The lame edge of Supersize me

September 11, 2007 at 8:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments
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These days my blog is kinda turning into a movie review blog. Doesn’t matter! I watched Supersize me (USA 2004, directed by Morgan Spurlock) two days ago, again mainly for getting to know what the fuss is all about.

Now that I HAVE seen it, I really wonder whether it was considered a cutting-edge documentary in the US, the country where it was produced? Many of the arguments brought forward seem very unconvincing and beside the point to Europeans – I am thinking in particular of the sequences where Morgan is checking whether any McDonalds has put up the chart with nutritional information. Tey largely haven’t, which seems to cause legal problems, but:

Excuse me, but who needs a chart with nutritional information to know that fast food is crap? (Checking calorie charts alienates you from food and your natural eating habits anyway) How can anybody be eating junk food and then claim ‘McDonalds never told me this is crap’? It’s in its legal aspect where the movie seems to lose its cutting edge. And Morgan’s girlfriend, the vegan chef, was just as annoying. Saying that vegan, organic nutrition is the only good thing you can do to yourself in the nutrition department is just as stupid as going to McDonalds three times a day. It seems as if (some of the US) Americans have really lost every sense for what food is and what to do with it. And that fat teenager who said how inspiring it was to have talked to somebody who lost weight but then said “He says that I should just go and buy a sandwich twice a day, but some people just cannot do that, I cannot do that. It’s just not that easy.”

Makes you wonder – is she too stupid or too poor to buy a sandwich? If she can’t buy one – why not make one at home? And anyhow – that’s just another mindless rule: “Eat sandwiches. Don’t eat carbohydrates. Drink light products.” Alienates you just as well.

Either way: Watching those morbidly obese Americans on their electric shopping carts made me want to slap them! And the only sequence I really enjoyed in the movie was when one guy reported how smokers get harassed with lines like “Don’t you know how harmful that is? You could die right away and kill the ones around you too!” whereas nobody goes out and shouts at a blob: “Look at what you’ve done to your body! Don’t you know that is going to give you a heart attack? And don’t you dare have a desert now!”

Also, how anybody can drink litres and litres of soda is beyond me. Drink water, that’s what nature provided for quenching our thirst. Sodas are desert.

Interesting note: The movie was broadcast on Austrian private channel ATV, and McDonalds had indeed NOT failed to book advertisement with it – they snuck a brief one in at the end of the commercial creak. You hardly noticed what was movie and what was commercial. Supersize me is, after all, branded all over.

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  1. I wonder if the fat teenager had a name? Slapping morbidly obese Americans seems like kicking sick people because they’re sick, and one would prefer not to look at them. I imagine they’re suffering already.

    There’s a strong correlation between obesity and poverty. If we can tackle poverty it might make a difference in waistlines.

    I’m also uncomfortable with statements about what food is for. If you’re poor, traumatized, whatever, food–even bad food, might be a little comfort. It seems a bit high handed to be telling people what to do with their skittles.

    I’ve not seen the movie, but don’t doubt its share of problems and lameness. I’m uneasy about obese Americans or obese people anywhere being accused of character as opposed to simply nutritive deficiency. The anger at fat people seems misguided.

  2. As far as I remember, the fat teenager did not have a name, at least it wasn’t mentioned (maybe in the scroll).

    The idea is of course to slap them in order to wake them up, not in order to punish them!

    This is true: The less money you have, the less nutritional value does your food have. Poor people don’t have organic food.

    Yet I have difficulties considering people who can afford electronic vehicles to drive their big asses around being poor in the sense of having to live on a two dozen cheap donuts for 99c a day.

    There is also a link between obesity and education, and that is probably an even stronger one.

    Furthermore, there is a link between consumer culture and obesity. If you think that meat comes in the shape of nuggets, it’s no surprise if can only consume and not appreciate it.

    Bottom line is: It’s easier for me to direct my anger at representations of fat people because their mere existence is the result of such a complex process that there is noone/nothing at whom I could address my anger.

    Mr Spurlock tried to target McDonald who are, as a brand, not ‘attackable’ –> see that fact that they even book airtime during the commercial breaks of this film.

