Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Super Size Me vs. Fat Head - An Uncritical Review

A couple of announcements real quick:

1) The winner for the November Shirt Giveaway will be announced shortly.

2) You'll notice that the background of the site is going through some changes.  I'm experimenting with different patterns and gradients and colors because the black wasn't working anymore.  The only reason it was black in the first place was due to the original template color and I wanted the food pictures to stand out against the dark background.  But seeing how the site has evolved, it needed a more lively color.

You know those movies that you can watch over and over and never get tired of?  Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  Back to the Future.  The original Star Wars trilogy. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  The threesome scene in Wild Things.  Well here's one of mine that's a little more unusual: the 2004 Academy Award nominated documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock.

I'm not lovin' it, I do love it

If you've never seen it then you've likely heard of it: Spurlock conducts an experiment where he eats nothing but McDonald's for a month, three square meals a day.  The goal of the experiment was to prove that fast food, specifically his target McDonald's, is the main culprit in America's rising obesity epidemic and that the companies are "knowingly serving us unhealthy food" or "not doing enough to fix the problem", whichever reason sounds better to you.  After the 30 days of living every kid's dream, Spurlock had gained 24 pounds and nearly killed his liver.  To no one's surprise, McDonald's eliminated the Super Size menu shortly after the film was released and since then the whole "fast food companies need to give us healthy food" movement has forever changed the way we see McDonald's.  

First of all, why do I love this movie?  Because the premise is just so awesome.  Eating McDonald's for 30 days?  I don't care what the reason is for.  He could be doing it in an effort to resurrect Stalin, but the idea of eating nothing but Big Macs and Double Quarter Pounders for a month is awesome.  Second, Spurlock is a really entertaining guy.  He comes up with witty one liners on the fly and presents what would be otherwise boring information in an entertaining light.  Lastly, and this is more of a technical aspect: the sound.  Sound in film, in my opinion, is the gateway to creating a more involving experience with your audience.  For this movie, you hear every wrapper crinkle, every burp, every bite, every crunch.  That's probably why whenever I watch it I get really, really hungry.  Even in that scene where Spurlock pukes up his lunch - I love it.  

But then there's the other side of the coin as to what he was trying to prove.  I've voiced my displeasure on this site numerous times about people who complain about the healthiness of fast food.  Look, if you're going to McDonald's for a "nice healthy salad" then please stop reading this site.  I can't even stand to look at you.  People will and have argued that Super Size Me was some kind of propaganda film to take down the big fast food companies with lies and deceit and misinformation.  Others say it proves that fast food is a key reason, if not THE reason, why two-thirds of Americans are overweight.  I say both of those arguments are wrong and I'll tell you why: Fast food is just that - fast.  Its main attraction is that it's there when you need it, it's convenient, and it's cheap (unless you're getting a grilled cheese at Wendy's.  Four dollars my ass).  Because of that, it's irresponsible to think that you can live off cheeseburgers 5 days a week and not develop some extra baggage around your butt in the process.

I will say this - I think it's a good idea that fast food restaurants are expanding their menus to include stuff that's not 56000 calories.  But even then do you know how hard it is to eat healthy?  One of those salads at McD's may still include fried chicken and bacon.  And the dressings?  Those things are fatty as hell.  In some cases, one of those salads can easily take up over 20 grams of fat (you should only have about 30 in a day).  

So there's another movie that came out by a guy named Tom Naughton, who's basically Spurlock's Lex Luthor.  The film is called Fat Head and its goal is to rebuke everything that Super Size Me attempted to prove by featuring Naughton on a fast food diet (any fast food, not just McDonald's) for 30 days.

Let me start by saying this production had a tiny crew and all editing, cinematography, and music was done by Naughton himself, so all things considered this thing had really high production value.  However...

