Morgan and Me

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Yesterday I saw Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me, which opens nationwide on Friday, at the D.C. Film Festival. The chronicle of Spurlock's growing gut and failing health during a month-long McDonald's binge is entertaining despite its politically correct anti-corporate message. The jokes are often at Spurlock's expense, and sometimes they work against his theme of plucky, public-spirited activists fighting evil fast food chains bent on making Americans fatter and fatter.

In one scene, for instance, litigation enthusiast John Banzhaf explains how sneaky corporations teach kids to associate their brands with happy, positive experiences. "That's why when I have kids," Spurlock deadpans, "every time we drive past a fast food restaurant, I'm going to punch my kids in the face."

The redeeming humor disappeared during the question-and-answer session that followed the screening, when it became clear that the audience consisted almost entirely of people who buy organic food, take a dim view of SUVs, and think recycling is self-evidently virtuous. Aside from a lone skeptic who was booed back to his seat, Spurlock's sharpest critics were people who loved the movie but wished he had paid more attention to the trash generated by fast food packaging or the connection between socioeconomic status and obesity. He was repeatedly praised for taking a "balanced" approach to the topic, the sort of assessment that could be offered only by people who never encounter anyone who disagrees with them. Love it or hate it, Super Size Me–which ends with a wishful drawing of Ronald McDonald's grave–clearly has a point of view.

Consider the way Spurlock, who interviewed me for the movie, uses my observation that it is socially acceptable to publicly hector smokers for their unhealthy habits and that fat people may soon be treated the same way. The appropriate response to such pestering, I suggested, is: "Fuck you. Mind your own business." In Spurlock's view, "he's just raising the question of where we draw the line between corporate responsibility and personal responsibility. What can I control, and what is so heavily pounded into me through marketing and advertising and the lack of better food in my neighborhood or in my school? Where is that fine line?"

Actually, I was saying that how much people weigh is their own damned business, and that meddling do-gooders (such as Banzhaf and the other heroes of Super Size Me) ought to be put in their place. I realize that was not an angle Spurlock was interested in exploring, which is fine. But the result is not exactly "balanced."

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  1. “The jokes are often at Spurlock’s expense, and sometimes they work against his theme of plucky, public-spirited activists fighting evil fast food chains bent on making Americans fatter and fatter.”

    You have an odd definition of balance.

    “Fuck you. Mind your own business.” In Spurlock’s view, “he?s just raising the question of where we draw the line between corporate responsibility and personal responsibility. What can I control, and what is so heavily pounded into me through marketing and advertising and the lack of better food in my neighborhood or in my school? Where is that fine line?”

    It seems to involve drawing the conclusions you’d like to see drawn.

  2. Anyone want to chip in to send Joe back to school to take some remedial logic courses?

    I mean, really, does he ever make even a modicum of sense?

  3. I don’t agree with Joe here, but ad hominem is a poor way to argue.

  4. Drawing conclusions for people is “marketing and advertising”. Personally, I see precious little fast food advertising, but get a sloppy snootful of lefties yelping about Corporate Evil. Somehow I manage to resist their siren song and participate in corporate America at a level appropriate to my preferences. My line is better drawn closely about the point of personal responsibility. Other may need the safety of a large bubble drawn to shift that personal responsibility into the corporate realm.

    Perhaps no good conclusion can be made for all people, as much as both sides would like to be The Authority of Righteous Behaviour.

    How do we preserve my ability to have an occasional cheeseburger when so many pudding heads are apparently unable to pick a salad once in a while?

  5. Drawing conclusions for people is “marketing and advertising”. Personally, I see precious little fast food advertising, but get a sloppy snootful of lefties yelping about Corporate Evil. Somehow I manage to resist their siren song and participate in corporate America at a level appropriate to my preferences. My line is better drawn closely about the point of personal responsibility. Other may need the safety of a large bubble drawn to shift that personal responsibility into the corporate realm.

    Perhaps no good conclusion can be made for all people, as much as both sides would like to be The Authority of Righteous Behaviour.

    How do we preserve my ability to have an occasional cheeseburger when so many pudding heads are apparently unable to pick a salad once in a while?

