Representative Anecdote’s Within the Documentary Super Size Me
Mandy Fife
Messiah College
COMM 341
Professor Simcox
December 2, 2013
1. Introduction
The 2004 documentary Super Size Me starring and directed by Morgan Spurlock, addresses
many issues associated with the fast food kingpin McDonalds. Super Size Me is a dialogue that
is filled with representative anecdotes.
Morgan Spurlock decided to create a documentary focusing on the affects eating McDonald’s
food has on the human body. This subject manner was selected, after two teenagers
unsuccessfully attempted to sue McDonald’s for causing their weight issues and illnesses. The
two young girls were both obese and blamed McDonald’s for their body size. Spurlock appalled
by the lack of interest and action taken by the company, decided to take action against the
company himself. Creating a documentary exposing the effects of the fast-food chain was his
plan of action. Instead of researching the effects through observation, Spurlock took his
documentary to the next level. He believed the only way to create a buzz was through an extreme
first-hand experience. Morgan Spurlock chose to embark on a thirty day McDonald’s only diet
experiment. Through this experiment he hopes to gain insight on the effects fast food has on the
human body. The purpose of the experiment focuses on informing the publics of the harmful,
potentially fatal effects of McDonald’s food. Spurlock also researches if fast-food companies are
to blame for the large number of overweight or obese Americans, or if the issue lies within the
individual’s responsibility.
Undergoing a thirty day McDiet has rules and risks. Before undertaking this extensive and
extreme trial, Spurlock consults three physicians, which access his physical health. After the
consultation with the physicians, the results show he is above average health. Spurlock creates
and follows his own rules for his experiment. The experiment lasts for thirty days and he can
only consume food produced by McDonalds. For the first rule he must eat three meals a day;
breakfast, lunch and dinner. Consuming every item on the menu at least one time is also a rule he
must abide by. The final rule, if a McDonald’s employee asks him to super-size a meal he must
comply and super-size the meal. Throughout the thirty day experiment he was asked to supersize his meal nine times and five times he was asked to super-size in the state of Texas; one of
the fattest states in the country. Spurlock also decided to restrict his physical activity to the
normal amount American’s exercise daily. Before commencing this research he knew there
would be health risks, but he never could have hypothesized the risks that appeared due his thirty
day McDiet.
As a result of the study Spurlock suffers both psychological and physical issues. After the
second day he begins to feel the impact of the diet. He begins to develop headaches and the
McStomach aches. Throughout the experiment his symptoms increase in severity and regularity.
During the experiment his physical health is examined weekly. By week three the physicians
warn him to stop the diet, because the results could potentially be irreversible. At the end of the
thirty days he has gained 24.5 pounds, his body fat percentage increased from 11% to 18% his
liver turned to fat, he doubled his risk of coronary heart disease and is now twice as likely for
heart failure (Hayes, 2006). The psychological issues that developed from the McDiet were
unexpected. Throughout the thirty days he experienced depression, exhaustion and mood swings.
Consumption of the fatty unhealthy foods is the reason for both the physical and psychological
concerns. After the completion of the diet Spurlock consumed as much McDonald’s as a
nutritionist suggests for an individual to consume in eight years. Critics argue that this
experiment is extreme. In reality, many individuals consume multiple meals daily from fast-food
restaurants. Spurlock feels it’s necessary to show the life-threatening realities of fast-food
After the completion of the thirty day diet he works to get his health and body back to his
normal shape. Following the final physical, the physicians suggest he does not consume fastfood for an entire year, if he wants to get his body back in shape. Another example of portraying
the difficulties associated with the unhealthy food is the length it took for Morgan Spurlock’s
body to recover. Fourteen months of a strict diet and a rigorous workout schedule brought
Spurlock back to a healthy weight and healthy life.
Morgan Spurlock’s intention throughout the documentary was not to attack McDonald’s
company as whole. His main intention is to inform the public of the dangers associated with the
consumption of unhealthy food distributed by fast-food corporations. The objective of
Spurlock’s film is to change American’s eating habits and help them prevent potentially fatal
health issues.
What is the representative anecdote in Super Size Me and how does the documentary provide
audiences with equipment for living? This research question will be analyzed throughout the
paper. An analysis of the representative anecdotes within the documentary are conducted. The
documentary also provides equipment for living for all audience members. Completion of the
analysis occurs through examination of the documentary and previous research conducted on the
issue from scholars
2. Literature Review
Scholars have studied the documentary Super Size Me and examined the elements that
attract audiences to the documentary.
Representative anecdotes are described as a method of deciphering media criticism.
While discovering and explaining the deeper meanings found within popular artifacts. The
deeper meanings uncover a culture’s values, concerns and interests. An anecdote is defined as a
story or tale. The artifact being examined is the documentary Super Size Me.
The representative anecdotes within the film, which scholars discuss, are the fear
consumers feel about consuming fast-food, after watching the film. Another anecdote is the fear
fast-food companies feel about losing business as a result of the documentary. This documentary
grabs the attention of movie goers due to the common interest and familiarity of fast-food intake.