I wasn't thrilled with his methods of rebuking Spurlock.  Parts of this are very entertaining, but other parts play more like a slideshow from Ben Stein's character in The Wonder Years. There are extensive sequences of interviews, super extensive scientific jargon where it's more telling than it is showing, and some of his arguments don't make a heck of a lot of sense.  The science part of it I can't really comment on because there was honestly so much of it that I simply couldn't digest it.  

But what I can comment on is the fact that this plays more like a Michael Moore documentary than anything else.  It seems like Naughton is accusing Spurlock of lying and that Super Size Me was all fictionalized.  One thing he argues is that Spurlock's nutritionist (read that, his nutritionist, not him) says he was taking in 5000 calories per day and then went on to disprove that by taking combinations of three McDonald's meals and rarely getting over 3600 calories.  True - those combos didn't add up to 5000.  But is this nutritionist supposed to know all of McDonald's calorie figures by heart?  Give me a break.  The fact that he made such a big deal out of nothing also led to this nasty little blemish:

Yes, while saying that he's a computer programmer and loves math and criticizing Spurlock for supposedly dishing out numbers that "don't add up", this guy actually made a basic arithmetic error in his own frickin' movie right square on the screen.  Now - I started watching this on Hulu late last night and was amazed that this kind of error can happen.  I even thought that maybe Naughton was trolling his audience because it just seemed too perfect that the numbers don't add up while he himself is saying that Spurlock's numbers don't add up.  See the whole sequence here to see what I mean.  I even asked The World According to Rich if a documentarian would purposely put an error in their film to prove a point.  

I did a search on this one item, seeing if there was any information of the error online or if it was some joke the guy purposely put in and found nothing...until I found the 3 minute sequence on YouTube...and here's what it looked like:

I'd say your first numbers were a bunch of Naughtonian Bologna

Obviously an error that he corrected for uploading to Fat Head's YouTube channel.  But I mean - really?  How can you make that blatant of an error?  In your own movie?  Distributing it around the world?  While trashing Spurlock and saying his numbers "don't add up"?  Amazing.  

At the end of Naughton's experiment, he wound up losing 12 pounds by eating nothing but fast food.  In fact, all of his numbers (cholesterol, LDI, TNT, TBS, MSNBC, etc.) went down, whereas Spurlock had gained 25 by the end of his spree.  How is that?  Who knows.  Everyone is built differently.  I would lose weight whenever I went to the All-You-Can-Eat Prime Rib Buffet for $11.75.  Naughton also kept his calorie intake to 2000 each day and walked a few miles 6 times a week.  Spurlock didn't exercise at all and didn't appear to calorie count.

What are the lessons here?  Spurlock thinks fast food restaurants need to be more responsible in the kind of food they sell because even though his 30 day/90 meal marathon was an obvious aberration, there are people who eat there frequently, even daily.  Naughton suggests that fast food can be a regular part of an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle and that the government's regulations are a bunch of bologna.  However, they both meet in the middle to say that, ultimately, it all comes down to personal responsibility and I couldn't agree more. 

The government ordered all fast food restaurants to clearly display the nutritional information of their products (and even print them on the containers).  However, is seeing the number of calories really going to stop you when you're already inside McDonald's?  Did you really not know about the high fat content or other crap that's found in pretty much every fast food item?  Maybe it helps, I dunno.  But I know exactly what I'm doing when I walk into McDonald's looking to stuff my face with a double quarter pounder meal. 

Speaking of which, I nearly had a Spurlock moment the other day.  I was eating this stuff in my car and, man, that is a deceivingly large amount of food.  On the drive back I thought I felt something about to come back up and say hi...but it didn't.  Hey, that's a new word for the Dictionary - Spurlock Moment.

Spurlock Moment; adjective: used to describe the moment after eating something tasty that it may come back up; puking.

Example: Morgan Spurlock had the ultimate Spurlock Moment when he puked up his double quarter pounder meal in this scene of Super Size Me.  

I'd give both of those films a look.  Both are on YouTube, probably illegally.

Thanks for reading!