Super Size Me

Reviewed By Josh Gryniewicz
Posted 05/18/04 14:16:43

"A gluttony of social commentary"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

McDonald’s press department responded to the Sundance success of Morgan Spurlock’s first feature film “Super Size Me” by vehemently arguing that they would not respond to it: “We see no reason to respond…” They responded. When the film first came out a release stated: “We haven’t seen the movie, from what we’ve heard, it deserves two thumbs down.” In fact, McDonald’s has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the insignificance of Spurlock’s film, paradoxically devoting a considerable amount of press to prove that the film is not worth publicity, while simultaneously taking the “super size” meals off their menus.

Morgan Spurlock, whose resume includes MTV’s “I bet you will” where ordinary people were offered cash to do absurd stunts, makes himself into a human guinea pig consuming three squares of Mickey D’s for a month straight to explore “where personal responsibility ends and corporate responsibility begins.” Inspired by the court case where two teen girls sued the restaurant chain for their obesity, Spurlock sets off in tongue-in-cheek fashion to weigh in on the debate. At the beginning of the experiment, three doctors, a nutritionist and a physical trainer provide a clean bill of health measuring him at 6’ 2” tall, 185 pounds with 168 cholesterol and 11% body fat.

A month later he has packed on the pounds shooting up to 210, his cholesterol spikes to 230, his body fat increases to 18% and to the surprise of his doctors, his liver begins to show early signs of cirrhosis. His girlfriend, a vegan chef, gives more personal reports as his performance in bed is about the only thing to decrease.

Spurlock doesn’t let his Subway – Jared – in – reverse routine speak for itself however, trekking cross – country to interview gym teachers, food lobbyists, legal representation for the obesity case, on-the-street interviews and John Robbins, Baskin Robbins heir turned health conscious author of “Diet for a New America.” Spurlock reveals a dark side of America’s fast food obsession plugging statistical information to illustrate the frightening results; the fast food industry is poisoning the populous.

According to Eric Schlosser, “Rolling Stone” writer and author of “Fast Food Nation” (not featured in the film) “a survey of American schoolchildren found that ninety – six percent could identify Ronald McDonald.” Only Santa Claus beat him out as the most widely recognized fictional character. Schlosser goes on to state that the Golden Arches are more widely recognized than the Christian cross. Schlosser’s book goes in depth to assess the full impact of fast food on our society – its emphasis on efficiency and convenience over quality, its threat to independent business and its role in the creation of low-wage dead end jobs and its detrimental toll on all of us.

Spurlock repeats a version of the survey with a first grade class deriving the same unfortunate results, he demonstrates the franchise’s targeting of children, investigates the epidemic of obesity in the country and explores the sheer horror of school lunches. The film concludes with twin visual images of french fries that represent the limitation of viable options McDonald’s represents – a limitation that should attest to corporate accountability over the purported “will power” argument.

While Spurlock’s documentary offers a double fisted attack on the industry armed with its satirical bite and statistical data. It begged other questions that the film didn’t fully explore: budgetary cuts in education leading to a corporatization of American schools and subsequently the unhealthy food options represented. The connection between poor nutrition and behavioral problems also begged comment on an alternative to the rampant diagnosis of ADD and ADHD that wasn’t touched upon. Further links between class and dietary habits were left neglected, we live in the only society in history where our impoverished lower class is heavy set.

Visually though, Spurlock pulls no punches, his training in commercials and music videos shows through as he draws on artist and culture jammer, Ron English to set up title cards to the film’s chapter segments. English, whose ad busting creative depiction feature controversial frightening images of our commercial age offer the perfect subliminal context to the work. Before Spurlock launches on his journey of consumption, for example the screen fills with an image of Ronald McChrist surrounded by other pop-cultural cartoon icons in a recreation of DaVinci’s “Last Supper.” The effect is stirring – controversial, comedic and frightening.

When I first heard about the lawsuit myself, I thought it was pathetic – despite a vehement disdain for corporate America and equally passionate aversion to Mickey D’s – I simply shook my head at our “sue happy” culture. Actually, when I first heard about the case I probably lit a cigarette, (a habit I've been trying to kick annually since I was 14) absently shook my fist in the air to “damn the man” and then shook my head at our “sue happy” culture. Following the film, however, my girlfriend and I ate a salad for dinner, I spent an hour surfing the net looking for detoxification recipes, I lit a cigarette, shook my fist to “damn the man” and began to re-think the lawsuit.

Corporations have a long and menacing history of alluding accountability, placing profits before safety, health and human rights and scapegoating the results on free will: "You don't have to eat fast food." ; “You don’t have to work in unsafe conditions.” ; “You don’t have to drink chemically contaminated ground water.” ; “You don’t have to live in that underdeveloped third world nation.” But objectively the options presented are illusory -- there is no real choice – perhaps crucifying the McChrist would be a suitable start to holding companies responsible for their actions.

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