Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlocks’ film Super Size Me is a piece of rhetoric that intends to provoke a dialogue about fast food. This paper will examine the techniques and topics used in the film to provoke a discussion about fast food ultimately leading to a discussion on the topic of obesity. Most of the data indicates that Spurlock’s and most health scholars’ believe that fast food is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. This film was made to make the public aware that obesity is an epidemic and the food provided by the fast food restaurants are adding to it.
This paper will contribute to communication by showing the strategies that can be employed by a documentary to stimulate a public discussion about an issue. Some of the techniques used to persuade in this film provide useful information for communication scholars. This paper will focus primarily on the film Super Size Me, but will also look at media coverage of the film from Newsweek, USA Today, The Economist, Business Week, Time Magazine and People Magazine ranging from the years 2004 to 2009. Also, journal articles speaking about fast food from 2004 to 2009 will be examined.
This paper will first give a description of the documentary Super Size Me and explain its context. Next, this paper will provide an analysis of the techniques and topics Spurlock used in the film Super Size Me to provoke a dialogue about fast food. This section will first describe Spurlock’s experiment and how it was employed to initiate conversations among the audience about McDonald’s fast food. Then it will discuss his techniques used to enlighten his audience on the obesity epidemic, including interviews and images, which opened the audience for a discussion on obesity. Finally it will look at the ongoing theme of child obesity, which is used in the film to link the problem of obesity with children, by showing interviews from professionals and children, as well as real footage of children in schools, to initiate a discussion on the connections between the two. The last section will explain how this paper has contributed to rhetorical theory.
Super Size Me- An Explanation of the Film
The film Super Size Me is a persuasive documentary intended to show the hazards that fast food, specifically focusing on McDonald’s food, have on consumers’ health. The documentary idea originated from a previous lawsuit in which two young girls blamed their obesity on eating food from McDonald’s (Spurlock, 2004). The lawyers from McDonald’s thought this claim to be unreasonable and there was no possible way the girls could prove their obesity resulted from eating McDonald’s food (Spurlock, 2004). The judge ruled that the girls’ lawyers would be able to state their claim if they could prove that McDonald’s intends for their customers to eat their food for every meal for every day and doing so might be dangerous (Spurlock, 2004).
Super Size Me was made to bring awareness to the public about corporate responsibility regarding the food Americans eat that makes us overweight. Morgan Spurlock made the documentary Super Size Me with an intention to “launch a national conversation over fast food and nutrition” after watching news coverage of a McDonald’s lawsuit (Parker, 2004, para. 3). He decided to focus on McDonald’s not just because of the lawsuit but because McDonald’s “represents all chain food” (as cited in My Month, 2004, para. 5). Spurlock found that large food corporations have significant control over what Americans eat and this documentary would allow consumers to be aware of the control the corporations, such as McDonald’s, possess. He hoped that his documentary would “help fast-food fetishists save themselves” (Ordonez, 2004, para. 3). Spurlock determined that the more information the consumers had about big food corporations, the better decisions the consumers could make regarding the food they eat. USA Today (2004) reported that the documentary has the power to “change minds and behavior” about their fast food beliefs and eating habits (para. 1). The film was made from an emotional standpoint, which may be the solution for initiating changes and helping to “combat the problem of obesity” (Knowledge and psychosocial, 2008, para. 2).
Spurlock said he first thought that idea was “crazy” that people would sue a “food company for selling us the food the we eat”, but after conducting research he realized there was “a basis for an argument” (as cited in Parker, 2004, para. 19). Morgan Spurlock directed, wrote, and starred in the film by documenting himself eating only McDonald’s food three times a day, for thirty days, and tracked his health effects by seeing licensed professionals. The film brought awareness to the problem of obesity as well as to personal and corporate responsibility regarding unhealthy eating.
The questions Spurlock investigates in his documentary include: 1) Are the food companies solely to blame for this epidemic of obesity? 2) Where does personal responsibility stop and corporate responsibility begin? and 3) Is fast food really that bad for you? (Spurlock, 2004). Spurlock conducts his experiment in his documentary to attempt to provoke a dialogue about this issue.
