To some, eating solely off the McDonald’s menu for thirty days to see what the effects may be is looked down at as an attack on unhealthy and fast food corporations, but to many, Super Size Me is an incredible documentary that helps shine a light on the horrendous effects that fast food has on our society. Morgan Spurlock’s rules are simple: only food off of McDonald’s menu may be eaten, he must consume three meals a day, if asked to super size he must, and everything on the menu must be eaten at least once.
On day one he goes and gets baseline measurements of his body from numerous health and medical experts to be able to gauge himself as the month progresses, and from there on out, it’s chow time. Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me digs beyond the obvious correlation between fast food and poor health. Spurlock exposes the flaws in our society’s choice of food, makes the point that personal responsibility is essential, and openly criticizes corporate and government deniability.
By using an extremely personal setting, a plethora of unforgettable visuals, interesting dialogues, a steady change in tone, and incorporation of children, Spurlock effectively delivers his message that fast food is a fast way to deteriorate your state of health. Morgan Spurlock, unlike many other documentary producers, creates an extremely personal point of view. He does so by allowing the viewer to see over his own shoulder, and not a random test subject, to watch his month long McDonald’s binge.
Spurlock immediately, and at times humorously, opens up completely to the audience. Before the viewer knows it, Spurlock is half naked at the doctor’s, throwing up on camera, and being torn apart by his wife about his in ability to perform in the bed. By having this more personal and open point of view, Spurlock is able to earn more of the audience’s trust making it easier for him to get his message across. Second to the personal setting, the visual effects utilized by Spurlock make the message of the documentary hard to forget.
Without fail, every two to five minutes a McDonald’s “Golden Arches” appear somewhere on the screen, making it hard for the audience not to pair a negative denotation with it by the end of the film. Aside from all of the McDonald’s signs, the camera consistently zooms in, as close as one would ever want to be, to Spurlock’s super sized french fries and extra greasy Big Mac. Watching the repetitiveness of close ups on processed, fried, and poorly made food is enough for any viewer to not want to east fast food for quite sometime.
Spurlock also uses simple charts, such as the ones to display his portrait as days pass, to allow the viewer to easily see the trend of negative health increasing directly with the amount of time spent on his McDonald’s diet. Another interesting visual Spurlock uses is the satanic drawings of what appears to be Ronald McDonald. The pictures are demonic and are supposed to depict Ronald as a ruthless clown and not someone a little kid would like to be around. And if all of these visuals weren’t enough, Spurlock goes even further when he shows a common body weight reduction surgery in action.
The viewer first sees probes with cameras and tools inserted into the patient’s repulsively large belly, and then ends up inside the patient’s fat filled stomach watching the surgeons nip and tuck away. Spurlock makes it very hard for the viewer to forget what his message is with all of these images that stick in the back of your mind. From the head of McDonald’s to a middle school kid buying lunch, Spurlock carries out an assortment of dialogues throughout the documentary. Although many are significant, the most memorable and effective would have to be the conversations Spurlock has while visiting Madison Junior High School.
He first confronts a girl with only cookies and french fries on her plate and asks her if she’s going to eat anything else. The girl simply says no. Spurlock moves on to the lunch line and asks a girl if she was going to get anything else other than french fries on her plate and she responds, “Well I’m getting milk… its my calcium and my vegetables. ” If you weren’t disgusted with the kid’s food choices alone, Spurlock moves on to the lunch ladies to get their two cents on the food being served at their school.
The lunch ladies were content with the saying “ignorance is bliss. They serve the kids french fries, swiss rolls, and high sugar drinks, assuming that they had brought their own sandwich from home, but none of them ever checked to see. They all claim that they are setting up the kids to make the right choices yet most of the kids aren’t. All of these dialogues Spurlock has at the Junior High School in Illinois were very eye opening, and made the viewer feel obligated to see more of what is going on behind the scenes at their own local schools.
Further on in the film, Spurlock calls McDonald’s Headquarters trying to set up an appointment with someone high up in the corporation. Nearly every phone call he made he is promised either a message be delivered, a return phone call, or a good time to call back. Following close to twenty phone calls later, Spurlock gives up trying to schedule an appointment with the head of McDonald’s. After seeing Spurlock get shot down time and time again, it makes the viewer wonder if McDonald’s is trying to dodge a question that could damage their reputation, as well as contemplate how unprofessional their business is run.
Another key strategy Spurlock uses throughout his month long McDonald’s stint is the gradual change in tone. From the beginning, Spurlock is very excited to kick off his McDonald’s exclusive diet and has a cheerful tone and positive attitude. After a couple of days turn into a couple of weeks, Spurlock’s tone changes drastically. Instead of optimistic and cheery, like from the beginning of the month, Spurlock now has a rather negative and dire one. Phone calls between him and his girlfriend that once were normal, turn in to him seriously questioning his will to continue with his experiment.
Spurlock’s tone and attitude are easily noted as having a negative correlation with days spent on the McDonald’s diet. By showing this trend, Spurlock is able to emphasize the emotional, rather than just the physical, effects of his diet to the viewers. Throughout the documentary, Spurlock continuously incorporates children to capture the viewer’s attention and to show that the obesity problems start at a young age. “A Pizza Hut, a Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Pizza Hut. McDonald’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Pizza Hut” is sang by young children, some being obese, right at the start of the film.
If this doesn’t raise a red flag in one’s head that children are being taught how to sing America’s most unhealthy fast food restaurants in school, I’m not sure what will. Spurlock also spends a decent portion of his documentary in schools. He examines the food choices available to the kids, asks them about what they eat, and observes their physical education class. The most effective use of incorporating children is the interviews he conducts by holding up pictures of famous Americans and famous fast food icons, then asking the children who they are and what they were.
Some of the children could identify George Washington and what he did, but as soon as Spurlock showed them a picture of Jesus all were stumped, one boy even guessed he was George W. Bush. Then the pictures of Wendy and Ronald McDonald were shown, and to no surprise every kid there knew exactly who Ronald was and that he is associated with McDonald’s. By putting this emphasis on young children being led down the wrong path at an early age, makes the viewers compelled to believe that our society is going wrong with teaching healthy food choices.
Whether it was the personal touch, visuals, dialogues, change in tone, real footage, or incorporation of children, Morgan Spurlock does an impeccable job provoking Americans to question their choice in food and influencing them to take action. When the final results of Spurlock’s experiment are posted (13% weight increase, cholesterol level of 230, and dysfunctional liver) it’s going to be very hard for me to walk into a McDonald’s. So, next time I’m faced with the choice of eating at fast food or taking a little time of my day to cook myself a meal, I definitely know which one I’ll be doing, but the real question is will everyone else?