The Boyfriend of the Week

July 6, 2005

This week's Boyfriend is kind of a newbie in the world of entertainment. I first discovered him right about the same time you did -- last year when his documentary "Super Size Me" hit theaters. It was immediately a film I wanted to see. I mean, I am now and will always be a major fan of the McDonald's French fry and, I thought, it's about darn time somebody finally made a movie about them. Imagine my horror and disappointment, then, to discover that Spurlock's film wasn't actually about their blessed crispiness, zippy saltiness, or the tanginess imparted to them by a quick dip in Heinz ketchup. It is, instead, a movie about. . . well, it's a movie about how them French fries'll kill ya, to put it simply.

Lucky for us all, and in particular for my arteries, I'm only kidding. That is, I do love those fries -- they are, hands down, the greatest French fries in the world. However, the truth of the matter is, I'm one of those annoying people who is pretty serious about healthy eating and exercise. Over twelve years ago, I lost forty pounds and by making a bunch of small, consistent changes in the way I live my daily life, I've managed to keep it all off in the years since. And while I will confess that early on in the process, I lost part of that weight in some unhealthy ways (primarily through becoming somewhat obsessive-compulsive about exercising and counting calories to the point where I was a mental case AND in the hospital for back surgery at age 19 -- don't be like me!), after some counseling and balancing both inside and out, my relatively newfound affection for being good to myself has made a world of difference in my life.

And right here is where approximately 75% of you immediately tune out, thinking, "Yeah, yeah, I've heard all this crappola a gazillion times before. Enough already, you annoying 'healthy' person."

It's okay. I understand where that comes from. It's media fatigue. We're bombarded constantly by news articles, research reports, magazine cover stories, and incessant CNN coverage that tells us over and over that we're all lazy and fat in this country. It's gotten to the point where I think the vast majority of us hear the word "diet" and immediately groan and make that face where you stick a finger down your throat and pretend to hurl (kind of an ironic gesture, given the subject matter).

Luckily, if ever there were a novel way to get this same "healthy living" message across to the millions of Americans (and their kids) today who still really need to hear it, I have to say it's gotta be through the mouth of a ridiculous babe like this week's goofball Boyfriend, Morgan Spurlock. Because not only is Morgan damn smart, he's also outrageously charming and totally hilarious. And though my first visual impression of him involved the phrase, "Didn't that mustache style go out with the Civil War?," by the time his documentary "Super Size Me" was over, I was in love. In love from head to toe, and straight through that flabby spare tire Morg developed after thirty straight days of eating nothing but Big Macs and milkshakes.

For those of you not in the know, by the way, this is the premise of Morgan's film. He decides to find out for himself just how dangerous fast food is for the human body, and to test it out, he decides he'll eat nothing else for an entire month. The only rules are that he can't eat or drink anything that hasn't been purchased at McDonald's, and he has to "super size" his order every time he's asked by a cashier whether he wants to. It starts off deliciously fun. I'm telling you, those French fries are to die for! But by about the second week, he's puking routinely and starting to wonder what the hell he was thinking when he came up with this crazy idea. By the end of the month, things have become much more serious, as he begins to suffer from actual physical problems (liver damage, for one) -- after only four weeks of eating McFood!

But the movie isn't just about Morgan stuffing his face with McFishes and then throwing them back up in the parking lot. Instead, those shots are interspersed with educational and engaging clips about the horrendous American diet and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. One of the most fascinating, and horrifying, parts of the movie is when Morgan takes us into the average U.S. public school to see just what our kids are eating for lunch these days (answer: sugar, grease, trans fats). Even the kids whose parents packed them healthy lunches are tossing those in the trash and ordering a slice of pizza dipped in ranch dressing. But Morg's not all about showing us how terrible and hopeless things are. Instead, he offers solutions -- for example, he next shows us a school that's decided to do a better job, something all public schools ought to aspire to, in my opinion. Unfortunately, we also live in an age where people are loathe to raise taxes to give schools more money, and a big stumbling block when it comes to providing healthy lunches at schools is budgetary. It's simply a fact that healthy foods cost more. Fresh costs more than packaged. Another reason why poor people tend to have more problems with weight than the rich (four words: high fructose corn syrup, one of the cheapest and most destructive foodstuffs in the world -- for more about this, read "Fat Land" by G. Critser).

Anyway, what I liked about Morgan's story was not just that it was funny to watch him put himself through thirty days of eating batter-fried batter. It's that it was so clear he really cares about helping people be healthier. He offers us not just amusement and the same information we've been hearing from the media over and over (and over) for the last several years, but he also presents some real solutions, ideas, and new ways of thinking about the problem. Things that ought to inspire everyone who sees the movie to start passing by that Mickey D's drive-thru window more often, and instead head home for something a little less fried-beefy.

