According to director Morgan Spurlock, the idea for "Super Size Me," the hugely popular documentary that explored the health impact of fast food, originated from a news report about Pelman v. McDonald’s, one of the fast food obesity cases. Over the course of his month-long McDonald’s binge, Spurlock became the literal embodiment of fast-food’s ill-effects on the seemingly generic American adult physique. Spurlock’s take on the subject, however, ignores the circumstances that contributed to the overweight conditions of the Pelman plaintiffs who were two black adolescent females who ate their fast food in the Bronx. One of them was homeless during the relevant time period. The paper discusses what the circumstances of the Pelman plaintiffs might have been, including the incidence of obesity and overweight and related diseases in minority populations, the correlation between obesity and food insecurity, the significance of fast food restaurants in poor urban minority communities, the relationship between fast food and soul food, race-specific cultural attitudes regarding women’s weight, and race/ethnicity-related restraints on leisure. To be sure, based on past experience, a white male filmmaker like Spurlock might have found it difficult to tackle these subjects (especially in a film that is otherwise lighthearted and humorous) without encountering substantial criticism. Furthermore, most of the factors are irrelevant to the law of products liability, which pays little attention to inequities in the demographic distribution of risk. However, allowing generally disempowered subjects like the Pelman plaintiffs an opportunity to reveal their reflexivity about their situations is one way of combating disapproval and prompting deeper analysis of a social problem; Spurlock’s television series 30 Days is a fine example of that. Alternatively, filmmakers like Spurlock might display more reflexivity or critical self-assessment about their techniques for bringing only part of a complex issue to the screen . . . on the screen itself.
documentary film, law and popular culture, Morgan Spurlock, Pelman v. McDonald’s, fast food restaurants, minority communities, race-specific attitudes, cultural attitudes
Austin, Regina, "Super Size Me and the Conundrum of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Class for the Contemporary Law-Genre Documentary Filmmaker" (2007). Faculty Scholarship at Penn Law. 156.
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