Saturday, June 25, 2005

Supersizing the Debate

It begins way back in 2004 with this post of mine about Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me. A lot of folks praised the movie as cautionary and great, but I thought it merely a stunt that set about to selectively prove its own hypothesis. I linked to a story in the Denver Post by Al Lewis (the link has since expired) who wrote about a woman, a teacher if I recall correctly, who had set out to prove you could also lose weight by eating at McDonald's if you ate carefully and healthfully. She lost 7 pounds during her month of MickyD.

The teacher's movie disappeared and Spurlock went on to great acclaim and his own television series. Memphis own Dr. Abby recently wrote about an episode where Spurlock set out to prove you couldn't get by on minimum wage. As this Blogcritics post shows, Spurlock again fudged the facts to prove his hypothesis.

I chided Dr. Abby gently in her comments and gave her links to show how deceptive Spurlock was. Her response rather surprised me:
Maybe I’m more compassionate about this because I DO work with many people stuck in minimum-wage jobs, and I also read Morgan’s blog for a while, and he seems to have his heart in the right place. ... [B]ut my desire to have the points that he makes made is so overwhelming that I’m willing to forgive minor details such as the ones mentioned.
Now first, let me say I like Abby a lot and respect her intelligence and passion. I just disagree with a point here, and she happens to be the one who made it. Nothing personal in this at all. OK?

I read this as "It's OK to lie, misrepresent or sensationalise if it serves a purpose." I have great problems with that point of view. Who decides the purpose? Who draws the line where the lie is too great or the sensationalising is too much? Who decides which intent is the greater good, or if it is even good? If the person doing the lying or sensationalising is profiting handsomely in the doing, should that be considered as a factor?

What bothered me initially with Spurlock's movie (I don't call it a documentary, since propagandising is the core of the movie.) is that he sets blame for America's weight problem with the fast food companies. But they only sell what people want. If people didn't want to eat what they served, we'd see McTofu or Salad King. The "problem" is with people.

That's what the teacher in the Post story and this woman, in another effort to show that McDonald's greasy, fatty options aren't the trouble are doing. The "fault" is with consumers, with people.

Business sells what people want. You don't see many buggy whip and corset stores, do you? Of course not. The trick, if you will, is to raise our children, and to have our schools teach out children, to be skeptical, to be rational and to doubt. We used to do that. Not well, but better than today. That's part of what bugged me about Dr. Abby's comment, that it was preferring the emotional over the rational. That's never a formula for successful results.

Just ask anyone who's faced an angry mob demanding "justice."

On the other hand, a skeptical people can't be manipulated by advertising and our economy suffers as a result. The fast food and grocery store meal industries would collapse, as would fashion, clothing, and a hundred others. We'd be a much less spectacular people and culture.

But we'd be healthier in a dozen different ways.

So what finally got me to post this was another Blogcritics post that talks about another woman repeating the "healthy eating at McDonald's" experiment. She also lost weight and improved her cholesterol! But read down into the comments and you'll see motives, methodology and supporters questioned in a way Spurlock never faced. She's doing just what he did, for similar reasons, but somehow she's a bad deceptive person where Spurlock wasn't.

Spurlock fits into the zeitgeist of today: alienation, dependency, fearfulness, powerlessness and lack of responsibility. His work serves a greater interest, just not the one most people think and certainly not one that's good for you. Supersized or not.

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