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Super Size Me: An Analysis

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The documentary Super Size Me, produced by Morgan Spurlock, is a film which aims to frighten its viewers into adopting a more healthy lifestyle. Super Size Me uses techniques which attempt to shock the viewer- showing them the devastating effects that consuming nothing but fast food (in the case of the documentary, food purchased from McDonalds) for 30 days has upon the physical and mental health of the previously healthy Morgan Spurlock, as well as highlighting some of the practices of the fast food companies which many people would consider to be highly unethical (such as the cultivation of genetically modified chickens- although this practice is not entirely uncommon to other food companies).

Super Size Me is a film aimed toward no particular race, age or sect. It is a film aimed squarely at a target audience defined by the larger-than-average circumference of their waistbands, and their propensity to consume fast food more regularly than is recommended by health experts. The members of the target audience share one common bond; they are in denial about how dangerous consuming fast food on a regular basis can be. Super Size Me challenges their preconceived notions about the food industry by allowing them to witness visually, the changes which Morgan Spurlock undergoes when he partakes in what his doctor dubs a ’30 day McDonalds binge’.

It would be foolish to assume that the audience has no idea that fast food can be harmful before viewing the film, however, the film forces viewers to confront the issue in a very real way- watching a man quite literally wage war on his state of health. Super Size Me dredges up the viewpoints that can so easily be swept under the rug whilst standing at the counter of a fast food joint and demonstrates them in a way which is unlikely to leave the minds of the viewers for quite a while.

Super Size Me represents the American people in a way which is voiced by people throughout the world; as being notoriously ignorant. In the case of the film, the ignorance is in regards to nutrition. This is demonstrated by interviews- asking people on the street simple nutrition facts such as the definition of a calorie, or how often they consume fast food (a question which provokes an interesting response and possibly some unfair racial stereotyping on Spurlock’s part, in regards to an interview with two African American teenagers). The American people are shown as having an inadequate knowledge of basic nutrition in order to sustain a healthy diet. This is a technique which forces the audience to think: ‘What is a calorie?’ ‘How often do I eat fast food?’ ‘Am I taking adequate care of my health?

The documentary is one which, from the very beginning, pushes forth its purpose, and Morgan Spurlock’s viewpoint. From before he sets out upon the 30 day experiment, you are aware of the fact that his health will deteriorate, but the extent to which it does is what shocks viewers. It can be fair to say that the ten pounds which Spurlock gains in the first five days of the experiment is the notion that is the most frightening for fad diet-obsessed America. Never mind the fact that the excessive caloric intake is in fact, the cause of the weight gain- the McDonalds food is now inextricably linked with ‘weight gain’ in the minds of the viewers- projecting the message: ‘If you eat McDonalds, you will gain weight.’

Spurlock pushes his agenda to paint the fast food companies as something close to monsters- while it is perfectly easy to agree with him that the companies constantly use intrusive advertising to prey on us so that we buy their food, and have practices which could easily be deemed ‘unethical’, it is easy to disagree with him on terms of nutrition. McDonalds food is not ‘bad’ per se, in itself- no food is ‘bad. It is the portion sizes and frequency of consumption which causes this food to be harmful. Spurlock addresses this, with a spiel about how the ‘small’ size chips were once the only size that existed, however there is no denial that the picture he paints of McDonalds food is that it is a ‘bad’ food, in any quantity, and however infrequently.

The film uses visual codes which imitate the graphics used by the fast food companies themselves- using bright, flashy colours- predominantly red and yellow, which studies have shown are likely to provoke hunger. This enhances the gaudy ‘feel’ of the film- a satirical visual pun on the advertising techniques of the fast food companies. The film shows a graphic scene of a person undergoing liposuction- it shows parts of the human body which are off putting to the viewer. The procedure looks painful- it acts as a deterrent to viewers- making them think about cutting down on their intake of food which is less than healthy.

Super Size Me adheres to various usual documentary conventions- the charismatic narrator, Morgan Spurlock, provides commentary and rhetoric throughout the film which could almost be considered witty. It also includes archival footage, to show the cartoons and advertising produces by McDonalds, and several ‘talking heads’ interviews with different people, such as Don Gorske, Big Mac enthusiast. It also uses shaky camera footage in some bits to create a feeling of realism.

Super Size Me is a film which urges its viewers to adopt healthier lifestyles, cutting out fast food intake- not supporting the fast food companies which make millions at the expense of the health of their customers. It is a film which uses a hyperactive experiment to demonstrate Morgan Spurlock’s point of view.

Supersize Me. Morgan Spurlock. 2006.

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