by Ann M. Colford
We all know that fast food is bad for us, but how bad is bad? That's what filmmaker Morgan Spurlock sought to find out by becoming a guinea pig in the one-man medical experiment documented in his award-winning film, Super Size Me. Spurlock will speak at Eastern Washington University's Showalter Auditorium in Cheney on Wednesday, Nov. 17, as part of EWU's Dialogues speaker series.
The concept for the film came to him on Thanksgiving 2002. After stuffing himself with turkey and all the fixings, he saw a news report on TV about the girls who had sued McDonald's for damages related to obesity, and something clicked. He'd spend one month eating nothing but food from McDonald's, three meals a day, seven days a week, and film the entire process. Along the way, he lined up a medical team to monitor his health during the month, and he tossed in a slew of experts to talk about obesity in America and the omnipresent lure of fast food in our culture. After just a month on this nightmare diet plan, Spurlock gained 25 pounds, saw his cholesterol skyrocket, complained of chest tightness, fatigue and depression. His doctor told him he was on the road to liver failure. He says it took a year to lose the weight and regain his previous level of health.
With other documentary films -- and filmmakers -- in the news so much this year, it might be easy to overlook this film or see it as just another screed against big corporate bogeymen. But Spurlock is more balanced in his approach and does not assume at the outset that McDonald's is an evil corporate empire. He makes no assumptions about the results when he begins; in fact, he's cheerful and chipper and clearly relishes that first Big Mac.
Since the film's release, McDonald's has launched a public relations counter-offensive, removing multiple super-sizes from their menus and heavily promoting their salads. In Australia, the company went on the attack, airing commercials that directly criticized Spurlock's actions as "stupid" and "irresponsible." Currently on a worldwide tour -- he's been to Austria, Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand in the past two weeks -- Spurlock notes that in every country he visits, some media outlets will not talk to him because McDonald's is a major sponsor.
"The power of this company is their money," he writes in his online blog. "If they can have an impact on what you see and hear in the media, then you should really question what a truly powerful company is able to keep away from your brain."
This experience amplifies what is perhaps the most disturbing message of the film: the extent to which fast food giants have targeted children with their ad campaigns. Aiming to grab brand loyalty at a young age, companies direct advertising to children, even at school. And this is the message that Spurlock continues to emphasize in interviews and online.
While Super Size Me is Spurlock's first feature film, it's certainly not his first film project. A graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, he has more than 60 film projects to his credit, from commercials to music videos, along with a full-length play. Super Size Me won Spurlock the Best Director award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Publication date: 09/16/04