  6. I agree that Joe’s arguementation style is flawed, but he is attempting to show the bias inherent in pointing out the bias of Spurlock.

  7. “You have an odd definition of balance. . . It seems to involve drawing the conclusions you’d like to see drawn.”

    Huh? As far as I can tell from Sullum’s comments, his definition of balance involves accurately representing opposing points of view.

  8. “I don’t agree with Joe here, but ad hominem is a poor way to argue.”

    The point is that Joe hasn’t even made enough sense with which to argue – as you can see by reading the attempts to discern whatever the hell his point was supposed to be…

    thoreau, arguing with Joe is like arguing with a child. There’s no point to it – his brain doesn’t work like an adult’s brain.

  9. Funny, no one else seems to have trouble discerning my point.

    You can’t follow my thinking. Therefore, I must be really stoopid. Yeah, that’s it.

  10. Ahh Spurlock. Striving to be the nation’s second best “Vee-know-vat’s-gud-for-you!” docu-fiction-mentarian.

  11. Joe,

    Your point, as I discern it, is that balance does not require Spurlock to agree with Jacob Sullum. The problem is that Sullum never said it did. Recalling his interview with Spurlock, Sullum reports,

    The appropriate response to [pestering smokers and fat people about their habits], I suggested, is: “Fuck you. Mind your own business.”

    But in the interview that Sullum linked to, Spurlock describes Sullum’s opinion (not his own) like this:

    . . . I think he?s just raising the question of where we draw the line between corporate responsibility and personal responsibility. What can I control, and what is so heavily pounded into me through marketing and advertising and the lack of better food in my neighborhood or in my school? Where is that fine line?

    No, Sullum was not raising that question. For whatever reason, Spurlock misrepresented Sullum’s opinion. Sullum is saying that Spurlock’s movie is unbalanced because it either fails to present opinions that tend not to support Spurlock’s beliefs, or it presents them inaccurately.

  12. I watched Super Size Me and I’m a changed person. From now on, only Burger King.

  13. So, Eric, Sullum’s comment was not addressed to the issue of individual freedom vs. social control? That’s odd, I could have sworn it was.

  14. except he doesn’t mention marketing or corporations in his response at all.

    it really does look like spurlock just ran with his own personal interests and for some reason felt like linking it to sullum’s comments.

  15. “What can I control, and what is so heavily pounded into me through marketing and advertising and the lack of better food in my neighborhood or in my school? Where is that fine line?”

    When someone makes this argument I usually just say, “What about Sex?” Social conservatives make exactly the same arguments about sexual imagery as Spurlock does about Fast food. Social conservatives claim that the profit driven sexual imagery causes individuals to engage in sexual behavior destructive to themselves and others. One could create a socially conservative piece just by doing a find and replace on an anti-fast-food rant and replacing “fast food” with “sex” and “McDonald’s” with “Hollywood.”

    The very people who argue that corporations are Svengalis when it comes food or cars violently reject the idea that corporations can drive negative behaviors in other areas. They pick and choose which area of people programming to decry.

  16. dhex, I think it looks like Spurlock took Jacob’s comments and restated them in the terms that were more germane to his topic, and discussed them as an opinion on the issue at hand.

    If he had been making a movie about the use of profanity, he might have chosen to highlight the use of “fuck you” as a statement of self assertion.

  17. People here might be interested in SoSo Whalley, who is dining on McDonald’s for 30 days, is doing fine:

    Soso Whaley and her doctor, Dr. Rayner Dickey, are proud to announce the results of her 30-day McDonald’s diet.

    Weight: LOSS- TOTAL OF 10 POUNDS!
    Cholesterol: DROP- FROM 237 TO 197!!

    According to her doctor, Soso is in great physical shape and suffered no dire medical conditions brought on by her 30-day diet!

    http://www.cei.org/gencon/019,03992.cfm

  18. “I think it looks like Spurlock took Jacob’s comments and restated them in the terms that were more germane to his topic, and discussed them as an opinion on the issue at hand.”

    No, Spurlock totally mischaracterized what Sullum said. Sullum wasn’t pontificating on where to draw a “fine line” between corporate and personal resposibility regarding what people choose to eat. Sullum was emphatically saying it is a 100% personal choice and responsibility. There is no “line” at all.

