Sunday, March 20, 2005

McDocumentary

A few months ago I overheard a rather plump suburban woman telling her thinner friend all about the hit documentary “Super Size Me“ and how it told “the truth” about how stupid most people are about food. Well, despite my misgivings I did see the movie earlier this week and I see why it played well to elitist audiences.
The film starts off with a quote from Ray Kroc, referring to him as the founder of McDonalds, which isn’t true. McDonalds was founded by the McDonald’s brothers who created the original restaurant which Kroc franchised and expanded it into it’s current massive corporate form. Beginning a documentary showing us “truth” with a half-truth is a bad start. But that’s not my main problem. Director/star Morgan Spurlock asks where individual responsibility and corporate responsibility begins early on and then goes through great lengths to demonstrate that people are incapable of making rational decisions because of the marketing power of corporations. Even as a Democrat with a leftist outlook this offends me, because this viewpoint assumes that everyone except those who agree with him are too stupid to care for themselves. Then the film demonstrates it, with not one single person outside his friends and his experts ever making a valid point or even given the chance to seem intelligent.
He achieves this mostly by doing “man on the street” interviews where Spurlock quizzes random people about meta-issues involved with lifestyle choices related to fast food. Anyone who’s seen similar set ups by Jay Leno or “Street Smarts” should realize that when you catch someone unprepared and stick a camera in their face while putting them on the spot most people don’t perform very well under the pressure. Particularly frustrating is when Spurlock confuses issues when he captures a mostly overweight family in front of the White House, asks them to do the pledge of allegiance which they attempt several times dropping a couple lines each time, but when he asks them to sing the “Big Mac Song” they all know it. This is a key moment where we see that they don’t have the most basic understanding of citizenship, but instantly recall everything involved with their fattening drug. Right? No, this only shows the power pop culture. The “Big Mac Song” is just a catchy jingle, and people know the jingles for tons of products they never use. Hell, my wife knows jingles for products that were stopped being made before she was born.
As with most films targeting elitists, the movie has a strong anti-American element to it, which would be fine, but since this is who Spurlock is supposedly trying to save with this film it comes across as a little bit demeaning. He finds a French woman, oddly enough one of the largest people in the film, to talk about how she can’t eat fast food in the US, because the portions are far larger than in the liberal utopia of France and according to Spurlock’s argument the portions are why Americans are so fat, but he doesn’t explore other factors of eating habits such as which meal is the main course. In the US, it’s dinner, often eaten late, and in France it’s lunch when people still have plenty of activity throughout the day to burn off the calories. Beyond that Spurlock makes passing references to Bush throughout the film as demonstration of how stupid Americans are, which forgets that Clinton was the big burger eating President just a few years ago and then Spurlock wraps himself into a American flag speedo for his final weigh-in when his all McDonalds diet has turned his now plump belly into the average American.
It’s Spurlock’s distaste for the people he is supposedly educating that undermined the movie and his points for me. He also used a number of other shaky arguments, such as using the same high school as an example of teaching poor eating habits and a great example of running a fitness program that I won’t go into, but it’s leaves the films overall argument on poor ground. Of course if you’re an unquestioning elitist, you’ll love the film and how it proves that you too are better than everyone else.

1 comment:

ladybugs said...

i enjoyed the movie...
i thought it was a great portrait of gluttonous consumerism, and it's side effects...