Morgan Spurlock extends Super Size Me’s recipe for success to his 60-minute reality TV program 30 Days, in which some poor schmuck undergoes a month-long debasement ritual to come to some head-thuddingly obvious conclusion about the world we live in. Okay, to be fair, the show is still young and only one of its episodes truly follows in Super Size Me’s noxious footsteps: In the second installment, a thirtysomething former swimmer and father goes on anti-aging drugs in order to reverse the aging process, incurring possible liver damage along the way and realizing that the best way to live a long and healthy life is to take care of the human body by more natural means, like eating well and working out. This is truly an experiment in futility and Spurlock’s willful encouragement of his guinea pig’s self-abuse is exploitative and reprehensible.
Spurlock himself is the subject of the show’s first episode, in which he and his vegan girlfriend, Alex Jamieson, travel to Ohio and eek out a living working minimum wage jobs for a month. The episode reveals itself not so much as an eye-opener for its audience but a means for the well-meaning Spurlock and Jamieson to see the way the “other half” lives and to coddle their liberal guilt. The pair is humbled over the course of their social studies experiment, learning that it’s difficult for the poor to pay their bills and feed their children with little money and zero insurance. Though certainly appreciated, Spurlock’s swipes against the government’s failure to raise the minimum wage in seven years (Ted Kennedy’s proposed reforms have been frustrated by a Congress that has accepted its “own cost of living expenses to the tune of $27,000”) are few and far between.
Only the show’s third episode (“Muslims and America”) shows profound resonance: David Stacy, a 33-year-old Christian man from West Virginia moves in with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan and adopts their way of life. David is not only surprised to discover the close ties between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, but he comes to understand that the majority of Muslims are peace-loving and shouldn’t be singled out because of their faith or asked to answer for the events of 9/11 (just as Christians shouldn’t be expected to apologize for the Oklahoma City bombing). This is a message members of George W. Bush’s base—shown throughout mocking the Islam call to prayer (the equivalent of Christian church bells), ignoring David’s pleas for them to sign his anti-intolerance petition, and associating all Muslims with terrorists—could stand to learn. When David’s Muslim friend confuses his farewell peace sign for a middle finger, the moment conveys the need to get past misconceptions. David’s emotional journey is compelling and the clarity and sensitivity of the episode’s insight hopefully spells as much progress for the man as it will for the show.