Everybody is a victim now, but some creative breakthroughs in victimology are more noteworthy than others. The year's best example was the trio of supersized teenagers who sued McDonald's, claiming that management had made then fat by enticing them to eat at the burger chain nearly every day for five years. Here are the best of the rest of 2002's social victims:
Ugly people are victims of the media. By featuring mostly beautiful people, TV and other media are causing eating disorders, psychological problems and cosmetic surgery among the ugly, said Trond Andresen of the Norwegian Institute of Technology. He says the bias is similar to racism and suggests TV quotas for the facially impaired.
Robert Torricelli is a victim of hard-hearted America. The ethically challenged ex-senator from New Jersey acknowledged "mistakes" but blamed American culture. "When did we become such an unforgiving people?" he asked. "How did we become a society where a person can build credibility their entire life and have it questioned ...?"
Schoolchildren are victimized by the game of tag. Elementary school principal Pat Samarge of Santa Monica, Calif., says the game causes both emotional and physical injuries, particularly a loss of self-esteem, since not all children can win.
Rioters are victims of beer ads. Boisterous TV beer commercials may have spurred the recent wave of college riots, said alcohol-control specialist Henry Wechsler of Harvard. These ads, he said, threaten "the thin line between such beer-powered exuberance and the onset of rioting."
A model was victimized by his Winston ads. Raymond Leopard of Little Rock, Ark., is suing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., saying he experienced years of stress from appearing as the "Winston Man" in ads from 1978 to 1980. He said he didn't know at the time that tobacco was dangerous.
Australians are victimized by car ads. A possible ban on many car commercials, including one featuring a child saying "zoom, zoom" as a Mazda speeds by, is under debate by legislators in the Australian state of Victoria. The theory is that if cars are driven slowly in ads, or simply shown while parked, many accidents could be avoided.
Publicist Lizzie Grubman is a victim of the people she mowed down. When Grubman backed her Mercedes into a crowd outside a Hamptons nightclub, her lawyers said, the resulting injuries were "caused in whole or in part by contributory negligence, comparative negligence and/or culpable conduct" of those she hit.
A 16-year-old hockey player was exposed to intense psychological pain when he failed to win his league's most valuable player award, according to his father, Michael Croteau of New Brunswick, Canada. So the father is suing the league for $300,000. The suit asks that the MVP award and the playmaker award be removed from the two winners and given to Steven Croteau, the disappointed son.
A Somali warlord was victimized by the movie "Black Hawk Down." Though he hadn't yet seen the film, Osman Ali Otto said he was incensed at his screen portrayal and is thinking of suing.
Schoolchildren were victimized by a word that sounds a bit like a racial slur but isn't. After Stephanie Bell, a fourth-grade teacher in Wilmington, N.C., used the word "niggardly" (stingy) in class, she was forced to apologize to parents, then counselors were dispatched to comfort her students.
Disabled people are victimized by Quasimodo. To avoid hurting the feelings of those with scoliosis and other disabilities, a British theater company changed the name of the play "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" to "The Bellringer of Notre Dame."
Californians are victimized by cue chalk and chocolate. Citing California's 1986 law requiring warning labels on dangerous chemicals, creative lawyers are suing over the unlabeled toxins in electrical tape, lightbulbs, game darts, hammers, cue chalk, terrariums, Slim-Fast and chocolate, which contains traces of lead.
A dead giraffe's privacy was threatened by prying reporters. When The Washington Post asked to see the National Zoo's medical records of a beloved giraffe after its death, the zoo said that viewing the records "would violate the animal's right to privacy and be an intrusion into the zookeeper-animal relationship."
Your dog and cat are victims of Christians and Jews. Eccentric Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer said the biblical message of mankind's dominion over animals leads to "speciesism" -- the wrongful conclusion that humans are more valuable than other creatures.
Atheists are victimized by believers. The National Secular Society of Britain complained that Colin Powell and President Bush have been disrespectful of atheism. A Colorado man wrote a letter to The Washington Times saying that atheists are targeted by vandals and falsely accused of conducting human sacrifices. "So many of us are in the closet," lamented one spokesman at the Godless Americans rally last month in Washington, D.C.