Analysis and Findings
Spurlock uses documentation of a self-experiment in the film to provoke a discussion on the potential effects fast food can have on a consumer. He first gives shocking facts about McDonald’s and their consumers and then he uses his experiment to support those facts. He shows through his experiment that McDonald’s food is hazardous to his health. The results from the self-experiment are presented as shocking and unexpected. This provokes the audience to think about the potential harmful effects fast food could have on them. They too may endure unexpected consequences if they keep consuming fast food. Spurlock’s self-experiment forces the audience to think about their fast food eating habits, which in turn provokes a discussion about the nutritional value of fast food.
Spurlock begins his film by saying that most people know that fast food is not good for them, yet one in four people visit a fast food restaurant everyday (Spurlock, 2004). Even lawyers for McDonald’s say the dangers of McDonald’s food are universally known (Spurlock, 2004). McDonald’s admits that it is “common knowledge that any processing that its foods undergo serve to make them more harmful than unprocessed foods” (as cited in Spurlock, 2004). McDonald’s has said they agree with the core argument of the documentary that “[eating] too much and [doing] too little is bad for you” (Wentz & Jardine, 2004, para. 2). However, they claim that they do not agree “eating at McDonald’s is bad for you” (Wentz & Jardine, 2004, para. 2). In Spurlock’s film, he finds it is clear that the common folk may not know the harmful effects fast food can have on a person. Spurlock uses himself as an experiment in this documentary to show the potential effects fast food can cause to a person.
Spurlock visits three doctors, a cardiologist, a gastro technologist and a general practitioner to monitor his health for thirty days. His health at the beginning of the month is very good. Each doctor confirms he is normal in all categories and the doctors are quoted saying he is starting out in “outstanding” and “terrific” health (Spurlock, 2004). Spurlock set four rules for himself at the beginning of the experiment: 1) He can only Super Size when they ask him. 2) He can only eat food from McDonald’s. 3) He has to eat everything on the menu at least once. 4) He must eat three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner (Spurlock, 2004).
On day two Spurlock is seen supersizing his meal for the first time. He orders a quarter pounder with cheese, which he calls “a little bit of heaven” (Spurlock, 2004). Spurlock starts to explain that he feels odd as he is eating, referring to his symptoms as the “McStomach ache”, “the McTummy”, “the McGargles”, “the McBrick”, “McGas”, “the McSweats”, his arms have the “McTwitches “ and he concludes that he feels a little “McCrazy” (Spurlock, 2004). He is then shown throwing up his food twenty minutes after he began eating. This footage shows he ate an unusually large amount of food that made him sick. This was the first indication that suggests that fast food might be potentially harmful to the consumer.
Spurlock goes for regular examinations where he gets updates on his weight and health. He gains ten pounds during his first weigh-in at day five. Spurlock gains another seven pounds at his second weigh-in totaling 17 pounds in 12 days. At his final weight-in he gains seven and half pounds totaling his weight gain to 24 and half pounds over 30 days.
Throughout the movie Spurlock updates how he is feeling on a video diary. Throughout the film his health seems to decrease. Around day seven Spurlock begins to experience chest pain. On day nine he is feeling depressed, but he claims it is easy to eat McDonald’s food because it makes him feel good (Spurlock, 2004). He finds himself getting hungry soon after he finishes and craves more McDonald’s food. Spurlock’s girlfriend is interviewed on day seventeen. She says that Spurlock is more tired than ever at the end of the day. His energy is extremely low and he is even having trouble performing sexually (Spurlock, 2004). On day eighteen Spurlock alludes that he may have an addiction to McDonald’s food. He talks about how he was extremely sad and depressed, but once he started eating he felt amazing and great. Spurlock wakes up with chest pain, possibly heart palpitations, and shortness of breath on day twenty-one. He sees his general practitioner the next day and he advises Spurlock to completely stop this diet. He says that he is “kicking his liver while it is down” and he is in danger of dying (Spurlock, 2004).
This experiment indicates that a fast food diet could be hazardous to the consumers’ health. His health is excellent when he begins the experiment and by the end he is in danger of dying. Spurlock starts his experiment weighting 185 and a half pounds and finished at 210 pounds, gaining 24 and a half pounds (Spurlock, 2004). His liver becomes complete fat and his cholesterol goes up 65 points (Spurlock, 2004). His body fat goes from 11% to 18% (Spurlock, 2004). He doubles his risk of coronary heart disease, making him twice as likely to have heart failure (Spurlock, 2004). He is very moody; feeling depressed and exhausted a lot (Spurlock, 2004). His sex life decreases (Spurlock, 2004). He begins to crave the food more often as he continues to eat it and he gets headaches when he does not have it (Spurlock, 2004). Clearly, this all indicates the extreme negative effects fast food can have on consumers’ health. Spurlock said in a fairly recent interview that he does not eat at McDonald’s since he made the documentary (Batchelder & Chu, 2006). He said he would much rather eat at a place that “uses fresh ground beef” and makes their own food (Batchelder & Chu, 2006, para. 5).
