March 21, 2008 | Comments ()

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | March 21, 2008 |


Pop culture item consumed: Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s anti-fast-food-industry rant-umentary, viewed in anticipation of the April 11, 2008 release of Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?. I will be reviewing Osama for Pajiba, since I had an advance viewing of it at Sundance. Beloved Leader Dustin had an advance viewing of the first ten minutes, followed by an advance viewing of the insides of his eyelids as he slept through the rest of the midnight showing we attended in Park City.

Beverage consumed: What goes with strong irritation building to an enraged desire to pummel a smug jackass who gives liberalism a bad name? For focused snarling combined with a helpful numbness in the delicate hand-bones that get broken during face-punching, I find that Jack Daniels does the trick. (While it falls within the definition of “bourbon,” I think of JD as Tennessee sipping whiskey.) Neither as barbecue-sweet nor as caramel-smooth as top shelf bourbons, JD is a hard-nosed whiskey distilled like bourbon, then jacked up with demon piss and the blood of Johnnie Rebs killed in the First Battle of Murfreesboro. Although I am usually a good-natured drunk, JD almost invariably makes me angry.

Summary of action: I need to make a couple of points in the interest of full disclosure. First, I’m in the political bull’s-eye of the target audience for Super Size Me: I’m the Bill Clinton-loving spawn of an FDR Democrat and a JFK Dixiecrat, highly suspicious of corporate America and horrified at the indignities inflicted on my country by the GOP over the past 16 years. I’m always ready for some aggressively liberal ball-punches to the Dick Cheney testicle-sac swinging against George Bush’s gurgling pucker.

Second, I generally agree with Spurlock’s ultimate points that (a) poor diet and a lack of exercise are creating an epidemic in this country not just of obesity, but of diabetes, heart disease, increased cancer risk, and many other health problems; and (b) McDonald’s and its brethren use marketing and economic tools to intentionally addict the populace to a fatty, high-calorie diet with low nutritional value. I agreed with those points before I saw the film, and I agree with them now. I disagree with who is ultimately responsible for that situation and whether McDonald’s should feel the slightest bit of remorse about our choices; but let’s not discuss solutions. Spurlock certainly is not interested in such nonsense.

Third, despite the foregoing facts, I think Spurlock is a smug, self-indulgent douchebag. While he plainly fancies himself a post-modern Upton Sinclair for the Internet Age, Morgan Spurlock is in actuality a low-rent, left-wing Sean Hannity - a mean-spirited, self-satisfied smirk with a driver’s license.

Of course it’s fine to come at a documentary with both a specific opinion about the subject matter and a sense of humor and irreverence. Al Gore gave a clinic on the former with An Inconvenient Truth, while numerous modern documentarians have abandoned the stuffy restrictions of Stones Left Undestroyed in the Korean Conflict. That said, there is not the remotest sense of objectivity or fair play associated with Super Size Me. To have any weight, a documentary must have a modicum of honesty. Super Size Me rapidly floats away in the zero-gravity of its own globules of stellar-quality bullshit.

The first of many major problems with Super Size Me is its blatant refusal to allow common sense to interfere with its theme. The film follows Spurlock as he tests the nutritional and health limits of an all-McDonald’s diet for thirty days. As he begins the experiment, Spurlock sets forth the rules:

- He will super size meals if asked by the attendant.

- He can only eat items for sale on the menu, meaning that he can’t have water because it’s “not for sale over the counter.”

- He must eat everything on the menu at least once during the thirty days.

- He must eat “three squares a day,” meaning a substantial meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

- He won’t exercise, because most Americans don’t exercise.

Well. That sounds fair. I strongly suspect that even a McDonald’s PR flack would state that such a diet is inadvisable. Here are some other industry tests that the industries’ spokespersons stated were not advisable:

- Testing bottled water by submerging your unprotected head in a large tub of it for 24 hours.

- Testing concrete blocks by having a crane dump four tons of them on your car with you in it.

- Testing writing pens by simultaneously jamming them into your eyes, carotid artery, and jugular vein. (Note: You will need a friend to assist you with this test.)

Yes, by all means, let’s test the nutritional validity of fast food with dietary choices that no reasonable person would even want, much less actually choke down. The idiocy of these “rules” should be self-apparent; since no ordinary person would eat that way, the test is invalidated before it ever starts. It’s utterly meaningless, as are the dire health warnings received by Spurlock from his physicians.

Let’s table my suspicion that McDonald’s may actually be doing a public service by eliminating people who are stupid enough to eat McDonald’s three times per day. (While McDonald’s typically won’t kill someone young, which defeats natural selection, Spurlock’s doctors insist that McDonald’s is about to kill Spurlock. At least that would have kept him from reproducing on camera in Osama. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.) We’ll also ignore the fact that sensible, restrained ordering at McDonald’s would probably improve the diet of most Americans, including me.

My second beef (heeeee!) with Spurlock is more subjective, in that I affirmatively dislike and mistrust him because of his editorial choices. His strategy of “irreverence” is to combine lengthy (oh-dear-Christ-so-lengthy) footage of himself engaging in snarky monologues along with interviews with legal and nutritional experts, hurling statistics and comparisons at the viewer in rapid-fire succession, largely for two purposes: (1) to lend unearned (and undeserved) credibility to the overall enterprise; and (2) to make it appear as if the apocalypse is bearing down upon us.

