9 May 2004 | lawprof
A National Epidemic Highlighted by a Dangerous Stunt
Morgan Spurlock undoubtedly aspires to follow in the path of Errol Morris, Roger Moore, Joel Sucher and other leading documentarians. A young man with an adoring and beautiful girlfriend, he decided to unmask the evil of fast food and its impact on an increasingly obese America. That Americans eat too much fast food - too much of any kind of food - and eschew exercise is hardly news. But a full-scale documentary examining sloth by the bucket-full focusing on one major commercial phenomenon hasn't been done before.
Spurlock decided to eat at McDonald's and only McDonald's for a full month. That's three meals a day with no other food source. Before launching on what actually was a death-defying trip (literally since for variety he consumed Mickey D's food in Texas, L.A. and a lot of other places) he had a full baseline workup with a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist and an internist who gets more screen time than his medical colleagues-he gravitates between being supportive and alarmist, the latter increasingly the right response to Spurlock's bizarre quest.
Spurlock also has a nutritionist/dietician and a physical trainer to keep tabs on him. The only specialty missing, in retrospective one who might have been useful, was a psychiatrist. His girlfriend, a vegan chef no less, looks forward to the month with a mixture of humor and alarm.
"Supersize Me" has lots of scientific information on the nature of fast food and its impact on an America that eats out more than it dines at home, a change from a past where mom or a wife faithfully prepared most meals. Nutritionists decry the change in our culture, educators point out the impact of fast food in school cafeterias on kids' health, a former Surgeon General gravely decries the menace and the usual person-on-the-street suspects shock viewers by their bumbling inability to define such terms as "calories." A food industry spokesman is blithely unaware that he is being set up to look like an ass. And, of course, there are multiple shots of Spurlock vainly connecting with polite drones at McDonald's HQ seeking an interview which never comes. Does this all sound familiar?
Spurlock's month-long consumption of McDonald's products gets old fast although he and the director try to add some novelty like showing him vomiting after downing a supersized meal. Periodic visits to get his bloods and body checked reveal the insidious impact of a bizarre diet. His puzzled internist tells us several times he's never before seen a liver compromised by a high fat diet.
The problem, though, is that Spurlock is like those laboratory rats who develop arcane tumors after consuming the equivalent of something that no human could ingest in ten lifetimes. His peregrination from one Mc D's to another becomes boring as his health is clearly threatened and he stubbornly refuses medical advice to give it up.
The best part of "Supersize Me" is the well-presented information on schools and fast foods and how a few are resisting the commercial tide that aims junk at kids from kindergarten through high school. Even inmates, we're told, can be well fed at no greater cost than the fat-laden diets these essentially sedentary wards of the state have shoveled at them.
Technically, this is a well-filmed documentary with creative use of multiple images and graphs.
I hope Spurlock has more ideas for documentaries. He's had a lot of time to think about it-an epilogue informs us it took him almost a year to regain his former fitness and health thanks, partially, to his vegan lover's detoxification diet.
Oh, and McDonald's is phasing out supersized meals, a minor withdrawal in a serious public health war.