The problems are also relatable to many Americans and a concern to many people worldwide.
Many of the articles first address the issue of America’s obesity and overweight
epidemic. America is currently the fattest nation in the world. Over 100 million Americans are
overweight or obese, which results in over 60% of United States adults. Death due to
complications associated with obesity and individual’s being overweight are second in America,
just behind smoking tobacco (DeVries, 2004). On average there are 400,000 deaths in America
contributed to obesity. These shocking statistics support the reasoning for Spurlock’s
documentary. These statistics are very convincing and made a huge impact on the audience’s
feelings towards the film.
One study conducted by Andrea Hayes discusses the effectiveness of the documentary
form used throughout this particular film. The subject matter is familiar to all; the fun,
informative fashion used attracts viewers’ attention (Hayes, 2006). Spurlock addresses the
serious subject manner in a comical fashion, which appeals to audiences. Through the discussion
of the dangers of unhealthy eating habits and the health-related issues associated with these
habits, Spurlock is able to shock and fascinate audience members. The format he uses ranges
from comical animated cartoons, to jokes about serious issues (Hayes, 2006). Through the
combination of these approaches, Spurlock creates a successful film which spreads his message.
Hard convincing evidence is also an effective approach, through the use of statistics, graphics
and interviews with experts, he uses a professional approach to prove his hypothesis (Hayes,
Spurlock’s personality was also a persuasive, beneficial tool he uses to spread his
message. The audience relates to Spurlock because most audience members have consumed
some form of fast-food in their lifetime and are aware of the issues associated with the
consumption of such food. A combination of humor and honesty is the most effective approach.
Audience members are able to view his passion for the experiment, they also realize the risks he
takes conduction the experiment for the greater good of the nation. Everyone admires his bravery
and commitment to the cause. Hayes states, referring to Spurlock “… (He is) effective in giving
a personal face to a nation’s problem.” (Hayes, 2006)
McDonald’s was the company used to represent all of fast-food America (Horton, 2005).
Even through all of the negative press McDonalds refused to be victimized. McDonald’s public
relations team helped to control the public’s reaction and maintain McDonald’s credible
reputation (MacArthur, 2004). Surprisingly, after the release of the film McDonald’s sales
increased, consumers gave McDonald’s the benefit of the doubt because of their reputation and
past successes. Throughout the whole experiment they never took the blame, they claim its
“Common knowledge how detrimental the food they produce is to consumer’s health.” (DeVries,
The research of scholars shows that the fast food corporations were not fazed by the
documentary, their revenues actually increased. McDonald’s and other fast food corporations are
not portrayed as the villain’s nor is Morgan Spurlock portrayed as the brave hero who took on
the corporate giants. My rendition of the anecdote differs from scholars adaptations.
3. Communication Theory
Scholars address the approaches and fears audience members’ exhibit after viewing the
film. They fail to display a true representative anecdote which exemplifies a metaphor examining
the deeper meaning behind the documentary. The concerns remain the same throughout all
accounts. Fear of consumer’s health and fear of loss of business for fast food corporations are the
major issues. Another area of agreement resides in the artifact proposing equipment for living a
happy health life.
There are many different interpretations and understandings of the true definition of
representative anecdotes. All scholars agree that representative anecdotes are used to determine
deeper meanings and locate symbolic patterns (Harter, 2001). Symbols are intended for audience
members to better comprehend the deeper meaning within an artifact (Crable, 2000).
Representative anecdotes are a method of evaluating media and additional discourses.
Tools for criticism and analysis are another way of describing a representative anecdote’s
purpose (Crable, 2000). Metaphors are often a specific device used to describe the multifaceted
meanings within artifacts. Scholars did not describe a metaphor establishing the deeper meaning
within the film. Common cultural issues and concerns are the driving forces, which result in the
deeper meaning of all representative anecdotes.
A representative anecdote uses a dramatic example to explain the complex meaning
underlying throughout the discourse. Super Size Me a rare case, has representative anecdotes
within the film which are straight forward. Different methods are used to describe and reveal the
deeper meaning behind a discourse. In the instance of Super Size Me, the obvious representative
anecdotes are the health issues associated with the consumption of the unhealthy food. The
deeper meaning is the battle between Americans and the fast-food corporations.
An example of a metaphor and dramatic story within the documentary refers to the war
Americans face against the adversary of fast-food companies. McDonald’s portrays a corruptive,
manipulative villain and Morgan Spurlock portrays a brave, courageous hero like character. One
of the battles of the war occurs between the human body and fast-food. Many times throughout
the story, the food defeats Spurlock’s body. The symptoms Spurlock experiences are the attacks
of the food on his body. At this point in the film people believe that fast-food conquers all
because of the repercussions the food has on the body. Although the food can cause some serious
damages to a person’s health, Spurlock in the end conquers evil. He defeats the villainous fastfood corporation. Although he gained weight and had potential health risks. He was able to get
his life back together; he loses all of the weight gained and returns to his healthy happy shape.
