Thursday, July 14, 2005


Super Size This Morgan Spurlock

30 days: High Concept, Low Impact

Last night I attempted to watch the show 30 days on FX. The premise is intriguing. People from different walks of life make some drastic change and try to live with it for 30 days. The show is the brain child of Morgan, Super-Size-Me Spurlock. I heard good things about his movie, but never actually saw it.

Unfortunately, Mr. Spurlock's show managed to do the near impossible, alienate me with its heavy handedness within the first few minutes. It's not that I don't enjoy view points that are different than my own, it's just that on this particular episode, Mr. Spurlock spews out dubious 'facts' like gospel.

Last nights show, or what I saw of it, took two New Yorkers who are addicted to their cars (kind of oxymoronic- a New Yorker with a Car?) and placed them in an eco-village that uses no electricity for 30 days. Great premise! But in started the show Spurlock contends - American's are wasteful (ok-yeah) we use 6 times more energy than is our fair allotment. My hackles are raised. Mr. Spurlock provides no context for this comment. Is his basis merely allocating world energy use on a per capita basis and saying the U.S. uses 6 times more than that figure? We don't know, he doesn't tell us. Context is helpful. For example, who does our energy use compare to Europe or China? Does the fact the United States location in a temperate latitude, which requires parts of the country to use energy for heating (as opposed to say Cambodia which is nice and warm year round) skew those numbers? Again we don't know, as we are merely presented with the fact/truism "American's use 6 times more energy than is our fair share." A value ladened statement that is without context, arrogant and possibly misleading.

While I was looking forward to getting to the part of the show where the two New Yorkers move to the eco-village, I never made it that far. After Mr. Spurlock's sermon about how wasteful we are (again, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with him, just how he presented it as fact, without really backing up his contentions), the two NY'ers are subject to an energy audit to calculate their 'ecological' footprint. Some crunchy lady walks through their apartments with a clip board and jots down notes... Oh my a blender. She makes a notation. A George Foreman Grill. She gives a look like (why don't you just heat your home with baby seals). Anyway after a brief montage of her inspecting the apartment, she sits down at a laptop, punches a few keys and presents the couple with the results.

On the screen are 12 1/2 spinning globes. She informs the couple that if everyone on Earth lived like they do, we'd need twelve planets of resources to meet everyone's needs. Again a compelling statement, but no explanation of how this calculation was reached. Just pronouncements of diminishing resources, dark days ahead, and a subtext of ignorant selfish Americans. To me it harked back to the Malthusian predictions of the 1970s that by 1989, there would be no oil, the planet would be some post environmental apocalypse ala Mad-Max and we'd all be eating Soylant Green (Now with more girls!).

The truth is more complicated than Mr. Spurlock presents. For example, the amount of forested lands in the world is actually greater today than it was 40 years ago. The United states does use a lot of energy, but we use it much smarter than we did just 10, 20 or 30 years ago. And don't even look for acknowledgement that the air we breath is probably the cleanest in a few hundred years thanks to pollution controls and cleaner coal technology. Anybody out there interested in this topic should read Bjorn Lomborg's: The Skeptical Environmentalist.

But perhaps that doesn't make good television. I wanted to so much to enjoy Mr. Spurlock's program. It's a great idea. But his preachy-ness is a major turn off and his over-simplification of the issues and his bias toward the gloom and doom that will result from modern consumerism and the decadent Western lifestyle is trite and offputting...a skinny Michael Moore.

And today, it seems, not even his thesis in "Super Size Me" is bullet proof.,2933,162439,00.html

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