here is something so seductive about Super Size Me — the idea of the movie, if not the thing itself. How fun: Director Morgan Spurlock commits himself to thirty days of McDonald’s meals, thrice daily, every last french fry and every last quarter of a Quarter Pounder completely downed, Mac-ing it up until it’s sickening, until those Happy Meals start to seem as oppressive as force-feeding yourself Brussels sprouts when you were eight years old, because you couldn’t have Oreos until you finished all your vegetables. It’s one of those ideas everyone likes, one of those-mice-in-a-maze experiments that is based on some unrealized teenage wet dream that was simply never meant to be: a gastronomical version of listening to nothing but Slayer for ten hours a day for a whole month, or watching nothing but MTV for sixteen hours at a stretch for four weeks straight. It’s the kind of thing you would do in earnest as an adolescent, but you could do with impunity and irony as an adult, and as such, there’s a revenge-of-the-nerds aspect to it. It’s saying nyah-nyah-nyah to your pathetic, pimply teenage self, and goodbye to all that. The horrible pink cupcake of a dress you wore to the prom, the wedgie those guys inflicted upon you after gym class junior year – it was all a big bad joke. And now you’re gonna have a big, bad month of big, bad Big Macs to prove that history which was once lived as tragedy can now be repeated as comedy.

promotion



     Of course, the point of Super Size Me is to prove that living on fast food is not funny at all. Morgan Spurlock, who is both Heisenberg and his elusive electron in this experiment — which is to say, he loses perspective, mistaking his twenty-five-pound weight gain via a 5,500-calorie-a-day diet as a reflection on quality rather than quantity of food — never loses his sense of humor. But we are not meant to miss the high-minded Michael Moore-ism in this. Which is, of course, that Big Macs are killing us. And yes, there is a leitmotif throughout of unreturned phone calls to McDonald’s headquarters, not unlike Moore's pitiful pursuit of Roger Smith through Flint, Michigan and GM bureaucracy that provided a through-line for Roger and Me.

     Strangely, once you get past the premise — as Spurlock calls it, “the con," which lured us into theaters just as the ill-informed have been dragged and, in some sense, drugged into life in the fast-food lane – the movie is not very good. Its only original aspect, the one thing that separates it from newsmagazine-ness, is the amazing adventures of one young man, the explore-nography of it all. Spurlock’s willingness to attempt this stupid human trick is really the only thing that makes it anything other than a super-size segment from Dateline NBC or 20/20 about fast food's fat content or obesity in America. After all, thirty days of McDonald’s might well be someone’s idea of climbing K2. Morgan Spurlock is the slacker’s David Blaine, a warm and fuzzy alternative to Blaine’s icy, glassy experiments in extended deprivation.

Just as David Blaine is a magician who does not actually create any magic, Spurlock is a filmmaker who has not actually made a movie.

    And just as everyone knows someone kind of like Blaine whom they absolutely cannot stand, you most definitely know someone like Spurlock. He is exactly what writers mean when they describe a character as “affable,” which is one of those words that is forever on the page and almost never spoken. If you live in New York City's East Village, in Silver Lake in Los Angeles or have spent any time passing through Austin or Ann Arbor or Berkeley or any of those college-town classics, you know this guy. Morgan Spurlock lived next door to you freshman year. He was the guy with a two-foot bong. He has spent the last eight years filling out grant applications. He has gotten very good at getting money from arts organizations for assorted projects. You have met him before. You have shot pool with him at the bar down the street. You have watched the NBA playoffs with him, or possibly a couple of March Madness games. He would vote for Howard Dean; he would even wear a button or put a bumper sticker on his car, but he would not actually campaign for him. And he admires Michael Moore a great deal — enough to make a movie which would seem to be in Moore's mode, enough to make lots of annoying phone calls to some woman named Lisa who works in the corporate communications office of McDonald’s. But he never actually assails anyone in a lobby with an unwarranted, unexpected camera visit. He’s not obnoxious.

     He is, yes, pleasant all the way through, but so what? Just as David Blaine is a magician who does not actually create any magic, Spurlock is a filmmaker who has not actually made a movie. But both have performed stupid human tricks. Blaine has, more than once, subjected himself to hideous bodily harm — freezing himself for days in the middle of Times Square, starving himself for weeks in a glass box suspended above the Thames — and then gotten out alive. He is, after all, the Houdini of the reality-TV era, escaping from situations that might not be deadly but are certainly icky. And just as Blaine is all etched cheekbones and arched angles, he seems always to be dating aspiring supermodels (how did this become a career option?) who are also etched and arched and look like they really thought he might die, so it all works out for everyone.