Spurlock uses interviews and images to present the obesity epidemic to the audience. He introduces the obesity epidemic to his audience by giving statistics and then he uses health professionals’ opinions and obesity images to support those facts. The professional opinions provoke a discussion on obesity because they show the audience that health experts are concerned with this problem. This suggests that if health professionals are concerned with a problem, then the audience should also be concerned with the problem. Therefore, the audience and the health professionals should have a shared conception of evil, which suggests there is a need for a discussion to solve the evil (Hart & Daughton, 2005). The images are used in the documentary to bring the words of health professionals to real life. The health professionals talk about the obesity epidemic and the images show the epidemic in action. These images are presented as shocking evidence to support the claims about obesity, which provoke a discussion about whether or not obesity is a growing epidemic.
This film was made in part to bring awareness to the people of the United States about obesity. Obesity is a serious problem in America. Yet, society does not know much about the problem, let alone the solution (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004). Obesity rates in the United States have dramatically increased in the past 20 years according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (U.S. obesity trends, 2009). The documentary was made in 2004 when each state reported that over 15% of their population was obese (U.S. obesity trends, 2009). The film claims that in 2004 America was the fattest nation in the world with nearly one hundred million people either overweight or obese, which was more than sixty percent of all United States adults (Spurlock, 2004). Since then, obesity rates have steadily climbed with states now reporting over twenty percent of their population to be obese (U.S. obesity trends, 2009). The film suggests that the fast food industry is partly to blame for this increase in obesity.
Spurlock begins his documentary with discussing how everything is bigger in America. This sets up his argument that obesity is a big and ongoing problem in America and this is due to poor eating habits. Obesity was claimed an epidemic in 2003 (Arndt, 2004). It is responsible for 300,000 deaths per year in the United States (Maddock, 2004). Most agree the fast food industry contributes to this epidemic (Maddock, 2004). Spurlock starts his point of view by describing how life was when he was a child, claiming he never ate outside his home and infers that this is how most Americans lived. He says now families eat out all the time and this results in them paying for it with their “wallets and their waistlines” (Spurlock, 2004).
Throughout the film, professionals and the common folk are interviewed on their perspectives of the obesity epidemic in the United States. The people interviewed in the film provide comments and opinions that support Spurlock’s claims in the beginning of the film. These people are used to provide supporting evidence that obesity is a growing epidemic in our society. Fast food restaurants are commonly spoken of in the interviews when speaking about obesity. Professionals and experts who are interviewed in the film include: John F. Banzhaf III-a law professor at George Washington University, Dr. David Satcher M.D., Kelly Brownell-a PHD professor from Yale center for Eating and Weight disorders, John Robbins- son of one of the founders of Baskin Robbins, and Gene Grabowski- a representative for GMA. About ten different common folk walking the streets of New York are interviewed as well.
John Banzhaf said he believes that fast food restaurants are being attacked more than any other source because of the sudden rise of obesity (Spurlock, 2004). Families have been eating at home and at sit down restaurants for years, but it was not until now that obesity has become a concern. Now Americans eat out around 40% of their meals at places like McDonald’s, so it is only fair to point the finger at fast food restaurants (Banzhaf, 2003 as cited in Spurlock, 2004). Opinions from Banzhaf are important in this film because he is lawyer who has won lawsuits similar to the obese girls’ lawsuit against McDonald’s. Banzhaf is a professional and the general public will respect his opinions and comments. The use of Banzhaf in this documentary provides strong support towards Spurlock’s stand on obesity. Banzhaf confirms there is a clear connection between the boom of fast food restaurants and the rising obesity rates.
