Super Size Me

Last night, I went to see Super Size Me (IMDB) at a packed 9:30 screening at the Midtown Art Theater (and according to the ticket guy, the earlier screening nearly sold out). The reception of the film was very enthusiastic, with lots of applause and laughter, and I really enjoyed it. I had been in a bad mood all day, and the film’s humor (as well as Spurlock’s success as an independent filmmaker) really cheered me. I’m not sure I have anything new to add to the discussion, but here are some quick hit observations:

Like Jenny, I appreciated director Morgan Spurlock’s affable approach to the topic. He managed to criticze the fast food industry without coming across as shrill or grating. Also, as Jenny notes, part of what makes the film powerful is the degree to which Spurlock’s health declines, but perhaps more powerful are the changes in mood, his depression and the buzz he gets when he finally eats a McDonalds meal. The intersperesd interviews demonstrate the extent to which fast food chains have created a “fast food culture,” through advertising and misleading information (the sequence in which Spurlock tries to find nutritional information at several McD’s is informative and funny). They also illustrate the extent to which alternatives (often a little additional financial cost) are available.

Not sure I have much more to add here, but the film is a lot of fun. I’m hoping the buzz will allow the film to be seen outside the art house context because I think the film offers a wry, but thoughtful, take on a serious problem.


  1. Rusty Said,

    May 22, 2004 @ 1:26 pm

    I’m afraid this is one thing I agree with conservatives on: it’s not McDonald’s fault and it’s not the government’s fault that kids grow up to be gigantic unhealthy fat asses. Responsibility lies with lazy or over-busy parents who don’t monitor what their kids watch on television. Kids see Ronald McDonald during commercial breaks hundreds of times pushing the good life via fries and burgers, and most of the time no one bothers to explain to the kids why this is deceitful. So at that point, when kids have spent three or four years being brainwashed by those ads, it’s futile for the parent to try to fight off the kids’ requests for Happy Meals. And so the cycle continues…

    You should check out Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” if you haven’t read it yet.

  2. chuck Said,

    May 22, 2004 @ 1:49 pm

    I read “Fast Food Nation” a couple of years ago. It’s pretty disturbing.

    I’d agree that parental responsibility is an issue here, but I think it is complicated by the fact that parents can’t control some of this stuff. When Spurlock speculates on how he’ll raise his children not to like McD’s, he jokes that every time he passes one while driving, he’ll punch his kid in the face. I think it’s almost impossible to prevent children not only from having familiarity with but also positive associations with McDonalds (with the clowns and happy meals and all).

    I’d also blame decisions to allow fast food into school cafeterias (especially junior high school, where kids are less adept at regulating their diet). And, as I mention in the review, the lack of nutritional information on site at the restaurants is a real problem. Certainly there are some lawyers who stand to benefit disproportionately from these lawsuits, but I think that to some extent, the plaintiffs have a case similar to the big tobacco settlements. Fast fod companies are selling products they know are unhealthy. Until recently, MCD’s “Super Size” promotion encouraged more unhealthy habits.

    Again, I realize that parents have the ability to cut through some of the commercial messages, but I do think that fast food companies are culpable for at least some of the problem.

  3. B. Said,

    May 22, 2004 @ 6:56 pm

    A couple of things here: 1) My kid is four and has never eaten at a McD’s and never will. If parents have the will, it’s not that hard. 2) The problem for me that R notes but passes over is “over-busy” parents. We live in a culture that almost makes mandatory the need for two incomes. Parents are too busy to cook, too tired to care. This is one of the clear class aspects to fast food culture. In other words, it’s tough for parents to have the will.

  4. chuck Said,

    May 22, 2004 @ 9:14 pm

    Yes, there’s definitely a social class problem that Spurlock himself only fleetingly addresses.

    One example: There’s one sequence where Spurlock attends a Jared Vogel (sp?–the Subway diet guy) seminar, and one teenage girl, who clearly admires Jared, explains that she can’t follow the Subway diet b/c it’s too expensive. On the one hand, I’m troubled by the glorification of Subway, but on the other, I’m aware that it’s usally cheaper to eat unhealthy food. It’s a fascinating moment in the film.

    Spurlock does address the “over-busy” culture a little further when he notes that people eat something like one third of their meals out, a shockingly high percentage. Admittedly, fast food companies are an easy target for a film like this (many people who see documentaries already love to hate McD’s), but putting pressure on them to offer healthier meals through these lawsuits doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me (note that they’ve already stopped the Super Size promotion).

  5. jenny Said,

    May 23, 2004 @ 1:14 pm

    That moment with the teenage girl was so sad. She seemed to be wholly unaware of how to lose weight except through a “program.” I kept thinking, “Doesn’t she know that exercise and reduced calorie diet is the only thing that will help her to lose?” But I guess she doesn’t. That’s what was upsetting to me– that we always have to have a “program” for weight loss.

    But I grew up in a very fast food friendly house. Both parents worked, but they also just really enjoy junk food. I had to choose a better diet for myself as a teen (went vegetarian) b/c my parents couldn’t do it. It wasn’t easy. I guess this is what makes me very suspicious of the “just don’t do it” argument. It’s very, very hard for teens to overcome their parents’ eating habits.

    Plus, I just can’t fall back on this logic when I scoffed so much at the anti-drug “just say no” campaign. We know the drug thing is complicated. This food *is* drug like. It’s addictive. To say “just don’t do it” is to fall back into Nancy Reagan’s logic. . . and that’s just stooopid.

  6. chuck Said,

    May 23, 2004 @ 2:17 pm

    Jenny, I had a similar experience w/fast food. My mom didn’t work, but we were fast food friendly. In fact, my parents couldn’t really imagine a meal without meat (except *maybe* breakfast), and I’ve worked to change my habits. I’m not a vegetarian, but I rarely eat fast food.

    I think you’re right about that scene w/the teenage girl. The marketing of diet products (most recently the Atkins cult) really contributes to that perception, which is awful.

  7. Rachael Said,

    May 26, 2004 @ 8:38 am

    I was troubled by the way Spurlock glosses over gender issues. The film seems to suggest that losing weight is easy for everyone–stop eating fast food. But that’s not the way weight loss works, especially for women whose bodies are often resistant to weight loss. That moment with the young girl at the high school where Jared spoke was certainly about class, but also about gender.

    I was especially bothered by the editor (?) of Rational Thinking (or some such magazine) who suggested that chastising fat people is similar to chastising smokers because both are harmful to one’s health. Spurlock may or may not agree with this, but there was no comment on this editor’s argument. Again, there are many physical reasons women, in particular (though this may not be solely a gender issue), have difficulty losing weight and it is not analogous to quitting smoking.

    Overall, I agree that the film is enjoyable and makes some interesting points about social responsibility. I just wish that gender (and more about class) were taken into account.

  8. chuck Said,

    May 26, 2004 @ 10:44 am

    Yes, I didn’t really understand why Spurlock chose to include the interview with that guy from Reason Magazine or Rational Thinking or whatever. In fact, I remember thinking that it undercut his argument.

    I’d agree that he does gloss the gender issue, but that scene with the teenage girl indicated to me just how difficult it can be to lose weight, not that it’s particularly easy. Spurlock himself mentions that it took him 14 months to lose the weight he gained in one month. Still, because he focuses only on his own bodily experience, the film ignores other people’s experiences, most specifically women’s.

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