America has always been about being the biggest nation: the biggest houses, the biggest cars, biggest cities and unfortunately the biggest bodies. In 2003, a middle-aged, healthy man, named Morgan Spurlock took on a challenge that would exhibit to America the detrimental effects of eating fast food and exactly why we are the biggest country in the world. This challenge would greatly increase the awareness of obesity in the United States and awareness of the fast food industries in our country. The documentary was released in 2004 and is called Supersize Me. This 100 minute long documentary created a lot of controversy in the United States as well as a lot of applaud and popularity. Morgan, an independent filmmaker, vowed to solely eat McDonald’s food for 30 days. He would only eat McDonalds by consuming every item on the menu at least once over the course of his project. His actions were filmed, documented, and released to theatre so people could witness the toll that McDonalds took on his body in such a short amount of time. In order to make the most out of this experiment, he had to follow a few rules. First off, if Morgan was asked to supersize his meal at any time, (which he would be asked nine times during the 30 day period), he would have to supersize it which means the meal would be made twice the size. The second rule was Morgan was to cut out any exercise besides the average walking distance because the average person does not exercise regularly. The last and final rule was all outside food including bottled water was prohibited and everything that he consumed would have to be bought from McDonalds.
At the end of his thirty-day experiment, Morgan had gained twenty-five pounds, had a thirteen percent body mass increase, his cholesterol skyrocketed greatly, and mood swings and fat accumulation in his liver became present. He became depressed and the only time he felt happy and no pain was when he was eating the actual fast food. He almost became addicted to McDonalds throughout his experiment. Morgan stated that, “it was if I was a heroin addict. I needed fast food and was only okay when I had it in front of me.” It took Morgan fourteen months to lose the weight that he gained and a few months after that to get his health back to where he began. This documentary opened the eyes of many fast food customers and explores the fast food industry’s ways of persuading people to eat their food even though it provides poor nutrition to it’s customers.
This documentary, Supersize Me, had a great impact on the fast food industry and especially impacted what viewers thought about America and obesity in the United States. While using ethos, logos, pathos and Cicero’s canons of rhetoric, Supersize Me became one of the most watched documentaries in the United States and shocked people nation wide. It appealed to each of these persuasions greatly as well as Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Delivery, and Memory. Without these appeals and canons this documentary would not have taken the effect that it did. This documentary mastered each of these and made this rhetorical artifact unforgettable. This documentary was made to increase the awareness of what Americans actually put into their body everyday without even knowing it.
Supersize Me appealed to ethos. Ethos is the credibility or knowing what you are talking about. It is the community sense of meeting and group identity. It shows the importance of what you are talking about and gives a person credibility to even talk about the subject. Supersize Me fulfills this because it provides the viewers with many facts and statistics about obesity and fast food in America. It was reported in Supersize Me that each day, 1 in 4 Americans visits a fast food restaurant, and in 1972, America spent 3 billion dollars a year on fast food where as today we spend more than $110 billion a year (Spurlock 2004). These statistics and many more that were provided show that the producers of the documentary know what they are talking about and gives credibility to their documentary.
The content of the documentary provides people with a sense of meeting and group identity as well which is a factor of ethos. Almost all of the facts and statistics given in the 90 minutes of film relate to all Americans. We are able to feel connected and have group identity. If the documentary did not give these facts or statistics it would be hard to even believe if what these people were saying about obesity and McDonald’s was actually valid.