This metaphor represents the overarching theme of Spurlock defeating the corporate giants. As a
result of the film fast-food chains were forced to make drastic revisions to their menus, to please
consumers. Spurlock won the war and he challenged the villain for the betterment of people’s
health nationwide.
This symbolic representative anecdote helps audiences to understand and interpret the
meaning of the film in a different and less complex format. A metaphorical storytelling approach
is used to grasp the main concepts dealing with the culture concerns and fears of a nation. The
concerns audience members have are the risks associated with eating fast-food. Due to the
documentary they have a first-hand account to compare their personal experiences with. People
who tend to have similar issues relatable to the main character, will view artifacts comparable to
what they are going through personally. Many Americans can relate to the issues and concerns
described and addressed throughout the film. These types of audience members are interested in
artifacts similar to issues they are going through in life because they believe the artifact will
equip them with advice and tools to overcome their difficult circumstances (Crable, 2000).
Kenneth Burke describes literature as “equipment for living,” (Brummett, 1984) this
documentary provides many examples of equipment for living. All representative anecdotes
involve equipment for living. Equipment for living allows audiences to relate to the information
shared through a media form. Audiences “…confront their lived situations, celebrate their
triumphs, and encompass tragedies.” (Brummett, 1984) These better equip individuals to live
through a certain situation and cope with the struggles of life (Brummett, 1984). Representative
anecdotes address a culture’s values and concerns in relation to a real-life problem. The real-life
problems in the documentary are the issues of the obesity epidemic and the contribution fast-
food restaurants add to this issue. Equipment for living also provides solutions for the problems
addressed throughout the artifacts.
The equipment for living scholars have determined from the film involves accepting a
healthy lifestyle. Practicing healthy behaviors include eating a well-balanced diet and exercising
daily. Not indulging in fast-food delicacies, and if fast-food consumption occurs it should only
take place if a person regularly eats a healthy diet. Awareness of the fast-food advertisements
and marketing towards a certain target audience is crucial. Avoiding unhealthy behaviors can be
a challenge, but through hard work, self-control and dedication adapting a healthy lifestyle is
Another factor of representative anecdotes that is always inclusive is the attraction and
relatable nature audience member feel towards a certain artifact. Many Americans have
witnessed the destructive nature of fast-food on the body, whether through a first-hand account
or observing a person’s body transform into a robust shape. We have all seen examples of
obesity and overweight individuals. This film exposes the serious nature and effects that the fastfood industry has on the body. In addition to the fears, concerns and similar experiences
exhibited throughout the film, Spurlock also provides audience members equipment for dealing
with the issues in a healthy positive fashion.
4. Conclusion
The documentary Super Size Me provides effective examples of representative anecdotes.
The film also provides useful equipment for living. Many scholars have studied the film before
this paper. Scholars examined the approaches used by Spurlock and the overall success rate of
the film. But never examined the in depth representative anecdotes and equipment for living
within the specific documentary.
The contribution this paper makes to society is informing audience members of the deeper
meaning within the film. Audiences are aware of the overall theme and meaning the film
portrays. Many people may not understand the underlying message within the film. The
representative anecdote helps to describe the importance in a simplified story. War between
Americans and the fast-food corporations is the representative anecdote found throughout the
All audience members should take the information seriously and use the equipment for living
recommended throughout the paper. This paper illustrates the health risks associated with obesity
and being overweight. The advice to prevent harm to the human body will benefit the lives of all
who take advantage of the information. If the audience does not change their ways even after
viewing the film and researching the many literature artifacts on the documentary they are
risking their lives. Many implications are related to unhealthy eating of fast-food confirmed
through research and thorough analysis.
The findings of this study compare the representative anecdote theory to the popular
documentary. Displaying the negative harms the fast food industry has on the public. It’s wise if
we avoid fast-food corporations completely. After the analysis of the representative anecdotes
and equipment for living the documentary Super Size Me provides, are you still lovin it?
Brummett, B. (1984). Burke's Representative Anecdote as a Method in Media Criticism. Critical
Studies In Mass Communication, 1(2), 161.
Crable, B. (2000). `Burke's Perspective on Perspectives: Grounding Dramatism in the
Representative Anecdote.'. Quarterly Journal Of Speech, 86(3), 318.
DeVries, G. (2004). Super size me. Film Journal International,
Harter, L. M., & Japp, P. M. (2001). Technology as the Representative Anecdote in Popular
Discourses of Health and Medicine. Health Communication, 13(4), 409-425.
Education, (44), 30-37
Horton, A. (2005) Documentaries Hit the Multiplexes: From Super Size Me to My Architect and
Beyond. World Literature Today 79, 68-69.
MacArthur, K. (2004). SUPER SIZED PR. Advertising Age, 75(50), S-6.