A Greasy Mirror: Analyzing the film Super Size Me and fast-food

Freedom of speech allows for the approbation or condemnation of people, places, businesses and ideas in a society. Often, the best way to project this speech is through the mass media of television, film, radio, newspaper or books. In the film Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock does just that. The film takes a scathing look at the fast-food industry and its overall impact on the culture and society of America. However, the film is more of a microcosmic look at the collective society as it is manifested by individual behaviors and how those individual behaviors are likewise, influenced by society.

The main purpose of the film Super Size Me is to demonstrate that the fast-food industry is a representation of the new mentality shaping America today. The society that has emerged is that of fast-paced, busy workaholicism and the necessity to cave into the temptation of convenience. The fast-food industry through savvy marketing techniques and implementation of the drive-thru has helped to bring this society to fruition. Thus, we as Americans step into the realm of selfish indulgence via fast-food to compensate for lack of time and a plethora of other personal reasons (such as: “it feels good” and “it’s delicious (see: addictive)”).

Spurlock and others would suggest that the fast-food industry has influenced Americans to become indolent, apathetic towards exercise and cumulatively unhealthy. In the context of society, this would mean the perpetual increase of medical costs and the prejudice of overweight people. For example, job applicants that are overweight may be overlooked in favor of a skinnier person.  A breakdown in social interaction occurs because the overweight person is stereotyped for “what is wrong with America”; the epitome of the “average American”. For children that experience obesity, there may even be shunning from their peers at school and in the neighborhood.

Not only has the fast-food industry dramatically impacted society, but it also has changed the culture. For instance, McDonald’s advertises heavily in the children demographic with playgrounds and Ronald McDonald. This keeps McDonald’s transcending through the generations and therefore, it also affects the family.  Since children can’t drive themselves to McDonald’s, the parent must make the decision to take their child there. Thus, the poor eating habits of the parent beget the poor eating habits of the child.

The ramifications of these culture and social changes range in positive and negative outcomes. One must first consider the easy accessibility and monetary benefits generated by the fast-food industry. It may allow for the sustainability of large, relatively poor families. The expansion of McDonald’s into foreign markets whereby they inject capital into underdeveloped countries and allow for the accumulation of wealth for the denizens of those countries must be seen as a positive. Effectively, we’re seeing the mass production of food supplied at a low cost on a global market. In a world where a billion people are chronically hungry, benevolence to a degree is served by the fast-food industry.

The negative implications are evident, but not necessarily as overt as some would lead you to believe. There is talk in America of an “obesity epidemic” and that is mostly inaccurate. The body mass index (BMI) is used to chart this and look at the trends to evaluate obesity levels. The simplicity of the BMI in merely using weight and height as an indicator of good or bad health leads to scientific shortcomings.  Another misconception is the notion that a direct link exists between overeating and obesity. Certainly, a side-effect of overeating could be gaining weight, but it isn’t the sole reason for obesity. For instance, poor exercise doesn’t help matters. Nonetheless, categorically, fast-food is greasy, salty and loaded with calories. We can also become addicted to the taste and without it, become depressed as shown in the film.

Now we come to the subjective part of drawing conclusions (albeit objective ones) and making recommendations. My political philosophy is essentially based on one thought: you have the liberty to do as you wish and that liberty stops at the doorstep of someone else. That also entails the possession of one’s body and through this; an individual should be free to inoculate their body with whatever they desire. If that happens to be heroin, greasy food or a protein shake, it makes no difference. Although, heroin may be illegal, one could certainly advocate for its legality on the basis of the aforementioned philosophy. Some would suggest certain aspects of food should be illegal as well for the health of society. In fact, some states are already instituting bans on unsaturated fats with trans-isomer fatty acids (commonly referred to as “trans fats”) in restaurants. I disagree with that strategy, as I’ll explain later. On this recommendation of basically saying you are a free to do as Spurlock did in Super Size Me, some would repudiate my argument with the fact that an unhealthy lifestyle impacts society. I would then rebut that if society existed sans governmental safety nets, the impact is eradicated to a monetary extent.

This unhealthy lifestyle isn’t unique to America either. It is happening all across the globe in places like England, Japan, China and Australia. They are also seeing a rise in their obesity rates. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.2 billion people in the world are overweight. So apparently a trend is developing world-wide. What responsibility does and should a society play in all of this? Should we naively state that it is simply a matter of individual choice and responsibility? No because that isn’t what any sane person would suggest. Essentially what others and I would suggest is that a societal responsibility does not exist in the form of legislation. Certainly it can exist in any other form through media campaigns, word-of-mouth and on individual levels of voluntary persuasion. So from that vantage point, as long as we are getting correct information to the public, the public can begin getting healthier. We see the results of voluntary persuasion after the success and ultimate influence of the film Super Size Me.

The conclusion that I’m constructing here is that individualism has been buried in America. Instead of the individual acknowledging their own self-responsibility in their eating habits, they use big business (the fast-food industry) as a scapegoat for their transgressions. McDonald’s provides a service that people want or else McDonald’s wouldn’t make a profit, or at the least, the kind of profit they make. If they suddenly changed their menu to an all vegan menu, they would probably see dramatic decreases in profit because it negates the preference of the consumer, outside of the niche pocket of vegans that wouldn’t sustain McDonald’s as a thriving global business. This does not mean businesses can do anything in the name of profit: laws still exist. Laws against fraud and contract infringement protect the consumer. Another criticism in this would be that some consumers are unable to possess the knowledge necessary to make better eating decisions.  However, that would presume you, also a fallible being, have the capacity to decide what an individuals eating habits should be. As mentioned though, if you can persuade them to be healthy, then good; same as trying to influence someone to not do heroin or to get off of heroin.

The fast-food industry in the view of some, including Spurlock is a reflection of a society awash in self-indulgence and unhealthy lifestyles. For the common good of society, a change is necessary to ensure the health of everyone amidst this so-called “epidemic”. I disagree to the extent of including a government body in this responsibility as mentioned and I’m not advocating a detrimental lifestyle. I’m merely suggesting the individual is the owner of their body and they need not subscribe to the media hysteria that perpetuates the sensationalism of obesity over the facts. Corporate responsibility exists only in the context of pleasing the needs and wants of the consumer. If they fail in that responsibility, they go out of business.

Ultimately, good intentions exist to further accentuate the mirage of the collective good, but what that unfortunately does, is hinder the individual by eliminating choice. The collective good can be maintained without negating the individual through bad legislation. Thus, freedom of speech (in other words: persuasion free from coercion) should be the primary tool to achieve the healthy world everyone likely envisions. That is the strategy I believe in.

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