How would you like it if you had to eat McDonald’s meals for 30 days and for three times a day? That is what Morgan Spurlock experienced in ‘Super Size Me’ as an experiment into the dangerous obesity epidemic. As Steven Spielberg once said, “documentaries are the greatest way to educate an entire generation”, and Spurlock has created a masterpiece. In this paper, I’ll be reviewing this socially critical 2004 documentary.
‘Super Size Me’ is based around the documentation of Spurlock eating McDonald's for 30 days. It also documents the radical effects this routine has on Spurlock’s physical and psychological health, and discovers McDonald’s corporate influence, which feeds of profit and doesn’t take into account the wellbeing of the population who consumes their food.
The movie is good at explaining the side of the story that hadn’t been told before and to make the audience accept Spurlock’s bias views as one side of the situation has no voice. The structure based around ‘Super Size Me’ was based the obesity epidemic. The movie follows a certain sequence, displaying to the audience of Spurlock McDonald’s fast food. This is followed by Spurlock showing the side effects of the food and this is followed by visits to the doctors who keep on saying McDonald’s is bad for you. It then proceeds on showing images of the public who’ve been affected by the obesity epidemic.
Spurlock’s purpose in this documentary was to inform and position the audience to accept his views on America’s obesity epidemic. The term ‘obesity’ is put in the foreground of the documentary because two girls had put forward a law-suit towards McDonald’s and they said if they could go for 30 days on a McDonald’s diet for three times a day than they would be illegible to make a claim. This is why Spurlock created this documentary, to showcase the dangerous effects of McDonald’s foods on the human body.
The techniques viewed in the movie were intelligently and consistently displayed throughout the movie. Spurlock effectively positions the audience to reconsider eating McDonald's through these film techniques. When Spurlock interviews the CEO of McDonald’s Australia, Guy Russo, the usage of higher camera angles and editing positioned the audience to disagree and view what Guy Russo said negatively which in turn leads to the audience viewing poorly of McDonald’s even though they were not completely silenced. The use of eye level camera angles positions the audience to feel equal with the specialists as they present their opinions and to immediately believe and accept what the specialists are saying due to the camera angles and their superior level of education within the medical field which once again positions the audience to accept their attitudes. The film’s footage has also been deliberately used to further position the audience to accept Spurlock’s views on America’s fast food industries and how their corporate profit is weighted over the health of their consumers. Footage of the many advertisements and meals which are specifically positioned at kids were intentionally shown to position us to believe McDonald’s is using these things to appeal to and lure the kids in. This then results in the audience to reflect poorly of McDonald’s and their constant need of profits which are put over the wellbeing of their customers. Frequent shots of Spurlock without a shirt have intentionally been included to show the weight he may or may not have gained as a result of his high fat intake diet. However as there are videos edited into it of people eating food and fat people walking the streets its used to send a message that you’re not in control of your body as much as you think. Also, there are cartoon animations which are used to show the viewers what they are really buying. Throughout the documentary songs related to 'supersize me', 'fat' and 'McDonald’s' are played so it keeps to the themes that the documentary is based on. Then there are diegetic sounds such as the unwrapping of food which makes it more realistic to the viewer. Morgan Spurlock is the authority in this documentary, he acts as the 'voice of God' in the form of voice overs, in order to interpret the material, we are watching. We are expected to trust the narration, it also acts as an anchor for the visual material. 'Super Size Me' hosts numerous examples of archive material mainly included to set the scene, illustrate the narrator's voice, or avoid too many jumpstarts throughout. Archival footage acts as a visual aid in order for the audience to remain interested and occupied in what they're watching. The archive material is sometimes rather inspiring as at one point, the documentary shows a clip from Jared Fogle's speech where he is trying the inspire Americans into healthier living. Another piece of inspirational archive material is the clip of a man holding his old pair of pants after losing a large mass of weight. These display how there are ways to avoid unhealthy lifestyles and the audience should pursue this way of living rather than consuming a diet of junk.
Spurlock states that everything is bigger in America. This creates the thought that obesity is a big problem within American society. It is responsible for 300,000 deaths per annum and most believe McDonald’s is responsible for the epidemic. Spurlock shares his point of view by explaining to the audience that he never ate fast food. He says that families are carelessly eating too much junk food and paying with their 'wallets and their waistlines'. This absence of impartiality affected the viewer’s insight of McDonald’s and how they are considering a substitute when determining whether to eat at McDonald’s or other fast food restaurants. The shock feature is employed by the director to manipulate the viewer’s emotions and to position them to accept that McDonald’s is bad for you. For example, he talks about his liposuction operation, his own sick experience throughout the second day of McDonald’s meals, the frequent amount of pictures of overweight Americans, and school children eating this harmful food. He also displays a tombstone of Ronald McDonald and sarcastically asks his audience: “Who do you want to see go first, you or them?”. In addition to the use of shock feature, the film-maker also uses comparative features. For instance, he contrasts American schools with fast food meals and soda machines to a school for troubled teenagers in Wisconsin where fast food was substituted for natural food. As Spurlock demonstrates, this food change has positively influenced children’s emotional well-being and behavior. By using both shock features and comparative techniques, Spurlock makes an attempt to engage the public into a dialogue on the issue of fast food eating. The use of irony during this documentary has been used because if the audience finds something humorous and therefore having a positive reaction, they are more likely to accept what is being represented. The use of irony was used throughout the documentary in such scenes as when Spurlock was referring to his headaches, stomach aches and general sick feeling from the food as McHeadaches and a McTummy. The audience is positioned to feel sick after watching Spurlock generally feeling sick after eating McDonald's.
There are other film techniques used in the film:
- Statistics tell the audience that two thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese and almost 40% of teenagers have too much fat in their bodies. This is according to the 2013 census.
- Interviews are sped up by jump cuts which maintain the film’s pace.
- There is a funny sequence of chicken nuggets in cartoons.
- Frequent shots of big bodies and McDonald’s workers strengthen the memo that obesity is at widespread rates in the US.
Even if McDonald’s food is cheap and delicious, the extreme ingestion of this sustenance (as Spurlock has clearly explained in his movie) is toxic to the human body of an adult or child. In conclusion, I rated this movie, 3 out of 5 stars as it was fun to view but at times I felt like the whole ‘experiment’ was a bit excessive as Spurlock has come from a family that didn’t eat fast food and later on, he became a vegan. This means he would have a negative connotation with eating fast food which is skewing with the audience’s views.