Supersize Me not only applies to ethos but it applies to pathos as well. Pathos is the emotional connection the documentary provides to its audience. It is what causes people to feel good, bad, or any emotion at all. It is the manipulation and the “pushing buttons” factor. Without pathos, the documentary would have not affected the audience like it did and would have had created a different outcome. The pathos is present when the viewers are shown the effects that McDonalds had on Morgan. Just after a few days the viewers were able to witness the pain that he was going through and the emotional impact the McDonald’s challenge had on him. “My body just basically falls apart over the course of this diet,” Spurlock told Newsweek (Lambert 2004). Morgan’s relationship and his sexual relationship with his girlfriend changed so the viewers were once again able to feel the emotion that Morgan was feeling. The viewers were also shown how being over weight can have such a big impact on people’s lives. Morgan stated that there are 400,000 deaths a year that are associated with obesity illnesses (Spurlock 2004). He also stated that diabetes is now more common in children every year as a result of fast food and the numbers will just keep going up if we do not do anything to stop this phenomenon.
Another example of pathos in the documentary is a little experiment Morgan conducts. He holds up pictures and asks children who they were a picture of. He held up pictures of Jesus, George Washington, and Wendy from the popular fast food chain. More children were able to recognize the picture of Wendy then the other two men. This shows that our society is obviously focusing on the wrong aspects and our children can not even recognize a picture of Jesus or our first president.
During the documentary there were many interviews conducted from overweight children and adults that made you feel for the people and make you think about the effects of being overweight as well as the fast-food industry. It was reported that if left unchanged, obesity would pass smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in America. Facts that relate to death really appeal to pathos because it forces people to really stop and think about their unhealthy lifestyle and what it may cost them and their families. It makes people stop and think if eating so unhealthy is worth it in the end.
Last but not least, logos was clearly present in Supersize Me. Logos is the structure, word choice, and the sound reasoning evident in the documentary. It is the “that makes sense” factor. Supersize Me was set up very well to appeal to the audience. Most documentaries are presented in a very monotone manner and the actors in them lack emotion and heart. The way that Supersize Me was produced made it very easy to pay attention and kept the interest of the audience. You were able to see, especially in Morgan, that what he was doing was very important to him and that he wanted to prove to America that something in our society needs to be changed. The logos of the documentary is what made this specific documentary so popular and relatable to the audience. Morgan is a very laid back guy and his word choice and mannerisms made it very easy to relate to him and be interested in what he was doing.
The structure of the documentary also created a positive effect. Morgan opened Supersize Me with stating facts about America and showing Americans all around the United States who are obese. This draws in the audience’s attention and makes them want to continue watching. When his project begins he gets his health checked by doctors so the audience was able to see Morgan in the beginning of the project and again the effects of the food at the end of the project. At the beginning of the experiment, Morgan was above average in his fitness as well as his health. Even though the doctors knew what he was going to do would be unhealthy, they did not believe the end results. Morgan had no idea that what he was about to do would affect his body so greatly in such a short time period. The whole structure of Supersize Me made sense and was presented in a very logical order.
Along with the rhetorical appeals, Cicero’s Canons of Rhetoric were also major factors associated with the effectiveness of the documentary. The five canons are invention, arrangement, style, delivery, and memory. Each one of these were clearly evident in Supersize Me. The invention is the content, support and evidence that is present. From the beginning to the end, the documentary is filled with support and evidence that Morgan had researched before his experiment. Everything that Morgan said throughout the documentary he was able to back it up with evidence. The facts that he provided the viewers gave insight to fast food industries especially McDonald’s. All the content that was included was necessary to reach the audience the best way possible. Another way that the content was effective was how Morgan provided the audience with the other view on his beliefs. He would provide what McDonalds would say about the industry and be able to use the evidence he gathered to prove them wrong.
The second canon of rhetoric that Supersize Me fulfills is arrangement. The arrangement of Supersize Me is done well and is very effective. Morgan does a good job with the macrostructure of the video. He begins the documentary with showing the viewers him at the hospital getting his fitness and health checked. He started out his project in Manhattan, where he was from, and then traveled to Houston, one of the fattest cities in the United States, then returned to Manhattan. Through this process, the viewers were able to understand the whole picture and not just one city in America. He continues the video by showing himself day by day eating McDonalds and every so often showing another doctor’s checkup he has to make the progress evident. Everything that Morgan does is in order and is very easy to follow.