     Spurlock’s girlfriend Alex, by the way, is not an aspiring supermodel. She is, in fact, a "gourmet vegan chef" — three words that, by my reckoning, should be in Webster’s as the third or fourth definition of "lunatic." I have eaten at Anjelica’s Kitchen, the famed vegan outpost in Lower Manhattan. I have tasted what that establishment calls "double chocolate brownies." I believe the people who attached that name to those edible items should familiarize themselves with mental institutions.

     Super Size Me is filled with statistics about obesity. To add heft to his sight gags (e.g. puking up McNuggets in parking lots and driving doctors apoplectic with his blood work) Spurlock totes up the sugar content of the school cafeterias in Middle America and interrogates earnest dieticians about portion control. Maybe we cannot hear these things enough. But I, for one, have heard all this stuff more than I can bear, starting with the extraordinary Fast Food Nation and continuing through an assortment of Dateline NBC and 60 Minutes segments that have thoroughly examined the phenomenon of fatness gone fat crazy.

     For what it’s worth, I am not one of those extra special healthy people, nor am I one of those really-good-and-decent sorts. But after reading Fast Food Nation, I have not once bought so much as a Coca-Cola at any of the wretched chains Eric Schlosser describes: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The risk of contracting e.coli and salmonella is the least of it: the labor practices, many of which Schlosser portrays as human rights violations so horrific that Amnesty International ought to intervene, are enough to make most people who are not even that good — I mean, I’m not even a vegetarian — decide not to have anything more to do with that dirty, disgusting system.

     And still, when I hear Chef Alex comparing ham to heroin, I too am ready to reach for a Big Mac. As much as Morgan Spurlock would like to believe he is a muckraker or a Moore in the making, the truth is that Super Size Me is obviously a passive-aggressive response to living with a vegan chef who makes every meal into a Marxist sit-in.
 













 
©2004 Elizabeth Wurtzel and Nerve.com.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elizabeth Wurtzel is a lawyer in New York and the author of the books Prozac Nation; Bitch; The Secret of Life; and More, Now, Again. You can follow her at twitter.com/LizzieWurtzel.


 

Commentarium (31 Comments)

May 17 04 - 12:58pm
wab

elizabeth wurtzel is fuming that she didn't think of making "Super Size Me" first

May 17 04 - 1:13am

wow, the sarcasm in this review is a bit much. too bad.

May 17 04 - 1:20am
CKC

Sure, I thought this review was cranky and self-rigteous and needlessly dismissive, but that last line about how "Super Size Me is obviously a passive-aggressive response to living with a vegan chef who makes every meal into a Marxist sit-in," was pure gold. You can think an article is 100% full of crap and still enjoy reading it. :)

May 17 04 - 2:02am
JPK

Excellent review!

Finally someone to stand up and look at a a film instead of jumping the bandwagon.

May 17 04 - 5:11am
lr

hmmm. well, the pampered princess flexes her self indulgent vocabulary, yet again. yippee. if ham and heroin really were interchangable, would prozac nation have happened? porcine poppies and puerile pharmacology...god bless us, every one.
(god, i'm such a bitch...i mean, a difficult woman, i mean, who gives a fuck about the movie, it's hardly a premise that requires description)

May 17 04 - 5:13am
lr

(oops. dropped a vowel in there.)

May 17 04 - 7:44am
LL

Brilliant, and you're right about that last line, it's like Kirk L. in grade eight, holding the worm over his mouth, daring me dare him to eat it. He did, then another, and another, but after the third one (there were 12) the stunt lost its potency, if it ever had any.
If you eat too many biscottis, and drink too much chai you'll get sick. And Schlosser's book did more for awareness of these awful chains than Spurlock's stunts. Still, can't help but thinking it's too bad a woman didn't pull this off. Too afraid of not losing the weight after no doubt....

May 17 04 - 9:32am
JE

Elizabeth,
You're an excellent writer. Have you had your meds today?

May 17 04 - 11:39am
jsp

Unfortunately, most people don't read, or watch 60 Minutes or Dateline. Making a movie is an effective way to spread the word about morbid obesity to an audience who might otherwise not hear about it.

May 18 04 - 12:33am
PI

The irony is beautiful: an author who made a name for herself pimping out her addictions lashes out at a filmmaker who is making a name for himself pointing out America's #2 addiction.

Sorry it wasn't designer drugs, EW.

May 17 04 - 3:33pm
RR

This review is at least as entertaining as the film it attacks. Which is rare - so many reviews are either 100% positive or negative - killing the readers' curiosity. Good tie-0in with Fast Food Nation. But, some editor was asleep on watch when this zinging ad hominem bullshit piece of pop psychology got through: "... [its] obviously a passive-aggressive response to living with a vegan chef who makes every meal into a Marxist sit-in." Way to undercut yourself!