Now, I'll confess it -- I'm not a huge documentary watcher. And maybe you aren't either. A lot of times, I actually find them kind of tedious. For one thing, there sure are a lot of them, and a lot of them are pretty disappointing (and, though I know this isn't the most popular opinion, I include in this category two of Michael Moore's recent films, "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11," for reasons I won't get into in detail here, but which I can sum up with the phrase "cheap shots"). This documentary, though, is a completely different kind of film. It's funny, it's relevant, it's honest, and it doesn't attempt to whack you into unthinking submission. Spurlock's curiosity is infectious, and that makes even the scientific parts accessible and fun. You can see for yourself how badly we're all doing in terms of being healthy adults ourselves, or in raising our kids to be healthy adults. And though the science on obesity isn't foolproof -- I fully believe that a lot of the "research" reported in the media about the risks of carrying extra weight is skewed to benefit drug companies and the "diet" market. At the same time, I think we can all agree that the evidence does support the benefit of eating healthy and exercising regularly. The size of your waistline just isn't important -- something I had to learn the hard way myself. What really matters is taking care of yourself.

Now, a few weeks ago, I would've said that if Morgan Spurlock had only that much to teach us, he could hang up his towel and die a hero. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?) But, as I should've known, given what appears to be his endless enthusiasm for trying new things, Morgan didn't stop with just one film. About a month ago, the FX channel started a new weekly documentary TV show helmed by Morg called "Thirty Days," and based lightly on the premise behind "Super Size Me." You see, after spending thirty days on the McD's diet, learning all about nutrition and healthfulness, Morgan began to wonder what else he could experience and learn about in just thirty days. So, he launched this show, an hour long program once a week (Wednesday nights at 10pm) that takes us into a new world or situation for four weeks at a time.

Unfortunately, but understandably, Morgan's girlfriend/fiancee, Alex, put her foot down when he first suggested the idea -- the thirty day fast food diet was hard enough on her (for one thing, she's a vegan chef, so it wasn't easy to watch her boyfriend eat so disgustingly for that long), she wasn't going to make it if he was off doing something new and potentially unhealthy every month. But, they came to a compromise. The two of them took on one more challenge together, which eventually became the show's pilot episode, and then after that, Morgan found others to embark on his thirty day experiences for him.

In the first episode, Morgan and his girlfriend decide to take on the world of minimum wage. They move to Ohio with only $200 in their pockets and begin the struggle to find both jobs and somewhere to live on the cheap. The apartment they end up renting has no furniture, no heat, and is infested with ants, but it's the only one they could find that had a landlord willing to let them take a few months to pay off the deposit (with only $200 to start with, there was no way they could cover first and last month's rent all at once). The jobs they end up getting are hard, thankless, and underpaid, as so many are in middle America these days. And as if this weren't hardship enough, as they struggle each week to make ends meet, both of them end up getting sick/injured, forcing them to take two trips to the ER, which not only completely wipes out their paltry savings, but puts them hundreds of dollars in debt as well. So, as viewers watching this saga unfold, we're treated not just to a look inside the hard lives of so many Americans who live every day on that same line, but we get to see up close and personal just what the screwed up health care system in this country is costing our lower-income, uninsured citizens.

It's a contrived experience, of course, which makes it somewhat less than authentic. The same can be said for Barbara Ehrenreich's similar experiences in her book "Nickel and Dimed." In both cases, our intrepid heroes had thousands of dollars to fall back on in the real lives they'd left behind. They had ways out, and their time spent below the poverty line was finite. Nevertheless, it brings us into that world in a vivid way. It educates us about the fact that while the cost of living has continued to increase, minimum wage itself hasn't been raised for eight years. It educates us about the struggles so many of our fellow countrymen are having to deal with on a daily basis. And, one would hope, it opens our minds to a new way of thinking about the problem, and gives us some ideas for ways we can all become a part of the solution.

In short, Morgan taught us something. Again.

And his show has continued to do this in the weeks since. There have been three episodes now, all of them educational, entertaining, and just plain fun. In the second episode, a middle-aged man decided to give hormone treatments, vitamins, and physical training a try to see if they could help him regain his youthful energy and body (short answer: no, and I knew taking all those vitamins and supplements couldn't be good for you!). In the third episode, which I unfortunately missed and am hoping to catch in a rerun, a god-fearin' white guy spends thirty days living in a Muslim household, something that ought to be pretty darn interesting. Tonight's episode is similar to that one, only this time a god-fearin' white guy will spend thirty days living in a gay household, something else that ought to be pretty darn interesting!

Never fear, though, all you Spurlock fans. Even in the episodes starring other guinea pigs, Morg is there narrating and filling us in on all the relevant research and details. And I have to say, the more I see him, the more I love him AND his dorky mustache. He's full of energy and has a sharp wit and an overall happy, I'll-try-anything-once kind of demeanor. Nothing gets him down -- he faces every challenge with verve and tenacity. He's out in the world trying to help us learn about ourselves and others in a new way and I admire the work he does and the personality and spirit that drive him to it. But don't get me wrong -- my crush on Morgan is not as "mature" as I make it sound. Because I also VERY much admire his total smoochability, his adorable smile, his incredible body, and the extremely sexy way he looks with his sleeves rolled up. Folks? If he didn't have a girlfriend who was so cute and easy to like herself, I'd be all over him like white cat hair on a blue sofa.