Morgan also broke up the documentary into different sections so the viewer did not receive all the information at once and they were able to easily group together different themes of the documentary. He would break up the video into sections about the fast food industry, economy, children, schools, cities in America, and many others that were also very helpful in the arrangement of the documentary.
Style is the third canon of rhetoric that is proposed in Supersize Me. Style refers to the microstructure and the specific language and devices. The language that is used in this documentary is simple and casual. Morgan is able to relate to his audiences very easily with his language. Even though some of the documentary is scripted and planned, a majority of it is improvised and Morgan says what he is thinking. Morgan also shows a lot of emotion when he is speaking and makes the audience feel like he really believes what he is saying. Morgan also used bright colors and imagery as a part of the style in Supersize Me. He used a lot of art and animations to get his point through to his audience. Without these animations and art, the documentary would not be as influential and exciting to watch. Instead of watching Morgan just sit in front of a camera talking about his project, he allowed the audience to be engaged in what he was doing and provided the audience with something appealing to us.
The style of filming also played a significant role in the documentary. The filming was not professionally done and during most of the documentary he was filming himself or someone else was filming him while he was driving or while he was ordering at McDonalds. This style of filming made the experiment seem very realistic and not staged or scripted. Morgan said what he wanted to say and did not let the camera in his face hold him back from telling the audience what he was really feeling.
The fourth canon is delivery. Delivery is also a canon that has a significant role in Supersize Me. Delivery refers to the presentation of the documentary. This cannon can overlaps slightly with the style canon. The way Supersize Me is presented one of the most effective parts of the documentary. The delivery makes the documentary appealing and easy to watch. The way that Morgan talks and interviews people make him seem like a real man and not a staged actor. He uses curse words, slang, and laid-back language and does not put on a show for anyone. For example, after eating a meal that he had “supersized”, he said, “I am feeling like shit.” Morgan also states while eating one of his meals, “Also See, now’s the time of the meal when you start getting the McStomach ache. You start getting the McTummy. You get the McGurgles in there. You get the McBrick, then you get the McStomach ache. Right now I’ve got some McGas that’s rockin’. My arms… I feel like I’ve got some McSweats goin’. I’m feeling a little McCrazy…I’m dying. God, that looks so nasty. It’s making me puke” (Spurlock 2004).
Memory is the last canon that is present in this documentary. Memory refers to making sure the audience remembers the key points he gave in the 98 minutes of the documentary. The very end of the documentary is Morgan summarizing everything that happened to him in the past thirty days. The documentary shows images of how much sugar and fat he consumed throughout the course of his experiment. The nutritionist displays several very large bags filled with sugar and several tubs jam-packed with lard. By seeing these images and seeing how he reacted to also seeing the pounds of lard and sugar he ate, that makes people remember what actually Supersize Me is about and the impact it has. Also at the end of the documentary, Morgan summarizes all the facts so what he ends with is what you remember. He tells you about all the statistics of McDonald’s once again and what people are not trying to do to overcome the obesity in our country. Morgan also ends the documentary with suggestions on how to end this. He states that it up to each one of us to stop this fast- food phenomenon and nothing will end without the people of America.
In conclusion, obesity in America is at an all time high and this is particularly evident in the documentary Supersize Me. One man was brave enough to take on the challenge to show America what they were actually putting into their bodies when eating fast food. While using ethos, logos, pathos and Cicero’s canons of rhetoric, Supersize Me became one of the most watched documentaries in the United States and shocked people nation wide. Without the use of these rhetorical appeals and canons, this documentary would not have had nearly the effect that it did on its audience. This documentary was very successful in getting the point across. The viewers left the documentary with a whole different view on the fast-food industry and the growing problem of obesity in the United States.
Lambert, C. (2004). The way we eat now. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/2004/05/the-way-we-eat-now.html
Spurlock, M. (2004). Supersize Me. Retrieved from http://www.hulu.com/watch/63283/super-size-me