May 17 04 - 6:04pm
mh

This was a very colorful review, but after all the long-winded 1000 words I'm left wondering if any logical points were actually made.

May 17 04 - 8:46pm
jcs

Umm am I wasting my time...wasn't this suppose to be funny and informative...why is everyone so serious here...

May 18 04 - 4:23pm
GOD

i really enjoyed this review-- the only review i've yet seen where the author is able to distinguish between the alluring IDEA of the film and the actual follow through. A great idea alone will not make a great film-- which makes ever drop of sarcasm in her piece work.
I devoured 'Prozac Nation'-- and thought she was a whiny self indulgent bitch YES, but a whiny self-indulgent bitch who could write.
you're allowed to tout your fancy vocabulary when it work, and she makes it work.
a nice snarky addition to nerve. I wish the pieces about sex were more often this good.

May 18 04 - 11:57pm
ndm

Spurlock readily admits to enjoying Big Macs and fries. Why then does Wurtzel denigrate the creator of "Super Size Me" as a Marxist vegan? She's just doing what hipsters do best: sneering.

Spurlock is exploratory and fun, but that won't stop Wurtzel from blasting him with comparisons to (*shudder*) blue-collar hero, Michael Moore.
And it's not that she thinks Spurlock is just whining and doesn't have a point -- rather she thinks addressing a national health crisis is boring and passe. To be innovative he should have thought of it before she read Fast Food Nation. Wurtzel devotes a paragraph to flaunting her familiarity with Fast Food Nation to establish that she has impeccable anti-McDonald's cred. Credentials in hand, she feels justified going for the jugular on Spurlock. And when the dust settles its clear that Wurtzel fancies herself a superior specimen to both McDonald's food and to Spurlock's documentary which is the real point of her article.

May 19 04 - 3:39pm
Sam

Ms. Elizabeth Wurtzel,
You are amazing!
I absolutely love & respect your style of writing, which obviously is a reflection of your gorgeous intellect, super clever, truly amazing and talented self.
Anyway, thanks for writing!
Luckily, I now have something more to read than James Joyce's Ulysseus (who reads the entire book?, idunno).
I hope to read more of your words.
Take care Always
Samantha Garcia
evanescencemonroe@hotmail.com

May 20 04 - 12:16pm
---c

I agree with jsp, way down at the beginning. For a certain bite of the population, SSM seems a little tired. After all, we pretty much know all this stuff, right? But the majority of N.A. does not. They don't see much past sports and reality T.V. They NEED to be told, straight to their faces and cleverly buried the medium of infotainment. So why pick on this guy? This review sounded like more of a personal attack than anything. I'll skip the third helping of Lord of The Rings, pass the Super Size Me, please.

May 20 04 - 8:36pm
nsl

I laughed reading the review - it was well written, as should be the case given the reviewer is herself an accomplished writer.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and while some good points were raised (like, yes, it did feel like a movie attempting to be Michael Moore-ish), I was impressed a LOT that a low budget documentary from an essentially unknown filmmaker could be so entertaining, educating, thought provoking, funny and disturbing all at the same time.

May 22 04 - 1:40pm
rtm

Wurtzel is once again posing herself as the almighty and us ("us" being the rest of the world) as her inferioir followers. We should therefore thinkt hat Morgan Spurlock's documentary is bland, tasteless, and boring.
Wurtzel's own writing, in my opinion, is often that. She spent more time setting up the "It's no longer cool to laugh at yourself" argument -- which, I've decided, was completely ridiculous anyway -- and less time discussing tha actual aspects of the film. Wurtzel decided ealry one before she actually saw this piece that she wouldn't like it becuase it wasn't hip and trendy and didn't have Christina Ricci in it.
Get over yourself, Liz. You're not as cool as you think you are.

(+ndm)

May 22 04 - 5:44pm
MBD

Sure, Spurlock may be a clown, but the sea of overweight Americans is astounding. SSM reflects the reality of what one sees in any large McDonalds or in a all you can eat buffet. Twenty years ago Goose Gossage, a SD Padre pitcher, angered Joan Kroc by accusing McDonalds of "poisoning the world" with Big Macs, etc. Not poisoning, but helping to create a fast food nation. If adults would just walk "ten thousand steps" daily--one half hour-with a dog, we would see a dramatic change in how we look and feel. Remember the connection between food and mood.

May 22 04 - 9:31pm
DB

Just to say Angelica's Kitchen in the East Village in NYC totally rocks and whatever problem Elizabeth Wurtzel has with vegan food or with mental institutions, her swipe doesn't belong in this review. Angelica's Kitchen has been around for more than 20 years. Obviously they are doing a lot right. I'm not a vegan or a vegetarian, I just enjoy good food.

