Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Starring: Morgan Spurlock
I was sitting on the couch watching some tv this past sunday with my girlfriend and we felt like watching a movie, a solid Sunday afternoon plan right? So we decided to give Time Warner cable’s video on demand service a go. In a nutshell, Time Warner needs to bolster their infrastructure as we were unable to watch a movie, any movie. We just kept getting error messages with an 800 number to call. We naturally dialed the number only to get an automated message stating that too many people were watching movies and that we would have to wait and try again later. Fantastic. I guess the Sunday afternoon movie really was a good plan. Only mildly phased, we looked at some listings and saw that Super Size Me was playing at a nearby movie theater in 15 minutes. So we managed the unthinkable, we rallied and rushed spontaneously to a new release movie without tickets and not only got in but got good seats and didn’t miss a second of the movie. Anyone who has or does live in New York City will acknowledge that this is a near impossible feat, it’s all about the fandango/moviefone pre-purchased guaranteed entry tix.
When I first heard about Super Size Me i knew it was something that I would need/have to see for several different reasons. First, as a result of my European upbringing here in New York City (both my parents are European) and spending all my summers as a youth in France and Italy, being a foodie came most easily and naturally to me. More than just being a foodie, I also happen to be utterly repulsed by fast food and eat it only under the most dire of circumstances: being stuck on a highway in the middle of nowhere and famished would probably qualify while a death defying hangover could on the rare occasion also be a just cause. Let it be noted for the record that I know how my body reacts to the ultra-rare ingestion of that garbage: cold sweats, stomach aches, gastro intestinal distress (we all know what that means, ok one guess: does the word explosive mean anything to you?), lethargy, and the inevitable skin breakouts in the days following the eating incident, and that all happens to me after 1 “meal”. That being said the thought of watching someone eat nothing but fast food for a month straight, and only McDonald’s no less, was just too good to pass up. Yes, I knowingly admit that there was a voyeuristic component in my wanting to see this documentary.
Beyond my upbringing and my sick voyeuristic need, I also read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser . I not only found it to be a fascinating insight into the symbiotic history of the development of the west coast and the rise of the fast food industry, but also a revolting expose into the ties that bond the biggest companies, and naturally their lobbyists, in the fast food industry with the lying, cheating, greedy bastards that keep getting elected to office. Yes I loved the book, despised the facts that the book brought to light, and came to the only possible conclusion, which is the same conclusion nutritionists have been screaming at the top of their lungs for years, and the same conclusion Duncan comes to: that humanity is in danger, and not just americans but due to globalization, everyone everywhere is at risk of obesity and its consequences; I just tend to consider americans to be the canary in the mine and that canary is most definitely turning some nasty shade of blue and gasping for its last breath.
Believe it or not there were actually more reasons (as if there weren’t enough already) compelling me to see this movie. I was at a screening of Kill Bill Volume 2 a couple weeks ago and saw the trailer for Super Size Me and freaked out a bit as not only is one of Morgan’s doctors MY doctor and has been my doctor for years, but the artist featured in the movie (he painted the logo and all the paintings used throughout the movie to denote chapters transitions) is Ron English (Link 1, Link 2 ) whom I happen to know because a couple friends of mine shared his Chambers St Tribeca loft years ago. Ron has been using his fusion of pop culture iconography and known artistic contexts (Mickey Mouse, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, The Last Supper, and The Crucifixion are all sample suitable fodder) to skewer and lambaste the big corporate concerns for at least a decade and half now (it’s probably more but I’ve only known him that long). Clearly this documentary was unintentionally aimed squarely at me…
Now that you all have a ‘little’ background, I feel like I can actually tackle the documentary. The overall feeling of this documentary was a great juxtaposition of someone who one day had a lighthearted idea then realized the next day he could make a very serious point: that obesity is a real problem with real consequences, and that the fast food industry and the government are knowingly endangering the masses in exchange for dollars. I can only imagine Morgan sitting around one day with some friends and saying “I wonder what would happen if I ate nothing but McDonalds for a month” and through its execution making one of the more scathing social commentaries I’ve seen recently and all the while maintaining that light hearted tone; think Michael Moore on valium. The bottom line is that it’s not easy making a point without sounding preachy (see Michael Moore, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone and many other directors’ movies).
That being said, I found Morgan to be an endearing soul even as he subjected himself to some real life masochism; he was funny, vulnerable, sensitive, open and honest, altogether human. I found this refreshing, and allowed me to easily empathize with his plight. As for everyone else we encounter through the course of his month, from his girlfriend to his doctors to his family and friends to the scholars and nutritionists, they pretty much all come off well except for the pro-fast-food-industry people, well at least their lobbyists because McDonald’s clearly wasn’t keen on participating, and the few pathetic government officials who obviously want to protect the big business interests at all costs and seemed to truly believe the nonsense rhetoric they were spewing. To me, they seemed more like sacrificial lambs sent by their respective government offices.
There were also some keen insights into the social dynamic, this one in particular has stuck with me: people can openly badger other people for smoking in public because of its health risks, but what would happen if someone badgered an obese person for having that extra piece of pie? Outrage for one…
Obesity has proven itself to be just as efficient a killer as tobacco and people need to know that. Hopefully that knowledge might help them change their ways or even better yet get the government to pass laws that actually benefit people and not big business, and perhaps even might get the fast food companies to change their ways and become a little more ethical; I know that last one is a pipe dream but McDonalds did eliminate its supersize option soon after this documentary premiered at Sundance so perhaps not all is lost….