The Buzz

Government, Supersized

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent decision to push for a ban on any “sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces” is the kind of news story that came gift wrapped for comedians and political satirists. Last night, Jon Stewart took full advantage of it, ridiculing the ban at length in a well-done and very funny opening segment.

Stewart took aim at two elements of the plan. The first is how arbitrary it is. Why only soda and not other extremely unhealthy foods? He illustrated this point by bringing out other items from an absurdly large Carnegie Deli sandwich (“it’s more like eating a cow with a rye-bread yarmulke”) to deep-battered chicken wings, both of which would continue to be completely legal. Then there is the curious case of the giant frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity—totally legal, at least “until it melts.”

It’s also worth noting that the ban does not apply to fruit juices with as much or more sugar than sodas, or to convenience stores—meaning that the Big Gulp will still be permitted in Bloomberg’s New York.

Then there is the question of effectiveness. In his best line of the segment, Stewart said the plan “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.” Would the ban lower obesity rates? With all the loopholes, who knows? At a minimum, it would be nice to see the modeling that the city government has done and know exactly what they project the impact of the ban to be.

To be sure, obesity remains a significant problem, and Bloomberg’s proposal does not represent an extreme infringement on anyone’s individual freedom. Yet it certainly seems to be a silly one. Writing at the Daily Beast, Trevor Butterworth called it a “walking advertisement for libertarianism.” But you don’t have to be a libertarian or a Big Gulp lover (this author is neither) to view this as almost a self-parody of the idea of the nanny state. Stewart, as he so often does, captures this view in a sharply funny and smart bit of comedy.