David Satcher was one of the first surgeon generals in 2000 to draw attention to the obesity crisis. Satcher claimed obesity to be a national epidemic (Spurlock, 2004). Satcher says in the film that the fast food industry is a major contributor to this epidemic (Spurlock, 2004). A doctor’s opinion, such as Satcher’s, plays an important role in supporting the argument that obesity is a problem. Satcher’s opinion provides strong support for Spurlock’s claim because Satcher is an expert on health and nutrition. Satcher confirms that food supplied by the fast food restaurants contributes to the obesity epidemic.
Kelley Brownell is asked for his opinions on obesity in the film. Brownell says he believes we live in a “toxic food and physical inactivity environment. That is we live in an environment that almost guarantees we become sick” (as cited in Spurlock, 2004). He adds that we have easy access to food and sodas while we primarily depend on cars for transportation (Spurlock, 2004). Brownell provides important support for Spurlock’s argument because he gives an expert opinion that adds to the argument. He infers that the fast food restaurants are supplying the toxic food. This toxic food is what makes the people obese. On top of that, people do not get enough physical activity because they are forced to drive everywhere they go.
John Robbins discusses the serious health effects ice cream had on him and his family. He says he grew up eating ice cream for breakfast and he was ill most of the time (Spurlock, 2004). Robbins’ uncle, Bert Baskin, died of a heart attack at 51 weighing 241 pounds. Robbins claims that Baskin’s weight was to blame on the fatty ice cream he was constantly eating. His family made and is making tons of money on the ice cream, yet he has seen how the food adds to the obesity epidemic (Spurlock, 2004). Robbins’ opinion on this topic is important to the film because it is a point of view from a distributor of fast food. This demonstrates that even the distributor of the toxic product knows that the food contributes to the obesity epidemic, yet they still sell their product to continue to make a profit.
Gene Grabowski, who represents the GMA, is also interviewed in the film. GMA is one of the lobbyists that provide the marketing for the fast food industry (Spurlock, 2004). Grabowski admits in his interview that they are a part of the obesity problem (Spurlock, 2004). He infers that his marketing convinces people to consume these foods that are bad for them. These foods make the consumers obese. This is one of the most important supporting pieces in the film and it is repeated twice. One of the most powerful lobbyists in the United States confirms that they contribute to the obesity epidemic. This supports Spurlock’s argument so well because a big company admits what they have been denying all along, which was they were not a part of the obesity problem. At the end of the film it is announced that Grabowski no longer works for GMA. This could be in part to his comment in the film, which indicated he did not stand behind the GMA’s purpose.
The common folk are interviewed about their feelings on fast food and obesity. First, towards the beginning of the film, the people are asked for their opinions on lawsuits against fast food restaurants. All the people seem to have the common opinion that it is ridiculous for people to sue fast food restaurants for making them obese (Spurlock, 2004). Each person says they feel that it is personal responsibility and not corporate responsibility because people can choose where they eat (Spurlock, 2004). The rest of the film is devoted to suggesting reasons why these opinions may come from uneducated people.
Footage is shown towards the end of the film asking people to give their general opinion on fast food. Five different people say they all eat fast food. Two young men say they go to the gym to keep their weight down (Spurlock, 2004). Two older women say they have no time for exercise because they have to take care of their homes (Spurlock, 2004). All of these people are clearly overweight and they all claim to eat fast food. The clear connection is made between the people who eat fast food and the weight they maintain with this footage.
Throughout the film a lot of images of obese people are shown. Spurlock shows images of overweight people at the beach, sitting at tables eating, walking around, employees working at fast food restaurants and the people who are interviewed on the street. These images are effective in sparking a conversation on obesity because they show the epidemic in reality instead of just talking about it. It is almost painful to watch these people go about their daily lives. These pictures demonstrate what the viewers of the documentary could look like if they keep consuming food provided by these fast food restaurants.
Many visual effects are used to reinforce Spurlock’s narration (Hayes, 2006). Every time a statistic or fact is offered, a visual graph, map, picture or cartoon is shown on the screen to demonstrate that statistic. Each one of these images reinforces what it means to look obese. These images are powerful tools for the audience to visualize what it looks like to become obese. The film employs these images to suggest a person will become obese as a result of eating food that is provided by the fast food industry. Spurlock does not explicitly mention the connection between the photographs and the fast food industry in the film, but he uses the visual juxtaposition, the obesity images, to make the argument.