    So yes, I am aware that fat people are just the big end of the food chain, yet I am angry at them for their irresponsible behaviour: not only towards themselves and their bodies, but towards earth’s resources – and it makes me even sicker when I think of the amount of money it costs to make up for the damage the do to themselves (medication & surgery).

    Stuffing your face may temporarily ease the trauma of being the victim of capitalism and your whole miserable existence, but it nonetheless makes you fall even deeper into the trap.

    Cabbage, old comrade, don’t tell me you are suddenly developing sympathetic feelings for over-consumption???

    One thing about poverty: If you’re poor in Africa, then you are really fucked. If you’re poor in Northern America and Western Europe, then you basically need to get your act together a bit and look at what people did in the centuries before there was junk food. My mom, for instance, makes less than 300 Euros a month at the moment – yet grows her own food, exchanges pickles with neighbours, knows how to transform a bag of beef bones into something delicious and (believe it or not) still manages to save a little bit.

    And I guess she is kind of my role model in that sense – I am not much of a cook in comparison to her, yet I do think that not needing much is an ideal that I aspire to (with the exception of money spent on a good computer and internet connection, of course). And I really think the world would be a better place if more people felt about it that way.

  3. No, I’m certainly not developing sympathetic feelings for over-consumption. But I do wonder about understanding epidemic obesity (which we surely have here) as over-consumption.

    I’m worried that weight is being conflated with irresponsible behavior. This diminishes the role of genetics on the one hand, and a host of environmental factors like education and the availability of transportation on the other.

    The rhetoric of personal responsibility has been used in the US for a host of deleterious political causes. In the 90s, for example, it was used to turn welfare into workfare, with the result that millions were dumped from the welfare rolls, not because they were lazy, but because there either weren’t jobs available to them, or they had to take care of children, or they couldn’t get to jobs, or they were working jobs like baby-sitting that the state failed to recognize.

    The irresponsible people thesis suggests that all people really need is to pull themselves up by the boot-straps and thus, at least in the US, the right-wing deploys this excuse when it guts social-welfare programs.

    I’d go a step further to distinguish between North America and Western Europe. In Western Europe something like a welfare state still exists–this is why Sarkozy is such a threat in France. Whereas in the hyper-neo-liberal US, healthcare is a privilege and there are simply no guarantees should you lose your job, become disabled, or otherwise encounter difficulty.

    I understand directing anger at representations of fat people. Your anger is at the complex process that produces them, and the representations of fat people are more readily discernible than that process. But the same argument could be made about emaciated Ethiopian people. They are more visible than the forces that exacerbate their privation.

    I wonder too, if the electronic vehicles aren’t provided by insurance? This is speculative. I don’t know. But the electronic vehicle just seems to further obscure the complex we’re discussing.

    You can slap fat people, but it would be worthwhile to talk to them first. The real irresponsible behavior comes from the corporations that profit from marketing junk, and really squandering resources. In other words, the complex problem is capitalism–that creates consumers and allows some of them the privilege of frugality.

    Where to go with impotent anger at the grotesqueness of capitalism and its consumers is a good question. I don’t think fat people are the answer.

  4. I want to append a quick note to just say that I appreciate that we can have this discussion. No acrimony here; I’m glad we’re talking about this.

    I sometimes feel that blog discussions tend to be a bit light, without really looking into matters.

    Maybe being able to be critical with one another is the litmus of a good comrade. We seem to be doing okay.🙂

  5. First off: Yes, you’re right, and I see the danger of spreading the ‘they-could-if-only-they wanted’ ideology. And to start with, it is quite unbelievable that most schools in the US seem to sell junk-food and that soda vending machines are everywhere. And yes, it not easy to develop an ‘alternative approach to eating’ (which should be the normal one, but is made alternative because the mainstream is junk). THAT is really a sin (a really so unbelievable!) and one of the nails in the coffin.

    And we do have a proper health system here – and also one that is looking more and more towards the prevention of diseases. (Btw, the trolley in question was a pretty fashionable one, I suppose health care would rather give you a wheel chair – but it doesn’t matter anyhow.)

