Supersizing the debate in the public sphere

Supersizing the debate in the public sphere

Maccas. Mickey D’s. The Golden Arches. Friend to the time poor and hung over alike. Easily one of the most iconic brands, the McDonalds Corporation has in the last decade morphed into a symbol of the global obesity epidemic. You can thank in part this guy for that.


“Hello ladies…”

Morgan Spurlock is a documentary filmmaker. He’s not as famous as Spielberg or Tarantino, but you’ve doubtless heard of his 2004 film Supersize Me. Because despite it being tagged as an ‘infotainment’ documentary (i.e. not a serious media platform), it caused a Big Mac sized debate in the public sphere.

Spurlock’s film documents the effects of eating non-stop McDonalds for a month, the idea inspired by two teenagers who attempted to sue McDonalds as the cause of their obesity. The documentary however isn’t intended as an attack on McDonalds itself. It’s tackling the issue of obesity in general.

After the film’s release, the public began to question its consumption habits. The sometimes graphic scenes of overt gluttony sparked discussion in the public sphere about the problem of obesity in society and who was to blame for it. The documentary places responsibility on the aggressive marketing power of the big franchises, particularly marketing aimed at children. Just six weeks after Supersize Me came out, McDonalds began withdrawing the ‘supersize’ option from their stores and introducing salads and ‘healthy’ option Happy Meals. McDonalds however continues to deny the film played any role in these changes.


“We deny that we were influenced in any way. No, I don’t know where your cake went…”

Although the adage is ‘all publicity is good publicity’, McDonalds instigated an alteration in its marketing strategies. Comparison of advertisements pre and post 2000 show a clear change of tact. Older advertisements emphasise portion size whilst contemporary advertisements focus on health benefits (however small).

BIGMaccasMealAd 400caloriesMcDonalds

McDonalds advertisements from top; 1971, 2012.

Admittedly there is no direct causality between Spurlock’s film and the increased awareness on obesity within the public sphere. Regardless, Supersize Me was pivotal in sparking public discussion on the effects of fast food and obesity.

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