Adorable Indictment, by David Bax
Morgan Spurlock’s newest documentary, entitled Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, is a film about product placement and advertising in general that is completely funded by product placement and advertising. In a consistently entertaining fashion, it addresses the ways that marketing has infiltrated our lives in both obvious and unobvious ways.
I carefully chose the word “addresses” there because one of the main problems with the movie is that it does little more than address the situation. It would be giving the film far too much credit to say that it “explores” or “reveals” anything. After all the fun stuff is removed, Greatest Movie is very much akin to Spurlock’s breakout documentary, Super Size Me. Both are funny and enjoyable beginner’s guides to very real and very deep social problems.
The insidiousness and ubiquity of advertising in an American’s everyday life, and especially in the everyday life of an American child, is infuriating. It truly deserves the kind of exhaustive, fueled-by-rage investigation and exposé given to the current financial crisis by Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job. Instead, we get a movie that keeps us laughing far too much to stoke our ire. Spurlock, and perhaps this is to his credit, does not seem like an angry guy. He seems good-natured and, unlike Michael Moore-the director to whom he’s most often compared- he never comes across as disingenuous. Maybe this is the right attitude to effect actual change in the layperson. The contemporary political and social atmosphere in this country is based on enforcing distinct divides between ideologies. This atmosphere is exacerbated, seemingly intentionally, by the media and those in power precisely by appealing to the base human instinct of anger. So maybe Spurlock is the right person to cut through those divides, armed with a genial personality and an infectious grin. It could be that, by not going too deep and never losing his temper, he’s just what our populace needs, someone who cares about what’s good for people above all. He can’t preach to the choir because he doesn’t have one to preach to.
I really do believe that all might be true but it won’t come to fruition until Spurlock can get over the one thing that keeps getting in his way: him. In Super Size Me, the film essay on the dangers of processed and mass-marketed food kept getting sidetracked by overly dramatic sequences about Spurlock’s impending death or pointless discussions by his girlfriend about what he’s going to eat after the movie to get back on track. Similarly here, the question of whether he, Morgan Spurlock the documentarian, will surrender his artistic integrity to advertisers occasionally overshadows the more important discussion about whether any artist’s integrity can survive such things. When he discusses the possible damage to his soul, I felt an overwhelming sense of “Who cares?” It’s as if he doesn’t realize that his movie is bigger than he is.
Those hindrances aside, Greatest Movie is almost never anything less than a joy to experience. It’s swift and light-footed at under 90 minutes and contains plenty of reasons to keep you smiling, along with a few things that will make you laugh out loud. It’s a completely fun movie that also serves as the opening statements of a debate that needs to go on much longer and much more seriously if we are to make progress. Hopefully, they’ll cut a version where Peter Berg doesn’t say “fuck” so they can show it to school-kids. Children are most susceptible to advertising, not only because so much of it is aimed at them but also because they’re simply more susceptible in general. Commercials are fun and get across messages in the way they want to hear them. Despite his faults, Spurlock is incredibly talented at that same thing. We should consider it a blessing for our world and our future that he chose to make socially conscious documentaries because he could’ve had a killer career in marketing.