Children and Obesity
Spurlock uses real footage of children in schools along with interviews from school officials and children to link the problem of child obesity with fast food. Spurlock shows footage of children in schools making poor food decisions. This footage is intended to provoke a discussion about fast food and children because adults typically do not attend school with their children and therefore do not see the problem in action. Spurlock brings attention to the problem with fast food in schools, resulting in poor food decisions from children, to suggest that a discussion is needed to fix the problem. Interviews with children are used to provoke a discussion about fast food marketing because the interviews show children are unaware of important figures such as the president or God, but they know all the fast food mascots. This suggests there is a need to discuss fast food advertisements geared towards children because these unimportant mascots play big roles in the children’s food choices. Interviews with school representatives are used to provoke a discussion because they are shown responding to questions in ways the typical audience member would not expect. School representatives give excuses for their behaviors rather than sufficient explanations regarding their food offerings at the school. The shocking footage is intended to provoke a conversation about the real reasons children eat poorly.
Children and obesity is a topic that is repeatedly visited throughout the documentary. Repetition works well in the documentary to “pound home [Spurlock’s] messages” (Klein, 2004, para. 4). Spurlock may address this topic so thoroughly because children are becoming increasingly affected by the obesity epidemic (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004, p. 59).
Footage of Children in Schools
The documentary begins with both overweight and average sized children singing The Fast Food Song. Sadly, The Fast Food Song is a common song that children learn in schools today. Girl scout troops even have the song listed on their websites to memorize (Montgomery, 2003). Anyone can find this song to purchase online, and it is even listed under “songs for teaching” on a teacher website (Pizza Hut, 2009). There is even a music video to accompany the song (The fast food, 2007). Clearly, this song was created to appeal to a young audience. Spurlock uses this song at the beginning of the film to suggest the problem with obesity and fast food starts with children.
Schools are an ideal place to begin the fight on obesity since children are required to attend in all states (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004). Some children consume as much as sixty percent of their meals when they are at school (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004). Richards et. al. (2004) argue that schools have a fiduciary obligation to protect their students by providing them with healthy food choices. They also argue that it is irresponsible for schools to provide unhealthy foods to accommodate budget cuts (Richards et. al., 2004).
Spurlock goes into a middle school to examine the food choices children make at lunch. He finds that most of the food choices are very poor. Most of the children eat just fries or chips for lunch. This segment provides powerful evidence that children make poor food choices because it shows them making the food choice in action. These children are avoiding the healthy food the cafeteria provides, and opting to eat the snack like foods with name brands. This segment suggests their food choices stem from the advertisements they see on television. Spurlock’s argument is if the children are brainwashed to eat these foods then, the schools should not provide these foods for the children to eat. Barbara Brown is later interviewed for her opinion of the issue.
Interviews with Professionals
John Cawley, a professor of Human Ecology at Cornell University, reports that approximately 13 percent of adolescents are seriously overweight and 70 percent of them are guaranteed to be obese as adults (as cited in Ulrich, 2005). The obesity epidemic starts by developing poor eating habits at young ages. Children will carry their eating habits into their adult years resulting in their obese weight.
John Banzhaf is interviewed again in the film about fast food advertisements geared toward children. Banzhaf believes the fast food industry is partly to blame for the obesity epidemic because they are so focused on luring in young children (Spurlock, 2004). Banzhaf explains McDonald’s has the closed indoor playgrounds, they are known for the birthday parties they host, they started the happy meals with the toys, the mascot for McDonald’s is the clown, and there is even a cartoon that features the clown (Spurlock, 2004). These marketing ploys do not appeal to adults, so clearly children are being targeted.
Banzhaf explains that the marketing technique used by McDonald’s is similar to a marketing technique that was used by the tobacco companies in the 70’s called “brand imprinting for later actuation in life” (Spurlock, 2004). The tobacco company would sell fake cigarettes to children and these children would play smoke at four and five years old. Then, later in life these grown up children would start buying the same packages of cigarettes they played with when they were young. They built up good memories and good feelings when they were children and they subconsciously remember this as they buy cigarettes when they are older. The same concept works for McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants. Banzhaf says the children are “satisfied, it’s nice, they remember the warm feelings of playing, getting the toy and being with mom and dad and it’s going to carry through” (Spurlock, 2004). Therefore the children are more likely to eat at McDonald’s in their adulthood because of all the positive associations they remember from childhood.
