The documentary film Super Size Me, one of the most popular documentaries of today, was inspired by the fast-food obesity case Pelman v. McDonalds Corp. This is important to all of America because of the proliferation of fast food restaurants and the health issues that come with them. Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me, came up with the idea of the film after having Thanksgiving dinner in 2002 and was in 'a tryptophan haze.' He saw a television news report about the Pelman case and remembers a quote from a spokesman saying: "You can't link our food to these girls being sick or fat." This is where the argument of the film and the subsequent rhetoric used originated from. He immediately saw a basis for argument from that statement. The judge in the Pelman case asserted that the over-consumption of McDonald's food might be actionable misuse (Austin, 2007). A better argument based on over-consumption would involve a claim that McDonald's products are unreasonably dangerous for their intended use. It is with this argument that the film runs to prove the proposition of the director. The film Super Size Me, a film made on a budget of $65,000 grossed $28,575,078 worldwide. In this film, we find the use of rhetoric to assert Spurlock's position on the issue and the accompanying social change (Austin, 2007). In the film, Spurlock experimented using himself as a subject. He lived on nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days. Based on this experiment, he could only eat items sold at McDonald's, he had to eat three meals a day whether or not he was hungry, and he had to eat everything on the McDonald's menu at least once. The title of the film comes from the rule that whenever he was asked if he wanted to "super size" his order, he will do so. Spurlock was oblivious to the social setting in which he ate. He focused on eating under the watchful eye of the camera, the cameraman, and other unidentified minions whose voices are heard, but whose faces are not seen (Austin, 2007). By the end of the month, evidences, in the form of results, are clearly presented for Spurlock's viewpoint on the argument. A great form of rhetoric used was the actual results, Spurlock gained about 25 pounds. His cholesterol and body fat increased considerably. The film grandly used physical evidence to show its position. The diet resulted to significant adversities on the subject's physical health, as shown by the results of medical lab tests. The effect which took its toll on his liver was especially important (Austin, 2007). Super Size Me had a wide variety of effective rhetoric tools and with those tools it was able to portray an important message to society; Frequent Fast food consumption can cause many health problems, Most of which are very serious.
Throughout the film, Spurlock also used the rhetoric tool of Colloquial language. Although there is a fallacy that people think to make a strong point or to convince a group you must use professional language techniques, Spurlock proved this through the use of his colloquial language because he created a very effective argument. He argues that kids don't know what there doing to themselves by making McDonald's a large part of their diets "These kids can't show that their weight problems and health woes were caused solely by their McDiets"(Super Size Me). Spurlock also uses colloquial language to describe some of the sensations his body begins to go through during his experiment "See, now's the time of the meal when you start getting the McStomach ache. You start getting the McTummy. You get the McGurgles in there. You get the McBrick, then you get the McStomach ache. Right now I've got some McGas that's rockin'. My arms... I feel like I've got some McSweats goin'. My arms got the McTwitches going in here from all the sugar that's going in my body right now. I'm feeling a little McCrazy."(Super Size Me). Spurlock used colloquial language that manifested things that people hate like stomach aches with the famous "Mc" trademark that is directly tied with the McDonald's corporation and thus put fear in people about eating McDonalds.
However, one ineffective transition in the film is in between its scenes. Not to be confused with the great rhetoric chapter transitions that occur with the help of cartoons and music along with comparison titles like "The Last Supper". The film attempts to draw out suspense of whether Spurlock can make it through the month. Such narrative is an important tool in engaging the public to accept the film's viewpoint. Similar to the principal advocates involved in advancing a cause, the film relies on rhetoric; the presentation of persuasive arguments intended to produce action. The film-maker interspersed between segments of Spurlock eating, enjoying and suffering through his McDonald's diet and interviews (Austin, 2007). Super-Size Me largely incorporated interviews, which in part accounts for the large number of people who appeared on camera (Martz-Mayfield & Hallahan, 2009). In terms of visual interplay, the film effectively used creative animation, graphics, and paintings by pop artist and billboard propagandist Ron English. The film employs the use of visual depictions of printed items such as maps, quotes, documents, pictures, advertisements and charts as his primary source material. In addition, he features clips of his experience in lower or middle class environments like schools, shopping malls, stores and urban areas. Moreover, it also effectively used sound effects, with a hip, contemporary soundtrack, blend with the video segments. The film effectively generates a captivating compilation that illuminates the impact of fast food on the collective physique (Austin, 2007).
Again a great rhetoric tool is used because the subject of the film is serious. However, the tone and approach used are humorous and entertaining. Much of the information the film incorporates is what consumers are assumed to know or what they should know. The film used this information to expose the lack of dietary information available to the ordinary fast-food consumer (Austin, 2007). Unrelated to this documentary President Barrack Obama signed a health care law that requires fast food chains to list calorie information on their menus and promotional signs that would take effect on 2011 (NDTV). The film attempts to reveal the impact of fast-food marketing in making children less mentally competitive about the world and less physically fit than they should be. The author used documentary evidence to show this point. It presented disturbing scenes of first graders who vaguely knew George Washington, entirely lacks knowledge about Jesus Christ, but knows a great deal about Ronald McDonald. It also presented a school cafeteria cook who said that the "best tool" she has is a box cutter with which to open packages of government-issued food that can be reconstituted, reheated, and served for lunch (Austin, 2007). Well the kids don't need to worry about the frozen cafeteria food because they definitely love their fast food, as demonstrated by singing a song early in the movie, going a little something like this "A Pizza Hut! A Pizza Hut! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut! A Pizza Hut! A Pizza Hut! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut! McDonalds! McDonalds! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut! McDonalds! McDonalds! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut! I like food! I like food! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut! You like food! You like food! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut!"
