Super Size Me
In The Fly, Jeff Goldblum’s slowly mutating character monitors the progress of his own decline with a mix of horror and fascination. He might’ve approved of the unscientific experiment conducted by Morgan Spurlock on his own body in Super Size Me. Spurlock, a 33-year-old multimedia whiz, has made an engaging if sometimes sickening documentary about the effects of a month-long diet consisting only of McDonald’s food. He casts his net wider, though, questioning a society that cares so little about the fuel that runs the body that it blindly consumes very bad fuel just because it’s faster and easier. Would we put the equivalent of a Big Mac in our gas tanks if it made our cars run slower and stall routinely?
McDonald’s just so happens to be the biggest dealer in immediate-gratification food, so it takes the biggest darts in Super Size Me, but Spurlock doesn’t stop there. Have you seen what passes for school cafeteria food lately? Spurlock does find one school in Wisconsin that has adopted a healthy lunch program emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and baked meals over fatty, sugary, calorie-ridden items; the school has reported a marked decrease in bad behavior among students, and says that their program is no more expensive than your typical program dependent on frozen, processed food. So why don’t more schools opt for health? Why are recess periods being decreased across the country, and PhysEd classes dwindling to far below the recommended weekly amount of exercise for growing kids? It all boils down to politics and money.
You may find it ridiculous that people are suing McDonald’s for serving fattening food, or for that matter that the famous old lady sued them for serving her a hot cup of coffee (never mind that the coffee was so scalding hot — the average temp being 180 to 190 degrees — it gave her third-degree burns of the groin, inner thighs and buttocks; you don’t hear that part of it much). But it’s time to start questioning what the corporate-owned media nudges you to find either important or ridiculous, and Spurlock does, starting with the McDonald’s claim that a nutritious diet from their menu is possible. Spurlock’s method, granted, is a bit of a stunt. He goes beyond what most people would eat, though he only super-sizes nine out of the presumable 90 meals he gets at McDonald’s (he pledges to super-size only when asked by the counterperson if he wants to). But this formerly trim and healthy man becomes a lab rat for a variety of illnesses, monitored by three doctors and a nutritionist and worried about by his vegan girlfriend. Spurlock turns nutritional awareness into a kind of extreme sport; the change in diet shocks his system so much that he can’t get through the second day without vomiting.
That scene, and another involving gastric bypass surgery shown in leering detail, may put you off your popcorn as well as your fast food. And some of Super Size Me verges on a medical horror film — Spurlock has one of those terrifying middle-of-the-night health scares that reminded me of Goldblum in The Fly sitting in the bathroom and saying “What’s happening to me?” But most of the movie is fun, smooth sailing, like a Michael Moore film without the sarcasm. Spurlock isn’t really out to embarrass McDonald’s (though he wages an unsuccessful Roger & Me-like campaign to score an interview with McDonald’s CEO Jim Cantalupo, who ironically died in April 2004 of a heart attack); when he goes to various McD’s joints asking where their nutrition info is posted, he doesn’t come off as mean-spirited as Moore sometimes does when grilling secretaries. (Super Size Me could be a genial companion piece to Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, which meditated on why America is so violent; it’s suggested here that a diet high in fat and sugar can make people more aggressive.)
Super Size Me might just change some minds and lives in a way that a more sober-sided Nightline treatise on fast food couldn’t. At the end of Spurlock’s ordeal, his girlfriend Alex Jamieson already has “Morgan’s Vegan Detox Diet” ready for him; I wish that were on the film’s website, because having seen the film I have little interest in consuming fast food anytime in the near future. The movie isn’t a one-sided diatribe; Spurlock interviews Don Gorske, a healthy-looking guy who set a Guinness record for number of Big Macs eaten during his lifetime — Gorske is like the anti-Spurlock. But not everyone is Don Gorske, and many people in this 60%-obese country will die sooner than they have to because of their diets — whether McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, too many potato chips, or whatever. Spurlock only wants us to think about that. Preferably before dinner.