Owners of fast food companies deny the claim that the tobacco and obesity epidemic have similarities. David Novak, the boss of Yum!, claims there are no similarities between the tobacco epidemic and the obesity epidemic. He claims there is not one “single food source that can be blamed for obesity” and is also quoted as saying the food industry can “deal with this” (as cited in Fast food’s yummy, 2005, para. 12). The denials obviously mean little since the federal government recognizes obesity as the next potential number one cause of death passing up tobacco use (Parker, 2004).
Spurlock claims that the average child sees 10,000 food advertisements per year on television (2004). McDonald’s alone spent 1.3 billion in 2001 on direct media advertising (Spurlock, 2004). These numbers are shocking and demonstrate the fast food industry makes enormous efforts to target young children. Sadly, most children fall for these marketing and advertisement ploys.
Spurlock shows the advertisements geared towards children are successful when he visits a few schools’ cafeterias at lunchtime. Spurlock interviews a food services director, Mary Bollino, at one of the middle schools. She says the school tries “to teach [the children] to make the right choices in life” (as cited in Spurlock, 2004). Spurlock confronts Bollino saying these children are not making the right choice she claimed to be teaching. Bollino eventually caves and says she is not responsible for the food that is supplied at the school. She suggests that Spurlock talk to Barbara Brown, who is a field representative for Sodexho, which provides the food for the school.
Brown says that her company Sodexho provides different types of foods to get children to make the right decisions without restricting what they can purchase (Spurlock, 2004). Sodexho is a company that provides food services for more than four hundred school districts nationwide and it is known for being one of the cheapest (Spurlock, 2004). Clearly, Sodexho cannot have their employees say they provide these foods because it is the way they make the most money, so they give the explanation that they want children to have choices.
Yet, experiments have shown that the schools that have converted to healthier food alternatives actually have healthier and better-behaved students, but this can be costly to the schools (Spurlock, 2004). Reductions in school budgets have resulted in children making poor food choices (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004). Anderson (2005) found that almost all high school students have access to vending machines (as cited in Ulrich, 2005). Schools will contract with the food vendors who will provide the cheapest “low-cost meals in their cafeterias” to save and make money (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004, p. 59).
In addition to providing unhealthy food, schools have also limited their physical education programs. Spurlock interviews a gym teacher who says his students get about 45 minutes of physical education per week (Spurlock, 2004). Surgeon generals recommend that everyone get a minimum of thirty minutes of physical activity a day. Clearly, these numbers do not add up. Physical education has been minimized at most schools due to the budget concerns (Richards, Shimabukuro, Combs & Kreuter, 2004, p. 59). Patricia Anderson, a professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, found “almost half of all high school students have no physical education classes” (as cited in Ulrich, 2005, p. 13). Schools would rather put the time into other academic subjects, and by doing this they risk the health of their students and add to the obesity epidemic.
Interviews with Children
One segment of the documentary shows Spurlock showing four different children pictures of George Washington, Jesus, Wendy’s and Ronald McDonald and asking them who is the person in the picture. The children know a little bit about George Washington, but not nearly the amount they should know. No one knows who Jesus is, and one child says Jesus is George Bush. Most recognize Wendy and every child knows Ronald McDonald. The children describe Ronald as the owner of McDonald’s and some said they love his food (Spurlock, 2004). This shocking segment demonstrates that the marketing techniques to target children used by McDonald’s are working. The children have no idea who God is, but they are entirely clear on who makes their beloved happy meals.
The same fast food companies that advertise to children on television are often the ones who give money to public schools (as cited in Ulrich, 2005). Ulrich’s (2005) article showed there are clear connections between the exposure children have to fast food advertisements and child obesity. Consumers tend to get more pleasure out of “consuming a well-advertised product” (Ulrich, 2005, p. 13). Studies have shown that “fast food advertising has a positive effect on children’ and adolescents’ overweight status” (Ulrich, 2005, p. 13).
This paper contributes to rhetorical theory because it presented the techniques and topics that can be used in a documentary to stimulate a public discussion about an issue. Specifically, it looks at Spurlock’s film Super Size Me and points out the techniques he uses to provoke a dialogue about fast food. He discusses three different topics: fast food, obesity, and children to provoke the dialogue. First, Spurlock uses a self-experiment to show the effects fast food can have on a person. Second, he shows interviews of health professions offering their opinions on obesity and he shows obesity images. Third, Spurlock shows footages of children at schools making poor food decisions, and interviews health professionals and children to show the link between obesity and children.
