Super Size Me Documentary Review Essay

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Super Size Me is a documentary film from 2004 by Morgan Spurlock. It focuses on what it would be like to consume nothing but McDonald’s fast food for an entire month. That is the outlandish premise of the film—and it is more than likely to appeal to two types of people: 1) the health-nutritionist type of person who will approach the film with type of confirmation bias, expecting his or her point of view about how bad for one’s health fast food is to be fully validated, and 2) the extreme spectator type of individual—i.e., a person who is interested in alternative or fringe experiences, things that go against the status quo, experiences that challenge the establishment, and so on. This documentary appeals to a niche market in this respect; however, in another respect it also tackles one of the fundamental tenets of modern America: fast food is a pillar of American society, and the documentary approaches the subject in a way that is easily accessible. The humor is not too sophisticated, the filmmaking is mainly amateurish, and the storyline is very basic. Thus, the film could (and did) appeal to a much wider segment of American audiences than the typical documentary. Men, women, teenager and older persons all could look at the film as interesting for various reasons. The filmmakers’ goals were clearly to be experimental and to have Morgan act as a guinea pig for the purposes of both entertainment and science. It is entertaining to see Morgan deal with the trials of trying to consume so much fast food. It is also informative to see how the food affects his mood and physical body over time. The filmmakers want the viewers to experience this transformation too and that is why so much of the film captures the consumption in an up-close and personal way: the viewer is wrapped into the experience and really made to feel its effects through the director’s usage of images, music, voice over, interviews, facts and tone.

The techniques that are used by the filmmakers include the use of camera angle footage that gives the film a persona video journal type of feeling. These angles are often down low and shot up at Morgan as he sits in his car eating the food. The angle gives the occurrence a sort of titanic struggle feeling. Morgan towers over the screen like a monument, consuming McDonald’s in the name of science. The film also uses imagery to convey a sense of purpose. For instance, the opening of the film shows a group of children singing a kid’s song about McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and fried chicken. This is followed by white text on a black screen: a quote from Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s, which says that if you take care of the customer, the business will take care of itself.
This is followed by a flowing American flag that covers the whole of the screen. In short succession, Spurlock has linked three images: youth, business, and patriotism together—and these images give the viewer the sense that American fast food is tied deeply in with what it means to be American. America is about opportunity (fast food gives you the opportunity to get cheap, quick, “good” food without having to prepare any of it for yourself), and it is about symbolism and tradition. McDonald’s has the ultimate symbol (the Golden Arches), which the kids trace in the air as they sing their song, and which rivals perhaps the American flag as the Western symbol most united to prosperity. In this light, Spurlock casts his subversive film, highlighting the Founder’s values which are rooted in common sense (of course if you take care of the customer, the business will take care of itself), and connecting it to innocence and to the foundations of the country. Somewhere along the way, Spurlock suggests in his opening monologue that plays over the American flag, followed by images of big cars, big houses, big stores, big food, and big people. McDonald’s symbolizes “big food,” for Spurlock and he wants to know if this has anything to do with why Americans have become so obese. The image of obese people on the beach launches the film into its trivia stage of fun facts that point out the obesity problem in the U.S. Music is played over this introduction: the sounds of pipe instrument, which accentuates the playfulness of what Spurlock is doing and which also underlines the way in which Americans are marching to the tune of a pied piper, who has come in the form of fast food.

Music helps gives the film its blue collar appeal as well. Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” plays over the title sequence as clips of people buying fast food roll across the screen. It is like an American anthem set to the images of people in America doing what they do best. Spurlock grounds the sequence in the intellectual pursuit behind the film, also introduced in the opening—the idea that fast food companies’ lawyers feel that the corporations are not responsible for people’s obesity because people should….....

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Ebert, R. (2004). Super Size Me. Retrieved from

Spurlock, M. (2004). Super Size Me. Los Angeles: Samuel Goldwyn Films.

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