  19. joe,

    Are we now in agreement that Sullum is not arguing that Spurlock’s movie is unbalanced because it draws conclusions that Sullum disagrees with?

    So, Eric, Sullum’s comment was not addressed to the issue of individual freedom vs. social control? That’s odd, I could have sworn it was.

    It was addressed to that issue, but Spurlock still misrepresented it. According to his report, Sullum was wondering aloud how much an individual’s behavior is controlled by himself, and how much is controlled by corporations.

  20. Actually, Gilbert, he drawing a line. He’s just drawing it way over to one side.

  21. “Actually, Gilbert, he drawing a line. He’s just drawing it way over to one side.”

    LOL

    A distinciton without a difference. A line with nothing on one side of it is no line at all.

  22. I’d say the distinction is THIS: If Spurlock was using Sullum’s comments as a jumping off point for his own exploration of the issues, that’s probably fine. But if he actually attached his own meaning to Sullum’s words, and especially if he claimed it was Sullum’s intent to mean that, that’s another story.

    That said, even in the latter case I would have to know more about what Sullum actually said to Spurlock to know if Sullum was being clear enough about his intended meaning for Spurlock to have had to have been stupid, biased or disengenous to get it wrong, or if Sullum’s meaning might have been more open to interpretation than he realizes.

  23. Just say no to threads like this one.

  24. Newsflash : Documentaries not scientific. Objectivity a myth?

    And about SoSo Whalley: Why doesn’t she highlight the fact that she ate vastly different selections from the menu than Spurlock? A single cheeseburger is incomperable to the excess that is the double quarter-pounder. They sought to prove different points, and they both succeeded. Neither invalidates the other.

  25. Why doesn’t [Soso Whaley] highlight the fact that she ate vastly different selections from the menu than Spurlock?

    She did, although not at the link EcoDude gave. See here for her first diary entry, where she expresses her intentions:

    I, on the other hand, am motivated to eat at McDonalds for 30 days to show just how easy it is to skew results of any test to reflect your preconceived notions and come up with just exactly the results you want to see. In my case I?m going to use some of the same parameters Mr. Spurlock used but I would rather see results which show I can maintain a healthy lifestyle and actually lose weight at McDonalds, so I will not be scarfing down Double Quarter Pounders with cheese. My real purpose is not to prove something, rather, I see this as a unique opportunity to explore food and weight issues and separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what is reported about our health and well being in the media and other sources.

    There’s more here.

  26. It’s true.
    The monkeys will argue about anything.

  27. (I have not seen the movie, and am basing my comments on what I’ve heard about the movie.)

    Did this moron even attempt to try the McDonald’s salads to add some balance to his diet? Or, how about eating only McDonald’s salads and diet sodas/water for 30 days straight? Now that would have been “balanced”.

    All this guy proved is that a constant diet of unhealthy foods is unhealthy for you. Bravo, Einstein. And now he’s going to be held up as a hero for proving the obvious.

    It’s no wonder he didn’t get accepted into UCLA’s film school.

  28. That comment was supposed to read:

    (throws poop at Tutor)

  29. Throw mine at him too!

  30. AUTHOR: joe
    EMAIL: joepboyle@hotmail.com
    IP: 64.115.70.147
    URL:
    DATE: 05/04/2004 09:02:53

  31. Tutor & Nancy, youse a couple of grousing kill joys!! I’ll argue about whatever I wanna, eek eek!

    Phil, hmmm, just looked up “documentary” and got this:

    2. Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.

    As even Michael Moore has admitted, opinionated nonfictions aren’t quite documentaries.

    That said, perhaps the definition of the word is changing, and in any event, what’s in a word? You’re right that we should never automatically expect objectivity, whether something is presented in that light or not. But what interests me is that the filmmaker apparently got his audience to believe he was being balanced whereas Sullum is claiming first hand knowledge to the contrary. Again, without having seen the flick or knowing what Sullum actually said, I can’t say if I agree or not. But the charge as leveled is…interesting, to this monkey, anyway!

  32. Oh, and Joe, nothing to say, eh?

    I once wrote a song called Nothing To Say. It was an instrumental! 🙂

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