy that stole the show and won her an Oscar nomination for the smash hit "Bridesmaids." Her sitcom, "Mike and Molly" focuses frequently on the weight of both of its stars.

They're hardly the first actors to use physical image to good effect. Remember W.C. Fields and the Three Stooge's Curly Joe? The late Totie Fields rode self-deprecating fat jokes to stardom. So did Roseanne Barr, who offered this astute assessment of Ms. McCarthy's work via this Tweet: "you are a great comedian -- your body is your instrument -- you play it expertly."

And that is really what ought to be at the heart of this debate. Melissa McCarthy is often celebrated for the very things that Rex Reed attacks: She is, her fans say, every woman, and her comments on the subject of weight thus far suggest that she's comfortable with who she is and how she looks. That's a great lesson for all of us — large, small, and in between. In all likelihood, she also will, as Reed suggests, laugh all the way to the bank. Good.

As for the ersatz critic, we'll borrow our parting shot from a Tweet by Eric Stonestreet, a member of the talented cast of TV's Modern Family, who also appears in "Identity Theft":

"Turns out, Rex Reed didn't die sad and alone 10 years ago. Nope. He's alive and starving for attention, so lets give him some." We suspect that even this celebrated publicity hound got more of it than he ever bargained for.