Monday, May 16, 2005

Recent Documentaries

Apparently there is a new "documentary" in production titled SUPERSLIM ME, in which the narrator sets out to "prove" Morgan Spurlock wrong (SUPER SIZE ME, 2004). If you haven't seen Super Size Me, I suggest you do. The basic premis is that Spurlock lives on McDonald's products alone for a couple of months and monitors the health consequences to his body. Obviously this is an extreme diet, probably not something a person would actually do, and meant to make a point (duh). In addition, there are some really funny scenes with numerous lawyers, professors, and food industry execs.

Following the success of Supersize Me and similar style documentaries (such as Farenheit 911), people have spent time debating whether the movies were factual and objective. To do this, anti-documentary documentaries have been produced to "discredit" the original movies. Therefore, some people do not feel that they can "trust" documentaries anymore. This where SUPERSLIM ME comes in - the author (auteur?) claims that Supersize Me is biased because Spurlock simply consumed large amounts of Mickey-Ds and didn't exercise.

But Supersize me is a movie that is meant to make a point. Most americans do not exercise, therefore, its isn't biased that Spurlock didn't exercise. Also, If you follow the obesity public advocacy literature at all, you will realize that Supersize Me had all the "big Names" in the field - David Katz, Lisa Young, John Banzhaf - therfore, at least hearing what they have to say (which makes up at least 30-40% of the movie) is worth the time by itself - not too mention the scene where Spurlock and Banzhaf go to McDonald's together (Banzhaf is a lawyer who has been a pioneer in suing fast-food companies and was the first lawyer to sucessfully sue a tobacco company in the 90s). Most importantly, Spurlock's movie and the sucess of Super Size Me worked! McDonald's, while still very unhealthy, has been making significant changes to their menu since the movie was released last summer. Maybe what we are beginning to see is an alternative way to use the media in a sort of guerilla style assault on powerful organizations that would otherwise not have to really answer to consumer concerns. I think this was the greatest contribution Michael Moore's early work provided in TV Nation and Roger and Me.

Furthermore, a documentary doesn't have to be "objective" to be "real", it can certainly have a point or an agenda and still document something. Instead of looking at these movies as trying to "prove" something to you, look at them as trying to make you think about something you might not normally consider.

In addition, there is so much competition in a society of content-delivered media, that a documentary has to be very entertaining to appeal to a broad audience and be seen by someone other than "the choir" of already converted. The past 5 years have witnessed amazing sucess of documentaries as they blended into a more entertaining movie-product.

The only movies I have enjoyed seeing in an actual theater over the past 2 or 3 years, excluding Spiderman, have been the popular documentaries including Michael Moore's material, as well as Supersize Me and the movie about Al-Jazeera. Whether there is an agenda in these movies is besides the point for me, instead, I am able to see interviews with major players presented in a fun/entertaining way and I am given a starting point or someone's reference point as to what debates surround an important issue.

I do not rely on movies, whether they be called documentaries or not, to "prove" something to me. Nor do I rely on published books, peer-published literature, or first hand observation to make an ultimate decision. Instead, these movies, literature, and observations/experiences are all pieces of the puzzle in using my own critical thought process of evaluating available data and "proving" or disproving things to myself.

2 comments:

CT said...

Hadn't heard about Super Slim Me. I'd meant to catch Super Size, but never got around to it. I think it's on my satellite system every few days, so I'll try to take it in.

It's a lot easier to be contrarian than to come up with an original angle (and I say that gingerly, as a blogger who often critiques and riffs off other commentary). There's nothing wrong with objectivity -- in fact, it's the best way to get your news. Documentaries that aren't wholly objective don't need to be discounted, as long as it's made clear where the bias is. Super Size made that quite clear; it sounds like the Super Slim guy was just too dense to pick up on that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you feel Im dense,, This statement is jabbed at a guy who knows the cause of obesity in america and is making a film to SHOW and TEACH everyone how to get control and get healthy. can you say you know as much or would put 100,000.00 of your money on the line to help everyone in the U.S.A. ? IF YOU CAN'T SEE THAT SUPER SIZE ME IS A HOOK TO GET PEOPLE INTERESTED IN SEEING THE DOCUMENTARY THAT SETS THINGS STRAIGHT " SUPER SLIM ME" THEN YOU MAY BE TOO BIASED YOURSELF TO LEARN THE TRUTH
BUT YOU HAVE "SUPER SIZE ME WRONG" TOO , IT IS A "DOCU-DRAMA" ITS A FARCE , WHY ? BECAUSE HE ACTED SICK , EDITED REAL TIME SEGMENTS TO MAKE YOU THINK IT TOOK HIM OVER 24 MIN. TO EAT A BURGER, ETC ETC. THESE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE REAL STUFF THAT SETS A DOCUMENTARY APART FROM STARWARS OR JERRY SPRINGER. IM SURPRISED YOU COULDN'T SEE IT IN HIS FILM. SUPER SLIM ME MAY NOT BE FOR YOU , iM MAKING IT FOR THE PEOPLE WHO NEED THEIR HEALTH BACK.