Saturday, May 25, 2024

RIP Morgan Spurlock (but not fast food)

Maybe it’s just a matter of getting older and wiser, but it seems like the movie Super Size Me was the point in my life when I went from regularly devouring Big Macs and Quarter Pounders with Cheese and Fish Filets to only very rarely (usually on long road trips) having a meal at McDonald’s. 

The small documentary (a $65,000 production) turned into a massive hit ($22 million at the box office) and seemed to be a bad sign for the restaurant chain and possibly all fast food. It was released in May 2004, but a month of eating McDonald’s (the plot), in the end, didn’t kill director and star Morgan Spurlock. Who’s to say it didn’t shorten his life, but he did live until passing away from cancer this week at the age of 53, exactly 20 years after the movie’s release.

I think my decision to cut back on fast food was even more influenced by reading the excellent Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. The book was a slightly more intellectual indictment of fast food than the movie, but they did work powerfully in tandem. 

What seemed like the progress of the human species back then to taking steps for health improvement now only looks like a small blip on the radar, as parents allowing their children to regularly eat fast food continues to climb back to near universal numbers. 

The fast-food scare did, however, mostly end marketing directly to children, but now most of the publicity is done by celebrity spokespeople who draw kids into eating what used to be considered the adult food (only 2 percent of McDonald’s marketing budget is focused on Happy Meals).

During the month-long experiment that was Super Size Me, Spurlock gained a whopping 25 pounds as well as a slew of maladies including depression, fatigue, headaches, and liver and heart damage. He went on to have an impressive body of work in documentary filmmaking, including a follow up to Super Size Me about McDonald’s since-incorporated healthier food options, the pop band One Direction, male masculinity (in partnership with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett), and the only other one I’ve actually seen, Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? (which many critics said made too much light of a serious story).

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