VOL 124 NO. 15
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Filmmaker visits Le Moyne College and discusses corporate dominance
Approximately 400 people packed into the Henninger Athletic Center at Le Moyne College to hear award-winning director Morgan Spurlock talk about the success of his recent film Super-size Me. Spurlock’s calm, confident voice and down-to-earth manner were punctuated by several hilarious stories, various episodes of physical comedy, and even a few impassioned rants against corporate America and government bureaucracy.
Behind the light-hearted approach were some very strong convictions, especially regarding the advertisement of food to children, which he believes should end immediately. Spurlock’s story begins on his mother’s couch in West Virginia where, after stuffing himself with Thanksgiving dinner, he became acutely aware of the effect food has on the way people feel. The idea grew into an investigation of what would happen if a person ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days. The rules were simple — Spurlock would eat nothing but McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and he would eat everything on the menu at least once.
Spurlock discussed several “coincidences” connected with the production of his project. McDonald’s eliminated super-size options before the film even opened. Spokespersons for McDonald’s say that the idea had been around before they learned of the film, but Spurlock believes that it is part of the company’s defense strategy to minimize the impact of what his film brings to light. Spurlock also claims that McDonald’s “Active Adult Happy Meal” is another public relations tool that McDonald’s is using to try to influence the way its products are perceived.
A McDonald’s spokesperson boasted about the l5O million salads sold last year. Spurlock reminded the audience that McDonald’s serves 46 million people per day; 17 billion per year, meaning that salads were sold to fewer than 1 percent of customers. On a more serious note, Spurlock revealed serious health problems that afflicted the present and past CEOs of McDonald’s. Two weeks before the opening of the film, the global leader of McDonald’s died of a heart attack at the age of 60. Shortly after the opening of the film, the new CEO of global operations revealed that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer. Spurlock points out that both of these men had worked at McDonald’s and undoubtedly ate a lot of the food there. His theory is that long-term exposure to McDonald’s food caused their health problems. Charlie Bell, the current CEO, called the theory nonsense, saying that his cancer and his predecessor’s heart attack were “acts of God.” Spurlock’s response: “Sounds like God doesn’t like McDonald’s.”
Spurlock’s genuine disdain of McDonald’s and its food was apparent throughout the discussion. He said that the things he learned while making the movie were shocking and have led him to a deep distrust of the food service industry as a whole. Some of the physical problems reported by Spurlock were severe chest pains, headaches, stomach erosions, incontinence and sexual dysfunction. He claims his headaches would be most severe just before he would eat and then miraculously dissipate soon after he would finish. Spurlock likened this effect to withdrawal symptoms sometimes associated with drug addiction.
“It could have been Wendy’s or Burger King or Arby’s,” Spurlock said, “but I chose McDonald’s because I wanted to generate the largest effect possible.” McDonald’s, he says, has been the most successful at constructing a harmful perception among the American public. American culture is then exported world-wide and the damaging side-effects of McDonald’s success are hurting people everywhere. Spurlock brought up the point that the McDonald’s corporation operates over 30,000 stores and only half are in the U.S. In countries that have lower food and safety standards, McDonald’s lowers its standards. Spurlock alleges that they will only provide the cheapest, lowest quality product allowed by law. The free-market system that would normally eradicate such low quality products is rendered inoperative by high-budget marketing operations aimed mainly at children and young adults. The effect that Spurlock was able to generate with his film surpassed his expectations. In the month following the opening of his film in England, sales were down in the UK.
In Spurlock’s view, McDonald’s has managed to brainwash its customers into thinking that the worst product is actually the best. He related the story about a three-year-old child of vegetarians who had never been inside a McDonald’s or eaten any of their food, but was very knowledgeable about the McDonald’s characters and could even sing the jingle — ”McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it” — an impressive example of how effectively McDonald’s marketing reaches children. His assertion is that the McDonald’s Corporation, and the capitalist love for money above all else, is injuring people around the world, and, because of the huge financial power of McDonald’s, nothing is being done to explore the real impact that regular exposure to their product causes. He contends that a “mass mentality has overcome Americans in regards to the foods that they eat; no one is willing to make a change.” Spurlock urges Americans, “You be the person to stand up and influence your friends and family to make positive change. …Work with other people.”