Socialist Worker 429, June 30, 2004 N www.socialist.ca Socialist Forum Supersized, Sexist Shame I have never before seen a movie that I hated so much. Not because it was more offensive than anything regularly churned out by Hollywood, but because it was billed as a funny, insightful critique of the fast-food industry and a much needed attack on McDonald’s from an anti-corporate perspective. But between the sexist fat jokes, the horrifying analyses of disordered eating and the reactionary conclusions about women, disabilities, and the entire working class, its effects are to breed exactly the kind of shame and moralism that capitalism relies on to divide and debilitate the working class. Morgan Spurlock has been criticized for only presenting individualistic solutions to systemic problems, but on this charge I would like to defend him. His social conclusion is quite clear: "Get back in the kitchen, ladies, get in shape, and make me an organic sandwich" A film, documentary or not, cannot be judged merely on what it says verbally, or purports to stand for ideologically. Visual imagery is an essential tool in carrying a message. And on this score, Supersize Me pulls no punches. It opens with a 1950’s scene of an apron-wearing woman standing at her stove and merrily cooking away. In the voiceover, Spurlock tells us of how his mother home-cooked all of his meals when he was growing up. Every time he saw her, she was in the kitchen. Without any analysis of the changing roles of work and the family in advanced capitalism, he mourns the loss of the perennial wife and mother, waiting at home to nourish her family. Luckily for him, Spurlock manages to recreate this familial relationship with his vegan chef girlfriend, who serves him an organic, nutrient packed meal before he embarks on his fast-food binge. She gently scolds him that he’ll be craving such vegetables throughout his month-long stunt. The premise of the film is this: Spurlock is about to spend a month eating McDonald’s meals three times a day. When the temptresses at the McDonald’s counter ask him to "Super Size" he has to say "yes". Not surprisingly, he gains weight and becomes quite ill. He phones his mother from the doctors‚ office to tell her that there are now fatty deposits in his liver. She responds, "You can have part of my liver, honey." Throughout the film, his girlfriend is interviewed, a halo of blonde hair around her worried head, lamenting the declining health of her man. She complains to the camera that his sexual stamina is fading, so now she has to be "on top". As the film progresses, it highlights the growing problem of obesity in the United States with the sensitivity of a sledgehammer. Deviant bodies that demonstrate more than "acceptable" amounts of fat, are objectified as the camera voyeuristically lingers on fleshy folds and bouncing cellulite. Women’s bottoms are particularly targeted for ridicule and the peels of laughter from the audience reward this age-old sexist humour. A man is interviewed who complains that while it is acceptable to lecture someone who lights a cigarette at your table after dinner about the health impacts of smoking, he would not be able to tell a large woman not to eat dessert, warn her of the health problems associated with obesity or call her a "fat pig". Spurlock includes this piece to brashly challenge the hypocrisy of a society where he thinks fat people just have it too easy. This logic is revealed again as a young woman explains the shame she feels about her body, and how she eats to make herself feel better. She describes the depression she experiences looking at models and TV stars, and wondering why she doesn’t look like them. As she speaks, the frame is covered bit by bit, with pictures of conventionally "beautiful" women, until we can no longer see the young woman. The message ultimately being that the film is out to silence such "excuses". This scene appears after Spurlock purges out of his car window in the early days of his McDonald’s binge. No analysis is taken of disordered eating as the camera zooms in on the vomit. No questions are asked of a system that markets both excess and shame as a way to promote equally dangerous and unhealthy fast food and dieting industries. Supersize Me does not challenge this contradictory message by recognizing that healthy bodies come in a range of forms. Instead, it jumps on the popular bandwagon that fleshy bodies belong to lazy deviants and healthy bodies should consist only of bone and muscle. Michael Moore has often been accused of being overly blunt to make important political points. But at least he maintains a sense of class politics, that it is the little people against the giant corporation or government. Spurlock’s construction is "moralist vegans take on the lazy working class". This theme is revealed most concretely in Spurlock’s device that measures the number of steps he takes each day. As soon as he reaches the number that an "Average American" takes, he reluctantly jumps into a cab. The fact that the people are working longer and longer hours in restrictive conditions is not considered. We are just told that Detroit, an industrial city, is the "fattest" city in America. Spurlock points to the evils of cars and talks about how Americans use mechanical devices when they should be using their bodies. When he is critiquing this dependency, the camera zooms in on a disabled woman on a scooter. The shot accents her physical girth, the message being what? She’s fat, so her disability must be her own fault? That good health is something bestowed on the worthy for making good choices? Ostensibly, the film is reproducing this culture of shame as a way of shocking people to stop eating at McDonald’s. But all it really does is give respectability to ideas that ultimately divide movements instead of building the kind of solidarity based on genuine respect that will ultimately be required to take down corporate giants. Julie Devaney, Thornhill Socialist Worker 429, June 30, 2004 N www.socialist.ca http://www.socialist.ca http://www.web.net/sworker/En/SW2004/429-08-supersize.htm