    Regarding the term ‘epidemic obesity’ – I, on the contrary, am very concerned about calling the phenomenon an epidemic. Like it was something that you can just catch and for which you are not responsible.

    I never quite get how the two fit together: On the one hand, it seems as if America is infested with the Youcangetitifyourreallywant-ideology (meaning it’s your fault if your poor) – so YOU above all are responsible for your own destiny.

    But on the other hand, you have this business about suing everyone – suing a fast food chain if you become obese, sue a oven manufacturer if they didn’t tell you you mustn’t microwave your puppy, etc. – meaning that one tries to shove responsibility upon everybody else.

    How do the two fit together? There must be a link between the two, but both perspectives are pretty alien to European culture, and I like it that way.

    So I would like to go back about my idea of having lost the sense of what food is or is supposed to be – if that notion alone is note to esoteric to you.

    Consider the example of bread for instance- as you might probably know from having talking to Jetsam: Germans think very highly of their bread, and the truth is – if you have ever had good bread like this bread, than you will know that soft white bread, sandwich style, is rubbish. Not good for you. And developing a sense of what is good for you is possible – even without much money and helluvan education. But you need to give good food a try, and not think you need to discipline yourself.

    I guess I am trying to negotiate a middle space between complete (Adornian) dictatorship of the industry over our needs and the notion that you can always pull yourself out of any mess. A more wholesome lifestyle, in terms of mental and corporal diet. I don’t know – I am just trying to find a description for my emotional response when watching the film. I know they’re troubled – yet I don’t think sympathy would help. Having sympathy for smokers didn’t help either.

    Hey, you know I would never slap a fatty, I merely registered the urge to slap them when I see them on film, and not all fatties, just the ones on electric carts, buying their bucket of muffins for the week-end!

    Ok, that was hate-speech.

    — and yes, I also appreciate being critical with one another, that’s the salt in the soup🙂

  6. It is the salt, indeed. As far as bread goes I’m a whole-wheat man and always have been (thanks mom!).
    Jetsam and I have not really spoken at length about bread, though we did have an evening of loaf-baseball or some such outside of a supermarket in Kansas that involved breaking a baguette over my head? It’s fuzzy…his memory may be better.

    Hmmm…pimp my trolley…dunno. The reality show is just waiting to happen. There is a reality show now where Shaquille O’Neil (Sic?) coaches a group of overweight young people. I’ve only seen commercials.

    Perhaps in the US we’ve mistaken tort for tortes? I will note that the youcangetitifyoureallywant right is in favor of “tort reform,” that is, limiting the liability of corporations to lawsuit from individuals. My own opinion is that there’s no need to protect corporations. They’re doing just fine. So the resolution of the contradiction you note might be something like this: the people who believe in up by the bootstraps also believe in limiting corporate liability. The rest of us believe in neither. And some people in the middle are just confused.

    I’m very interested in the question of what food is supposed to be. I’ve been enjoying Danon Danactive immunity blast drink and Activa yogurt. I eat blueberries even when sour. Healthy food matters. I’m an access advocate. I believe that when healthy food is available people will choose it. Because it’s delicious, and because bad food makes you feel bad.

    I think I’m more on the Adornian side of the dictatorship of industry question.

    I should probably watch the film before I launch into a discussion for which it is in part a referent. I might have a similar emotional response, after all.

    I am still giggling and feeling guilty for giggling at the “you know I would never slap a fatty line.” Aye!

  7. And that’s the actual point, probably. Fighting those corporations is hard, fruitless work. Make good food available and people will eat it.

    And I think that this also includes that CHEAP food must be banned. It makes me mad when I see you can buy a frozen chicken for 4 Euros (or less!). Try feeding and slaughtering a chicken for 4 Euros yourself!

    It’s not going to work. The chicken is depressed for all of its life and gets nothing but junk food and then it is slaughtered in a machine and we eat it. No wonder we have so many depressed people, can’t be good, eating depressed creaturse.

    That line was bad. I hate it when I violate political correctness, but it also makes me giggle.