Super Size Me tries to bring forth social change through various tools. It challenges the nutritional value, portion sizes, and marketing techniques used to promote fast-food. The arguments of the film on the associated health risks received much attention from the media all over the world (Martz-Mayfield & Hallahan, 2009). The film opens with the former surgeon general, sitting in front of a bookshelf, speaking about the health costs and impact that fast food lifestyles have had on children. Disturbing information conveyed by the film is that according to statistic in the last 20 to 25 years, the number of overweight and obese children and adolescents have doubled. The scene then suddenly turns to a McDonald's where Spurlock narrates that this weight gain has been linked to countless health problems later in life, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and respiratory problems, endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancer, dyslipidemia, steatohepatitis, insulin resistance, asthma, hyperuricemia, reproductive hormone abnormalities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, impaired fertility, and adult onset diabetes (The College Board, 2008). Then more rhetoric is used as Spurlock reads the list, large square cartoon images portraying each disease fly in to the center of the screen, then miniaturize, and begin tiling over the McDonald's, beginning with the upper-left hand corner, and proceeding to the right and down across the screen, until the last image covers the square in the lower-right hand corner. The squares dissolve, and the camera focuses on the body of an overweight young woman, from her shoulders to her knees, while Spurlock continues to share more statistic that are significant to the scope of the problem. As he narrates, the camera zooms out to show the young woman and her friends standing in front of what appears to be a school building. Next, the scene turns to a press conference in which Tommy Thompson, the United States Health and Human Services Secretary, tells that at least 17 million Americans now have Type 2 diabetes, about one out of every 20 people (The College Board, 2008).
The message in the film is obvious. It conveys that everyday consumption of food will cause major health issues. In this narrative film, the message of the filmmaker is manifested within the rhetoric of film technique and metaphors in the plot. However, while the film uses the rhetoric of film technique to convey its message, the content of the film is deliberately obvious depictions of its message. Spurlock is manifesting his message that eating fast food every day will cause major health issues by engaging himself in an experiment where he eats fast food every day (Austin, 2007). The intended audience of this film is typical consumers of fast food. These include middle and lower class urbanites. They are identified as the people who should act to bring about social change. Spurlock uses rhetoric that these classes can most relate with in order to be most successful in his persuasion. Super-Size Me fundamentally addressed the problem of child obesity and the poor eating habits in general. The film defines the issue in terms of the unhealthy choices provided by fast-food chains particularly McDonalds. High fat content, needlessly large portion sizes and marketing campaigns that focus on highly profitable (but marginally nutritious) menu items were cited as the real problem. Super-Size Me challenged McDonalds to offer healthier food choices. It also challenges fast-food restaurants to inform consumers about the nutritional content of its offerings, and to cease unscrupulous marketing to children (Martz-Mayfield & Hallahan, 2009). One of the most important rhetorical techniques in the film is claims-making. This is making representations about situations. Claims-making is central to the constructionist approach to social problems in modern sociology and reflects and also the gap between public perceptions and objective conditions associated with issues. Claims involve defining the nature of a problem. The film clearly characterized the type of problem which is social in nature. It also revealed the cause of the problem which is the lack of available information for the public and promoting healthier food choices. Finally, the film also includes arguments for a possible solutions to the problem. In the case of Super Size Me, animations and accompanying sounds and pictures were to illustrate statistics. In the film, Symbols were used to portray unhealthy realities such as overweight girls, restaurant menu boards, soda and junk food vending machines to abandoned toys and playground equipments and pedometers. These symbols are representing the need for people to be more active and exercise more. Dramatizations were instrumental devices used to advance the story of the film. Morgan Spurlock dramatized the threat of unhealthful fast food in the film by chronicling a quasi-experiment. The film also showed the audience some critical data by documenting his regular visits to the doctors, physical therapists and nutritionists to analyze and report on the quick decline in his health .
Super Size Me is a funny, insightful documentary that has enlightened audiences as to the dangers of fast food and spurred activism around food issues in a way that is unique to non-fiction film. Morgan Spurlock is clever, creative, and was willing to use a non-fiction film to engage an audience in arguments over serious social conflicts going on. One weakness of the film is that it is framed in what is only a particular take on the issue of fast food and obesity as a general exploration of the problem. The general and the particular are contested categories today. As society has become more diverse, the filmmaker should be conscious of their tendency to treat a part of a problem or conflict as if it were the whole. Moreover, what seems generally true or relevant based on socioeconomic power is not necessarily universally true in the sense of being emblematic of the human condition. What could be more global than the struggle not only to have sufficient food to eat, but also to have food that nourishes the body and satisfies the cultural imperatives of the soul, all in the face of man-made scarcity? Such is the point of the Pelman case (The College Board, 2008). Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me employs emotional appeals and logical fallacies, in addition to carefully established facts and reasoning, for its arguments. The director asserts particular positions on respective issues. Logical fallacies are not necessarily indicators of flawed logic, but rather are attempts to move and/or manipulate the audience. The film attempts to move the audience to experience ideas on an emotional, instinctive, and almost visceral level (The College Board, 2008). Morgan Spurlock used many different rhetoric tools to portray his argument about the social harm caused by the fast food industry, and through those tools he was able to effectively demonstrate the health risks caused by eating too much fast food. Will it get through to everyone and discourage this type of nutrition and all the health problems that follow, probably not but it's a start.