May 22 04 - 11:22pm
amj

This review is more snippy complaint log than film review. It is a scathing attack on the vegan food scene with its tangential whining about specific vegetarian restaurants that have nothing to do with the movie. Comparing SSM to Fast Food Nation is simply not fair -- Schlosser has hundreds of pages to hammer his message to you - Spurlock has two hours tops. The two make very similar points, but you certainly cannot blame Spurlock for not pointing out every single evil of the fast food industry in a two hour movie. This article has a bratty resentful tone to it and cannot even fairly be called a review; it's more of a personal diatribe.

May 23 04 - 5:24pm
LT

Liz (If I may),

Your review waffles more than IHOP. You go back and forth, between endorsing the high-minded concept of the movie, to denigrating the idea that one should be aware and in control of the purity of the substances that pass one's lips.
It seems that perhaps the movie makes you feel unclear about your own position on food.
Perhaps a greater sense of self would provide you with a higher vantage point, so to speak, from which to survey the cultural landscape.
It is refreshing to read a review where one's biases are overt. More media critics would do well to examine their own experience bank before committing to one viewpoint on a particular piece of media.

May 23 04 - 8:09pm
I_R

WOW...trite..not so much a critique as it is ramblings of a Know-it-all.

May 23 04 - 9:58pm
mm

Reading a bit too much into the psychology of the Director, ah, EW? Jealous?

May 24 04 - 2:47pm
GMS

Well done. I certainly expected more sympathetic treatment from nerve, but was pleasantly surprised. Keep up the good work.

May 25 04 - 12:17pm
cn

elizabeth,
Wow. I couldn't disagree with you more. It reads as if your ego eclipses your ability to see the work outside of your insecurities. The article is strangely hostile and--what is possibly more bizarre--degenerated into a personal attack. Although I too had visions of Moore dancing through my head, I don't feel Spurlock's contribution is so easily dismissable. In an epoch increasingly defined by corporate power and corruption, a movie like SUPER SIZE ME challenges the bloated aforementioned to take responsibility for their product.
Sincerely,
carrie louise nutt
ny, ny

May 26 04 - 12:00pm
--D.

I agree with the person below. Wurtzel's 'review' was too personal an attack on the director to take it seriously; a classic mistake, among other things. Nerve, you need more intelligent reviewers. Your readers deserve a bit more. But hey, she sure is cute.

May 27 04 - 11:52am
DPS

This movie made a great point. I loved it. Oh and this article is kinda odd. It's seems that this person is an author/columnist who hasn't really written an article. All she did was bicker in order to sound better than Morgan Spurlock who blew her stupid "Prozac Nation" out of the water. Oh, and I'm a vegan because I care about animals and myself. I'm not insane. There's some great tasting vegan foods out there, and even if I eat the bad tasting ones, I hardly think this classifies me as insane. I could say that Elizabeth Wurtzel, who is apparently a meat eater is a lame holier-than-thou annoyance and thus all meat eaters are so as well, but I won't because it's a lame argument. I wish I could complain and make obvious observations and call it a book. I can't though, because I missed that window where it was "cool". Needless to say I went back and edited out some language that wasn't kosher according to the little disclaimer below, but hopefully I got my point across.

May 28 04 - 12:01am
DPS

Marxist sit-in?!?!? She's just trying to help him. If she made it a "Marxist sit-in" he never would have been able to make the movie. She obviously let's him eat what he wants. I say it's okay for her to at least try and spread her ideas to him. If people couldn't spread their ideas, you wouldn't have a career (oh...in a perfect world). Go dye your hair black and complain in a coffee shop somewhere in a suburban town. I bet your parents loved you and you're fashionably mad at him. I heard a kid use the term Marxist once. He was a wuss who talked big because he was insecure. I heard another kid use the term Marxist once. He was a wuss who talked big because he was insecure. I heard a girl use the term Marxist once. She was a self righteous hag who looked homeless and wore a scarf in a mom and pop record store in the middle of August. Oh and she was insecure. You know how I could tell? Hugely gauged ear piercings. Marxist is a term used by worthless wastes of time who eventually think about shooting up a school and then cry about how theyre too spineless to actually do it. And for the record, Spurlock states that his movie was a response to the fatties who sued McD's, not his girlfriend. You are very ignorant. Nerve...get a reviewer who doesn't write the worst reviews ever.

Jun 22 04 - 9:23am
mm

The film was one of the underdog of the year and I think that it also saved america health wise I knew not to eat the fast food crap and have not for a year but this just made it even more logical to cut the junk food out of you life and go to whole foods. Great jon to Morgan and his crew. I think if you have an overweight friends who eats that stuff and you live in NYC take them to Better Burger or Whole Foods they will thank you when they are older and you also might what to hit up the gym.