Case in point: Upon eating his first major McDonald’s meal, sitting in his car, Spurlock goes into a mini-rant about how his stomach has the “McGurgles,” he has the “McSweats” from the sugary soda, his arms have the “McTwitches.” Yeah … I’ve never heard someone use “Mc” for ironic emphasis before; that’s awesome. I have the McTwitches, too, and the McKill-Kill-Kills and the McFuck-That-Guy-Ups. Spurlock is not funny, nor is he charming, though he clearly considers himself to be both. This whole sequence, which Spurlock includes with footage of himself vomiting, is a classic example of Spurlock’s me-monkey approach to documentary filmmaking. This bit is juxtaposed with “expert” commentary from - I shit you not - a legal analyst who is on the payroll of the plaintiffs in the litigation against the fast food industry.

Spurlock is also frequently dishonest in subtle ways, which makes him insidiously douchey. For example, he makes a big deal out of comparing the massive annual marketing budgets of fast food purveyors with the modest annual marketing expenditures of the “fruit and vegetable” industry (whoever that is; it’s never explained which businesses are included on either side). What Spurlock and his panel of ringer/experts fail to mention is that the fruit and vegetable industry doesn’t need marketing - 90% of their sales are not direct sales to consumers but upstream sales to the other commercial entities that convert fruit and vegetables into other consumables. This is in contrast to the fast food industry - 90% of its sales are directly to the consumer, so marketing is critical.

Context matters, folks. At some point, willfully comparing apples and oranges becomes a lie. In fact, it’s the kind of lie I’ve come to expect from Rush Limbaugh, though he’s a bit more sophisticated than Spurlock.

My third problem with Spurlock and his ilk is their insistence on reducing complex economic and sociological issues down to a few easy one-liners. For example, Spurlock completely ignores the fact that a family of four can eat a substantial meal at McDonald’s for about fifteen dollars. While clearly not the best nutritional choice, that’s well beyond the subsistence most people have enjoyed throughout history. It is a distressing reality - and a critical part of this analysis - that McDonald’s and its brethren provide a high-efficiency nutrition machine for millions of economically disadvantaged Americans, allowing them decent-tasting meals on a poverty-level wage.

I don’t love that fact; it doesn’t make me feel any better about how we deal with poverty in this country, or about how McDonald’s contributes to that problem by being the low-wage/no-healthcare Wal-Mart of fast food. That doesn’t change the reality, however, that, if the fast food industry disappeared tomorrow, millions of working poor and poverty level Americans would be faced with surviving on canned soup and ramen noodles. I don’t think I’m qualified to make that decision for them; I know for a goddamn fact that Morgan Spurlock is not qualified to write up their grocery lists.

There’s also something facile and odd about the complaint that, after hundreds of thousands of years of subsistence farming and scratching by as hunter-gatherers, we suffer because the fast food industry has become too efficient at channeling calories into our gullets, slingshotting us the other way into an obesity epidemic. In a famine culture, one has no choice whether to be thin. In a fast food culture, there is a choice for almost everyone about whether to be fat. Like most quality of life evils to which we are subjected, this one is so much of our own making that it’s hard not to laugh when Spurlock breathlessly records his heart palpitations and night sweats - a scene I like to call the Blair Dipshit Project - resulting from his own idiotic choices.

Interestingly, the most salient statement in the entire documentary is made by Subway poster boy/former obese person Jared Fogle to a group of high-schoolers: “The world’s not going to change; you have to change.” You heard right: The only ounce of goddamn sense in Super Size Me comes from Jared Fucking Fogle.

Humans want to consume. We consume booze to make ourselves feel better; if there’s no booze, we’ll consume tobacco; if there’s no tobacco (or it’s demonized enough), we’ll consume fat, sugar and salt; and if there’s no fat, sugar and salt - borrowing a phrase from Dennis Miller here - we’ll spin around in the backyard until we fall down, because we are going to do something to distract ourselves from pain, irritation, loneliness, and despair. If we want to not be fat, not be black-lunged, not be puddles of alcoholic goo … well, blaming some corporation ain’t going to get it done.

Stuffing Big Macs down one’s piehole is a long way from an intrepid filmmaker going undercover in a slaughterhouse. On a positive note, we do get an early look at Spurlock’s girlfriend. You’ll be meeting her, along with her humongous baby-jugs and Stargate labia, in a few weeks when we review Osama. In Super Size Me, we’re subjected merely to her extended description of how Spurlock’s sexual prowess has declined during the diet, including “less energetic activity”; the only thing she left out was whether the flavor of his spunk had declined. I wish to hell I were kidding you about that, but I can’t write the funny when I’m hurling.

How well the pairing held up: Not very well, especially the footage of Spurlock vomiting up his first Super Sized McDonald’s meal, the close-up of the (hopefully) human hair in the yogurt, and most horrifying of all: Spurlock’s shockingly high, and totally unjustified, self-regard.

Tastes like: Grrrrrrr. As much as I enjoy Jack Daniels, on this particular occasion, it tasted like three parts Michael Moore’s ball sweat, two parts smug juice, and a blended shit sandwich, garnished with the charred remains of Roger Mudd’s journalistic pride. I Super Sized my shots.

Overall rating: One out of eight shots. On the plus side, this project may have taken a year or two off Spurlock’s life.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at thecarygrantrules@hotmail.com.

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Douchenozzle! Fuck-Knuckle! Fight Fight Fight!

Super Size Me / Ted Boynton

Boozehound Cinephile | March 21, 2008 | Comments ()




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