I’d Love To Join You for Dinner, but I’m in a Magazine Profile

Slate's Culture Blog
July 30 2010 11:35 AM

I’d Love To Join You for Dinner, but I’m in a Magazine Profile

According to Sam Anderson's cover story in this week's New York magazine , there's only one thing in the entire universe that actor/artist/grad student/documentarian James Franco makes no effort to do. "I guarantee you he would not eat unless I fed him," Franco's assistant says of her boss. "He'll do the hand-to-mouth part, but I definitely bring it to his hands." Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, is similarly too busy to forage for food. "I spent two months in one room in Paris once without leaving," Assange explained in a recent New Yorker profile . "People were handing me food."

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In a magazine feature, a refusal to engage with groceries is shorthand for the subject's extreme industriousness—he's too busy to think about carbo-loading. It's also a symbol of power: While you and I would likely die if we didn't eat, Franco and Assange have minders who dutifully bring them vittles, leaving them free to carry on their life's work.

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Limited food intake can also be a signal that we're in the presence of a superhuman specimen. Though Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone piece got Gen. Stanley McChrystal relieved of his command in Afghanistan , the piece at least burnished McChrystal's tough-guy reputation by noting that he ate just one meal a day. A powerful man's meal-skipping also typically comes with a side order of light sleeping —just as consuming food is a sign of weakness, so is the all-too-human impulse to grab more than five hours of shuteye. A 2007 Los Angeles magazine profile of Pete Carroll marveled that the then-USC coach doesn't appear to eat, drink, sleep, or pee, leaving writer J.R. Moehringer—the proxy for us feeble readers—"hungry, tired, thirsty, and [in] need [of] ... a men's room."

Female profile subjects, not surprisingly, play by different rules. A man who misses a meal is an absent-minded genius. A woman who skips dinner runs the risk of being labeled an anorexic . In women's magazines, then, it's far more common for an interviewee to talk about how much she loves to eat—especially how much she loves to eat hamburgers . But take a lesson from MIA, powerful women of the world: Skip the fries .

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

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