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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Morgan Spurlock's "I Bet You Will": Does freedom of choice trump fast food regulation?

In 2000, I took a semester off from college and helped start up an internet company. My boss was Morgan Spurlock, later of "Super-Size Me" fame, and our main project was producing a web-based show called "I Bet You Will". Against my cynical predictions, it was an instant success and we were actually paid for it, first by Madison Square Garden and then by MTV, who aired the show for a long time.

(Mark "Money Mark" Gilson, a co-worker who lost one leg to disease as a teenager and carried our briefcase full of cash for paying contestants, used to joke that one day MTV would buy the show and their first command would be "lose the gimp!" Sure enough, MTV kept Spurlock but dropped Mark as his sidekick in favor of a Limp Bizkit-styled, tattooed piece of camera candy.)

Spurlock is not someone I ever expected would be known as a political figure, but he is hated at Michael Moore levels by right wing pundits. In my opinion "Super-Size Me" was certainly not balanced, but neither was it unfair. It was helped along by Spurlock's intention to find the worst and make a shocking film, but those doctors weren't cherry-picked and their analysis was honest. And Morgan was careful not to make too many pronouncements or prescriptions for policy or what others should do.

The response by Spurlock's self-appointed nemesis Radley Balko, who runs the Morgan Spurlock Watch website, is to build a straw man of Spurlock, and tear him down:
Ironically enough, Spurlock began his television career at MTV on a show called "I Bet You Will," in which he paid people to eat disgusting things on camera. He once paid a woman $250 to shave her head, then eat a giant ball of her own hair mixed with butter. He paid another man to eat an entire jar of mayonnaise. Still another to swallow dog feces. When asked if he felt his show was exploitive, he replied, "No way. Everybody knows what they're getting into. Everybody has a good time. If somebody walks by and doesn't enjoy it, hey, it's a free country. Just keep on walking, man."
Clearly, with fast food, not everybody knows what they're getting in to. If they do, it's thanks in part to muckrakers like Spurlock and Erick Schlosser. Balko's misdirection is almost as craven as a meat industry obfuscation site I have described here that discredits Schlosser by pointing out that he recommends legalizing pot.

I was there for the mayonnaise and the feces, by the way. The dog shit was really a concoction we created from chocolate, tofu, coffee and bread crumbs, but we didn't tell viewers that. The mayonnaise was real, though, and he threw it up on the street afterwards. I wonder if that was the worst $50 he ever made.

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