Jun 27, 2005

One Can Blame Michael Moore [LINK]

One Can Blame Michael Moore for many things: for lying in the service of partisan ends, for ignoring facts that contradict his radical political views, for failing to adhere to a coherent rhetorical stance, for "creative" editing and quoting interviewees out of context, for inserting himself into his subject matter, for being a total pain in the ass to work with, for being cruel to subordinates, and even for his purposefully unkempt public appearance. To this we may add that he may be responsible for a decline in the reputation of the documentary form, and for the rise of the counter-documentary.

Moore has spawned at least one imitator, Morgan Spurlock, whose Supersize Me received a 2004 Academy Award nomination for best documentary. The film chronicles a 30-day period in which Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald's food, including super-sized portions whenever available, for an average daily intake of over 5,000 calories. Not surprisingly, he gained 25 pounds, his cholesterol shot up 65 points, and he reported feeling sluggish and depressed. What should be surprising is that he blames McDonald's for these ill effects, asking where "personal responsibility ends and corporate responsibility begins."

"Personal responsibility for your own life never ends," answers filmmaker Soso Whaley. Partly annoyed by Supersize Me's award nomination and partly to lose some weight, Whaley sought to disprove Spurlock's thesis. She also ate only at McDonald's for a whole month, but she lost 10 pounds and said she felt great. No, she didn't confine herself to salads, but rather sensibly limited her overall calorie intake (an average of 1800 daily) while engaging in moderate exercise. Extending her diet to 60 days, she lost a total of 18 pounds and 40 cholesterol points.

Now Whaley has her own documentary out documenting her diet. It's called Mickey D's and Me, whose title is a conscious play on the title of Michael Moore's breakthrough film, Roger and Me. Her film's provisional title, Downsize Me, was also a pun on the title of one of Moore's books. (A similar counter-documentary is in the works criticizing Michael Moore, following in the wake of various books and websites.)

It's safe to bet that these revisionist efforts will not be as successful. For one, they are reactive, following in the wake of the object of their criticism. To most, the subject matter will seem all talked out. Their audience, too, is limited to those who recognize they have a conscious bone to pick, namely those who are already convinced. They will also be seen as tainted; Whaley is an adjunct fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that often defends commercial interests — not that there's anything wrong with that! And while counter-documentaries represent a vibrant level of discourse, it is at the expense of the infallible reputation documentaries once enjoyed, however undeservedly.

For his part, Spurlock has moved onto other matters. The new six-part "reality" show he produced for the F/X cable network is called 30 Days, which depicts various people doing some unusual activity for that period of time. One episode depicts Spurlock's childhood friend David Stacy spending his days "living as a Muslim" in the Detroit area. The outcome of this exercise, apparently determined in advance, is that Stacy will wind up sensing widespread prejudice and injustice directed against Muslim-Americans.

NOTE, 7/13: Regarding the McDonald's angle, if you eat all your meals for a month at any restaurant and you're bound to gain weight, much less if you order gratuitous portions. Also, those who do want to eat out but also watch their calories could do a lot worse than McDonald's, which provides detailed nutritional information for each item on its menu.

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