First this paper looked at the experiment Spurlock conducted to show his audience the negative things that could happen to people if they only eat fast food. This experiment is effective because it shows in real terms the effects of a fast food diet. The audience can see that Spurlock is suffering both physically and mentally from the fast food. Live experiments can be a powerful tool for persuading an audience.
Next this paper looked at the obesity epidemic and how it was presented in the film. Spurlock uses interviews with respected professionals and experts. These people give their professional opinions, which back up Spurlock’s claims on obesity. This made Spurlock’s argument about the growing obesity epidemic more convincing. Spurlock also uses images in his documentary to show obesity is a growing problem. These pictures are convincing because they suggest that they are representation of real life people’s weight as a result of eating food provided by the fast food companies.
Third this paper looked at the topic of children and obesity and the way this was presented in the film. Spurlock goes into schools to get real footage of children to make connections between the foods the schools are providing and the poor food choices the students are making. This evidence can be effective in persuading an audience because it clearly shows real life children making poor food decisions. Interviews with school officials and health professionals, as well as with children, are used to show that there is a problem with child obesity, which ultimately leads to adult obesity.
The techniques used in the film to persuade the audience are effective because of the reaction it is receiving from its audience and the media. The film is highly praised and is one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time. Schools use the film in health education to teach children the potential effects of eating poorly and not getting enough exercise. Clearly, the techniques used to persuade in the film Super Size Me are valuable assets to any rhetorical critic.
Arndt, M. (2004, July 5). McDonald's: Fries with that salad? Business Week, 2890, 82-84. Retrieved March 28, 2009
Batchelder, H., & Chu, J. (2006, July 31). 10 Questions for Morgan Spurlock. Time, 5, 6. Retrieved March 28, 2009
Changing the menu. (2004, May 22). Economist, 8376, 56-57. Retrieved April 2, 2009
The Fast Food Song [Music Video]. Livevideo.com.
Fast food's yummy secret. (2005, August 27). Economist, 8441, 60-62. Retrieved April 3, 2009
Hayes, A. (2006). Super Size Me: Expanding the documentary form [Electronic version]. Screen Education, 30-37.
Hart, R. P., & Daughton, S. (2005). Modern Rhetorical Criticism (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Klein, J. M. (2004). Documentaries cast a cold eye on corporate America [Electronic version]. Chronicles of Higher Education, 50(35), 19-20.
Knowledge and psychosocial effects of the film Super Size Me on young adults. (2007). Nutrition Research Newsletter. Retrieved April 2, 2009
Maddock, J. (2004). The relationship between obesity and the prevalence of fast food restaurants: State-level analysis [Electronic version]. American Journal of Health Promotion, 19(2), 137-143.
Macnamara, K. (2009). Domino effect: another fast-food boost. Press Association. Retrieved February 11, 2009
My month at Mickey D's. (2004, February 9). People, 5, 114. Retrieved March 2, 2009, from EbscoHost.
Montgomery, D. J. (2003). Girl Scout Songs. Retrieved April 2, 2009
Opening this weekend. (2004, May 7). USA Today. Retrieved March 28, 2009
Ordonez, J. (2004, May 24). Fast-Food Lovers, Unite! Newsweek, 21, 56. Retrieved March 1, 2009, from EbscoHost.
Park, A. (2004, March 15). Would you like to un-super size that? Time, 11, 93. Retrieved April 2, 2009
Parker, L. (2004, May 7). Legal experts predict new rounds in food fight. USA Today, p. 3a. Retrieved March 1, 2009, from EbscoHost.
Pizza Hut (2009). Retrieved April 2, 2009
Richards, E. P., Shimabukuro, M. S., Combs, S., & Kreuter, M. W. (2004). Innovative legal tools to prevent obesity [Electronic version]. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 32(4), 59-61. from EbscoHost.
Spurlock, M. (Director). Super size me [Motion Picture]. USA: Showtime Networks, Inc.
Ulrich, C. (2005). The economics of obesity: Costs, causes and controls. , pp. 10, 13. Retrieved March 25, 2009
U.S. obesity trends 1985-2008 (2009). Retrieved March 9, 2009
Wentz, L., & Jardine, A. (2004, August 30). McD's refutes film in U.K. ads. Advertising Age, 35, 12. Retrieved April 3, 2009