Now, if you're one of the six Americans who doesn't have a TV set and never watches movies (p.s. I'd say I aspired to be just like you, but I'd be lying), there's still an option for you in terms of getting a little Morg into your life. Because, wonder of wonders, he's also written a book. I haven't had a chance to read it yet myself, despite the fact I've got it checked out from the library right now (alas, it's due tomorrow and I can't renew it because someone else has a hold on it -- nuts!). However, from just flipping through it, I know it will be a book that's right up my alley. It's called, "Don't Eat This Book," a title which very clearly demonstrates Morgan's grasp on diet and nutrition, because not just everybody knows that eating books can cause authorosclerosis (bah ha ha! Get it? "Authorosclerosis" instead of "atherosclerosis"? Authors write books? Don't eat books? Okay, okay, it was stupid. Shut up.). The book is kind of a companion to "Super Size Me," expounding further on the current research and trends, something I'm sure will be as fascinating and informative as the film was itself. But I'm especially eager to find out what kind of a writer Morgan is -- you know, you can really tell a lot about a guy from the way he puts a sentence together. And I have high hopes that Morgan's sentences will all involve nouns, verbs, and the occasional adjective for color. If we're lucky, they might even involve gerunds. Wouldn't that be something to write home to Mom about?

Okay, time for a little biography on this week's Boyfriend. Probably the most surprising part of Morgan's past for me was the discovery that he's NOT actually all that new to the world of entertainment and the arts. In fact, he has been in "the biz" for over a decade, though his career admittedly started out a little shaky, when he was rejected by the film school at USC five -- count 'em, FIVE -- times in a row. USC, eat your heart out! Luckily, Morg's not the kind of guy who gives up very easily, as you've probably noticed, and eventually, he was accepted by NYU, where he graduated in 1993 with a film degree to call his very own. I was also surprised, by the way, to discover that one of his earliest jobs was working as a production assistant on one of my all-time favorite Jean Reno films, "The Professional." That was in 1994. By 2000, he had founded his own production company called "The Con" that had been hired by MTV to create a new show called "I Bet You Will." The show was a success, running for 53 episodes, and it made Morgan and his company enough money to be able to fund their next project, the film that made him a star, "Super Size Me." Not too shabby, Morgie baby. Not. Too. Shabby.

Another little known fact about Morgan is that he's also a playwright -- his play, "The Phoenix," has won several awards. I'll have to see if there's a way to dig up a copy of it anywhere (if I do, I'll let you know). And, of course, while I'm at it, I'll also put myself back in the hold line for "Don't Eat This Book," so watch for a review to show up in the books section over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, if you haven't had a chance to see it yourself, definitely tune in and check out Morg's show "Thirty Days" (FX, Wednesdays, 10pm)! And, in between episodes, don't forget to get your hands on a copy of "Super Size Me," if you haven't already done so. I've been tempted to buy a copy of the DVD myself, so I can pop it in whenever I need inspiration to start doing better. I'll confess that last week, while I was baby-sitting my two nephews for several days along with my parents (my brother and his wife were taking a much-deserved vacation in Hawaii), we stopped at McDonald's for lunch and I sucked back a deliciously large-sized box of their fries, savoring every single salty bite. But, I did skip the ice cream afterwards, and burned off the calories when I got home by playing my heart out with those two boys, who only get to watch about thirty minutes of television per week and spend several hours every day outside running around in the yard like crazy maniacs. Their parents have already learned the trick to raising healthy kids -- occasional treats are more fun than getting them every single day, and there's nothing like a fast-paced game of "can't catch me!" in the backyard to burn off that chocolate chip cookie you had after lunch. Now, turn off your computer and go play, already!

Addendum: A reader just sent me a message letting me know that Morgan was on "The Daily Show" last week. Luckily, since I missed it, there's an on-line clip of his interview. Check it out at the Comedy Central Daily Show web site. After this, I dare you to tell me he's not the cutest thing since dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets! I dare you! Double-doggedly!

MacGyver Factor Score: 99.296% Points off because despite the fact I said earlier that I've grown to love it, the mustache really DOES look ridiculous. I suppose it kind of keeps him looking accessible -- he looks like your every day next-door redneck, after all. Maybe that helps make his message seem like it's coming from a real guy instead of an elite know-it-all. However, though he's CLOSE to achieving MacGyverness, you know that Mac would draw the line at silly looking facial hair. He wouldn't draw it at wearing a mullet, of course, but I feel sure he'd draw it at the handlebar 'stache. However, if Morg ever does an episode of "Thirty Days" in which someone gets trapped and has to figure out a way to escape using only a pocketknife, a stick of chewing gum, and some bellybutton lint, I'll give him all his missing Mac points right back. Something to aspire to, Mr. Spurlock!

Boyfriend-Related Links
Morgan's IMDB Page
FX's office "Thirty Days" site
The official "Super Size Me" site
Morgan's personal blog

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