  8. And ask Jetsam to tell you something about German bread!

  9. The sad chicken is probably a vegetarian advocate. And so am I, of late, for health–but also for political reasons. I’ve been meaning to read Carol J. Adams “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” but haven’t gotten around to it. One day…

    In the meantime, I’m going to have to get back to Goethe–or my confused students will be slapping me.

    I’ll make a point of learning about German bread from Jetsam. He and I are due to grab lunch sometime soon.

  10. A digression, but I’ve been meaning to ask, is Faust standard reading for students in Germany? Some of my students think being asked to read it is cruel and unusual punishment.

  11. I used to be a vegetarian for several years, but stopped because I couldn’t donate blood anymore, not enough red blood cells. Now I am trying to eat meat that cames from happy animals, but in theory, I’d prefer to be vegetarian.

    Faust: No standard in school (school meaning: secondary), no time for it. But every other year they had a Faust class at my university (I studied theater, film and television sciences) where th entire (!) Faust I+II was read in one go (!). I never attended though, but heard it was quite well-received.

  12. Anaj, I liked what you had to say about this film, although the film itself did essentially answer some of your points.

    You say that it is obvious that junk food is bad for you. Spurlock is indicating that the poorly educated Americans are too dumb to recognise this.
    The US standard of education is not on par with other countries. They seem to dumb-it-down constantly. They let TV rear their kids.

  13. Maybe he didn’t dare too make it too obvious that they’re poorly educated – yet the footage from the school cantina was really shocking. Nothing but fries, sweets and soda?

  14. What you said about obesity and choice of diet was interesting too.
    Chronically addicted fat people will always opt for donuts, burgers etc because their body wants the fix.
    Eating a balanced, healthy vegetarian diet may be the most viable medical option, but few people are prepared to commit the time, research and patience to do this.

    It is hard not to eat crap, and fulfilling your nutritional needs requires knowledge and time.
    As you indicated, healthy food options such as organic food is marketed at trendy people and so the prices are higher. Growing your own is smart.

  15. I suppose the body needs the fix. This year during lent I ate no sugar, no meat no alcohol for the whole 4.5 weeks. I m going to do it again next years – it confronts you with your cravings.

    I suppose you first have to learn to appreciate what real and good food is (my brother, by comparison, lives on sweets, chips and processed cheese – same parent, different level of education – oh, and my grandmom loved stuffing her grandson, too!)

  16. I love fasting. It is appallingly hard work and serves to stop me from taking more than my share.
    Each obese person is carrying enough stored/wasted food to feed several other people.
    The Africa insight you mentioned in poignant. In Africa poverty can mean death. In America, it means McDonalds.

  17. That is the thing that annoys me most! You could probably feed half a dozen of people in some parts of Africa! It would be malnutrition though (too much fat and sugar).

  18. Are you suggesting that we re-process obese people? What a splendid notion… Remove their stored produce and recycle it.

    An aside – re Logan’s Run – did you pick up on the fact that the cyborg Box was freezing runners as a food source for the city?

    Akin to Soylent Green.

    I was thinking with obese people that their excess intake should be re-directed prior to physical storage.

  19. No! I meant that the food they eat (dunno – 5000-8000 calories) could easily keep alive half a dozen of half-starved people – or feed 2 to 3 properly.

    No, the thing about the frozen runners escaped me – yet I don’t think it is in the movie? I only remember him speaking of algae. Or was that a code word?

  20. Box had run out of food to process. He said that oceans were once teeming with life but they’d run out. I may be wrong – it has been a while since I saw the movie.

    Have you seen The Fountain?

  21. The movie the Foutain or the Fountain on top of the Powerstation? (I watched it in German, so it sometimes needs a while to match the terms)

  22. The Hugh Jackman film?

  23. Ah, Darren Aronofsky! I don’t like Aronofsky. I wasn’t very thrilled about Pi, it was an exercise in postmodernism intellectuals to me, nothing more.

  24. Although it’s probably better with real actors like Jackman and Burstyn in it. – I am going to log off to do my breathing exercises now and then get some work done.

  25. […] Pt. 3 December 1, 2007 at 10:14 pm | In Film | Tags: Chocolat, Johnny Depp, Juliette Binoche Once again I watched a movie that my gut feeling had previously stopped me from watching – and found it to be […]


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