The Word Diet Never Sounded So Good
Many of today’s documentaries are created in an attempt to speak to the public about current or controversial issues. One of these is the popular movie by Morgan Spurlock called Super Size Me. This movie utilizes humor in the form of Burkean’s Grotesque frame to send one solid message to its viewers: “eating McDonald’s will make you obese” ("Morgan spurlock," 2009). This paper strives to analyze the different strategies and techniques used in relation to humor and persuasion.
Morgan Spurlock wrote and directed the 2004 documentary Super Size Me in which he used his own body to conduct an experiment. The documentary recorded his experiences with McDonald’s over a 30-day period, during which time Spurlock’s “McDiet” was strictly derived from the McDonald’s menu. He ate all 3 daily meals there and supersized them when the option was available. In the documentary, Spurlock consumed about 5,000 calories a day, and limited himself to walking under two and a half miles each day for exercise. In order to gain the trust of his viewers, Spurlock made sure to keep himself under the care and observation of doctors.
Spurlock directs this documentary toward corporate parties and mainstream consumers. He draws the attention of the entire American public in an attempt to convey the atrocities McDonald’s food is committing. His strategy is to make the public aware of the health effects caused by a McDonald’s diet and successfully encourage them to voice their dissatisfactions. This holds those with the power or authority in America such as politicians, lobbyists, and fast food corporations accountable to their enlightened consumers. Spurlock uses these tactics to reveal their responsibilities to keep America healthy, and thus force them into action in pursuit of a solution. (Singer, 2011)
Spurlock used factual evidence to support his weight gain and decrease in overall health, which adheres to the logos appeal. The movie is littered with many other facts such as: “McDonald’s feeds more than 46 million people a day – more than the entire population of Spain,” and “sixty percent of all Americans are either overweight or obese” (“Super Size Me,” 2007). Spurlock also ensured that exercise physiologists and a dietician monitored him and professionally documented his health prior to the experiment, during, and after it was completed. Supporting facts are a successful tactic to gain the approval of the audience and convince them to feel the same way as the speaker.
While the rhetorical concept that seemed to appear most frequently in Super Size Me was logos, other appeals were used at different consistencies as well. The ethos concept is used when Spurlock interviews other McDonald’s patrons that he chose strategically to appeal to different members of his audience. By providing his viewers with someone they can relate to, they are more likely to embrace his argument and supporting evidence. The pathos appeal was put into effect when Spurlock shed light on just how many people were suffering from obesity as a result of unhealthy options. At one point in the documentary, about 28 days into the experiment, Spurlock’s doctor told him his liver was failing due to his diet. This plays on the viewer’s emotions by expressing the seriousness of the repercussions that come with such an unhealthy lifestyle. ("The three rhetorical," 2010)
According to Dr. Ross Singer, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at Southern Illinois University, Spurlock uses Grotesque humor throughout the documentary to persuade his audience. “Grotesque realism promotes laughter in a way that does not invite an alienating gap between audience and performer” (Singer, 2011). Nearly everything on the McDonald’s menu is coined by McDonald’s by placing a “Mc” at the beginning of it. Popular menu items that exhibit this include the McGriddle, and the McRib. Morgan Spurlock uses phrases like “McStomach ache” and “McPukes” to communicate with the audience through a means that they can really understand. He combines gross terms like “puke” with the coined McDonald’s label to really connect the viewer to his experience.
Super Size Me has the potential to backfire with certain members of its audience. The majority of negative reviews on the documentary reference the fact that Spurlock did not provide a food log to prove that he did indeed ingest 5,000 calories a day. The documentary also doesn’t hide the fact that it disapproves of obesity because it’s an unhealthy and therefor disgusting trait among human beings. Viewers of this documentary can’t help but take it personally when they see the footage of severely overweight McDonald’s patrons leaving the fast food chain with a greasy fry and burger bag in hand. Many naysayers point out the fact that, “of course McDonald’s is bad for you,” but they would never indulge in McDonald’s 3 times a day and thus the documentary is unrealistic.
However, this is exactly the angle Spurlock was going for. “Spurlock is a funny guy and treats his subject with good humor, making us laugh and shake our collective heads over our own poor decision-making.” It’s true that everyone seems to know that McDonald’s is unhealthy, yet we eat it anyway. Other reviewers commented that the movie changed their life, and they would like to see Spurlock take it a step further by answering questions such as why isn’t the system working and how can we be healthy? “What makes our lives easy isn’t always good for us…it’s not healthy to put our children and ourselves at this risk” (Spurlock) There are also members of the audience who can easily say that they have an Egg McMuffin with hash browns every morning for breakfast and have yet to transform into the whale of an American Spurlock insists their future beholds. Those who do partake in the occasional, or possibly daily Mickey Dee’s meal may very well be skinny. But what Spurlock wants to draw attention to is that skinny doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. According to current FDA health standards, a healthy lifestyle consists of 3 square meals a day, and an average of a 2,000 calorie-per-day intake.
His ultimate goal is to convey to the viewer and in turn the fast food industry the food they are serving is hurting America. He hopes to point out that McDonald’s isn’t doing what is best for those they serve, but instead what’s best for their bank account.
Even with the possibility of backfire, there is no reason this prevents Spurlock from reaching his goals to tell America that McDonalds is harmful to your health and the FDA is doing nothing to set standards in the fast food industry. “At the end of the DVD version of SSM, Spurlock notes that McDonald’s, the film’s primary focus, terminated its ‘‘super size’’ menu option and introduced other healthy image changes shortly after the film’s theater release” (Singer, 2011) By doing this, Spurlock solidifies his argument to his audience and gains further verification that his claims are justified. Even if McDonald’s refuses to admit that the changes were made due to the documentary, the point is that changes were made.
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The three rhetorical appeals in super size me (2010). [Online Forum Comment]. Retrieved from