Super Size Me is a 2004 documentary made by Morgan Spurlock, which follows him as he attempts an experiment to only eat McDonald's food for 30 straight days.
This experiment is used as a framing sequence as Morgan takes a cross-country look at the various facets of fast-food culture in the United States, including its effects on the human body over a sustained period of time, diehard fast-food fans, the use of processed food in the American public school system, and the impact of fast-food on American society and business.
The rules of Morgan's experiment are:
- For 30 days, he can't eat or drink anything that isn't on a McDonald's menu.
- He must eat three meals a day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- He must consume everything on the menu at least once.
- If a cashier asks Morgan if he wants to "super size" his meal, he must agree.
- He will attempt to walk about as much as (or rather, not substantially more than) a typical U.S citizen, based on a suggested figure of 5,000 steps per day.
- He must consume everything on his plate.
As a result, Spurlock ends up suffering from various health problems, such as lethargy, depression, headaches, a reduced sex drive, heart palpitations and weight gain. However, Spurlock completes the experiment, and concludes that fast-food can have incredibly damaging effects on the human body if eaten consistently and constantly, as well as stating that the experiment was an extreme case.
The film was generally well-received, and earned over $11 million dollars (against a $65,000 budget) at the box office. Soon after this documentary was released, McDonald's stopped offering the super-size option for their meals and introduced a 'Go Fit!' meal. Contrary to the popular belief that McDonald's instituted these changes to save face after the movie came out, they actually started phasing out the super-size in early 2004 (the film was released in May of that year) and had already been market-testing healthy alternatives. Unless McDonald's was spying on Spurlock while he was filming the documentary, the release of this film was entirely coincidental.
Super Size Me inspired a great deal of criticism from the scientific community, including several counter-documentaries (such as Fat Head) which pointed out serious flaws with Spurlock's film (such as the fact that he was a vegan before the supposed experiment, not just his at-the-time girlfriend that he mentioned).
Tropes applying to this documentary are:
- Big Bad: (literally) McDonald's. Though other companies are criticized, the Golden Arches take the spotlight in the blame of the obesity epidemic.
- Big Eater: Shows the consequences of such.
- Deep-Fried Whatever: In an extra feature on the DVD release, Spurlock visits a fish and chip shop that also experiments with deep-frying candy bars. Since Morgan is still on his McDonald's-only diet while they visit, he defers to his cameraman.
- Artistic License Biology: The film has received controversy over the way it depicts Spurlock's experiment. Several details were left out of the documentary, presumably to better support its point.
- The fact that Spurlock was a vegan prior to beginning the experiment is not addressed, which makes his body's extreme reaction to the new diet (such as vomiting after his first meal) more understandable.
- Spurlock later admitted to struggling with alcoholism for 30 years, including the duration of filming the movie. While his doctor gives him a clean bill of health at the beginning of the film, Spurlock's drinking habits likely had some effect on his health during the experiment, either due to drinking on top of his already unhealthy diet or going through withdrawals.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: A number of critics compared the vomiting scene to the way heroin addicts often throw up when using their drug of choice. Spurlock seems to be saying that fast food is just as addictive as heroin.
- Everything Is Big in Texas: Present and discussed when Morgan goes to Texas, the fattest state of the Union in absolute numbers and the one where he is offered a "Super size" more often.
- Fan Boy: Spurlock visits renowned Big Mac fanboy Don Gorske, who achieved notoriety for eating at least one Big Mac a day for well over a decade. Unlike Spurlock during the film, Gorske's health has been unaffected because he only eats the Big Macs; he doesn't eat the french fries or drink the soda (he's since gone on to eat a total of 30,000 Big Macs).
- Fast-Food Nation: Morgan Spurlock's documentary paints America as obsessed with McDonald's and the titular super-size option, to the point of health risk without care by the corporation.
- Granola Girl: Spurlock's girlfriend.
- Indestructible Edible: One of the DVD extras had him put McDonald's food products in jars and see how long it took them to go bad. The fish sandwich was the first to go, lasting only a couple of days, the various burgers lasted about two weeks before becoming moldy. The french fries on the other hand were completely unchanged (at least visibly) after ten weeks, at which point they were accidentally thrown out by an intern.note
- "Last Supper" Steal: One segment is a painting that shows grotesque caricatures of various fast food mascots set up like The Last Supper.
- Leitmotif: Takes after the film's title too.
- Nonmammal Mammaries: One of segments explained that McNuggets were originally made from chickens with larger-than-normal-breasts. This was demonstrated with an animated chicken with pendulous breasts so big that it had to walk with a cane.
- Scenery Censor: At one point, Morgan is interviewing someone while they have lunch at McDonald's. A McDonald's bag is placed to conceal what the interviewee was eating: A McDonald's salad.
- Shout-Out: Bugs Bunny and Sylvester make cameos in the parody art of "The Last Supper".
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The "Blue Danube Waltz" during scenes of gastric bypass surgery.
- Think of the Children!: One of Spurlock's interview subjects is an attorney building a case against the fast food industry. The attorney explains that his particular focus on McDonald's is because of their focus on children: the PlayPlace playgrounds, birthday parties, the Happy Meal, the advertising mascot Ronald McDonald...
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Spurlock force-feeds himself a Super-Sized meal and almost immediately pukes it back up again.
- A Weighty Aesop: This is the point of the film, where Morgan Spurlock goes on a McDonald's diet for a month. It doesn't turn out well for him.