March 31, 2006

Schadenfreude Friday: Superschadenfreude Me

Let's see...we've taken the past couple of Fridays and focused on a lame, megalomaniacal painter, a hopelessly coked-out singer, a washed up actor-slash-murderer, a reality TV star has-been and an award-winning author. Obviously, it's time to tackle those rowdy documentarians.

Earlier this month, Morgan Spurlock, best known for subsisting on nothing but food - if you'd call it that - from McDonalds while filming the hit Supersize Me, addressed a Pennsylvania high school. The gig paid $30,000. Clearly we all need to eat fast food and film it.

According to those in attendance, Mr Spurlock went off on a comedic rant, telling jokes and stories, encouraging audience participation, and throwing out a handful of profanities as he made fun of teachers and the kind of teenagers who become McDonald's employees - in his words, "the retarded kids in the back wearing helmets".

Don't worry. It gets worse.
His crack about retarded kids prompted one teacher to lead out a group of special education students who were indeed in the back of the school hall. After the talk, others said they did not appreciate the humor of Spurlock putting on an Indian accent and pretending to be a McDonald's cashier. At the end of his hour-long presentation, Mr. Spurlock was summoned by the principal and the superintendent of the local school district and told he had crossed a line. A planned news conference was cancelled, as was a second presentation he had been due to give. School officials said they would offer a refund to anyone who felt the $15-$30 they had shelled out was a waste of money.

Spurlock is 36 years old. He should know better. And? It must have really sucked getting called to the principal's office at that age.
Spurlock countered using the ever-popular I was trying to get through to them at their level argument.
Mr. Spurlock himself was unapologetic, saying he had never had a problem when giving similar addresses to high school audiences in the past. "I didn't talk to them the way most lecturers do and bore them. I made an inaccessible topic accessible and left the room with more friends than enemies," he said.

He has, since, relented, admitting he might have crossed some sort of line.
I did make an aside about kids sleeping in the back wearing helmets, which was done with no malicious intent (I was playing it as a slacker reference to the Jon Heder character in the upcoming film “Benchwarmers,” a reference which was lost and, as I was later told, there were no actual students wearing helmets in the back).

And Bill Clinton was just looking for someone to hold his cigar. And by all means, run with the Napoleon Dynamite guy. Always an argument winner. It would have been so much better and completely justified if there had been helmeted kids in the back. Note for future engagements - plant a kid with a helmet in the audience. Problem solved!
The Superintendent said to me backstage that the only words he had problems with were the “F-Bombs,” (of which there were only two) so perhaps I should have toned down even those two uses, but as another student told me, it’s nothing they hadn’t heard before. It has also been said that I insulted faculty, when in actuality, all I was doing was making a joke at their expense for the enjoyment of the students. While the main floor of the auditorium was full, 7 or 8 teachers sat up in the balcony. During the Q&A after my talk, I asked them if they had any questions for me. They shook their heads no and I said to the kids, “You see, while you guys sit down here and watch, the teachers sit up in the balcony and smoke pot.” The students roared with laughter, and once again, that was all I wanted to do: entertain the kids.

Funny! Only not. He's right - those kids didn't hear anything they hadn't already heard, inside or outside the school walls. But they probably didn't need to hear it from someone paid an exorbitant amount of money to come talk to them. And while it's always fun to poke fun at the teachers, I think the last thing teachers need in this day and age is more undermining.

I think Spurlock's probable genuinely apologetic. Still? Stupid move. Could it be that the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun could have had a previously undetected effect on his french-fry grease-saturated grey matter? Perhaps he's the one who needs the helmet.

Posted by Chris at March 31, 2006 7:16 AM

I have to disagree, Chris. I don't think he sounds apologetic at all. I think he sounds like he was told to apologize. When someone keeps saying 'I'm sorry, but..." that is not an apology. Qualifiers nearly always cancel an apology out.

As for the f-bombs he dropped, sure, it was nothing the kids hadn't heard before, but coming out of the mouth of the guy who was paid big bucks to be there, it's going to be a little harder to teach them that there's a time and place for cussing and that school or work isn't it.

Posted by: Contary at March 31, 2006 7:41 AM

I was sure Randy Quaid was going to get the spotlight this week!

Posted by: Karen at March 31, 2006 7:43 AM

There is a running commentary on his blog about the event and he does offer his sincere apologies:

The important thing here is that he is addressing it and that he is having a dialogue about the comments.

Free speech means you sometimes stick your foot in your mouth but thank god for it.

Posted by: Brian at March 31, 2006 7:54 AM

why? What did Randy do?

Posted by: Pamalamadingdong at March 31, 2006 8:19 AM

"It’s nothing they hadn’t heard before" is *such* a lame excuse.

If I were chosen to speak before some group of some sort (no matter the age or the audience), I certainly wouldn't want to regale them with things they'd already heard. Why wouldn't Spurlock want to be *original* and *groundbreaking*? Could it be because he simply isn't that unique after all?

Posted by: candace at March 31, 2006 8:56 AM

I don't mean to sound all P.C. or anything, but when did it become acceptable to make fun of mentally disabled people? I have some younger co-workers who throw the word "retard" around like it's nobody's business and it makes me so mad. Way to go, Morgan, for showing those kids that you can be an asshole and still be successful!

Posted by: Beth in StL at March 31, 2006 8:58 AM

Geez. I kind of wanted to like this guy, too. Too bad he's an idiot. Next time, THINK before you open your mouth, Spurlock.

Posted by: Fraulein N at March 31, 2006 9:02 AM

He definitely crossed the line - you can entertain kids without being rude and vulgar.

Posted by: Marie at March 31, 2006 9:17 AM

I read about this on Blogging Baby and went ballistic. That could have been my oldest girl sitting in her wheelchair in the back row.

She is learning disabled as a result of c.p., not retarded but she would have been crushed. With one thoughtless sentence he would have undone years of work by her teachers and us on her self esteem.

I didn't hear his apology (I read a little about it) but at that point nothing he could have said would have made much difference. He's a professional and he should have known better.

Sorry - I'm ranting on our post. I'll stop now.

Posted by: ann adams at March 31, 2006 9:18 AM

Oops - sorry - I'm ranting on "YOUR" post. Honestly I don't think of it as mine.

Posted by: ann adams at March 31, 2006 9:19 AM

That sucks. There's no way it could ever have been appropriate to tell any group of high schoolers which of them would end up with McDonald's as their only career choice.

Don't they have enough obstacles in their way already?

What an asshat.

Posted by: Julie at March 31, 2006 9:46 AM

I think you're all missing the point:

How did a school get 30k to drop on a speaker?

This was the best they could do for 30k?

Seriously 30 thousand dollars to hear about how big macs suck?

And morgan's dumb enough to screws up this incredibly sweet deal?

Posted by: josh at March 31, 2006 9:50 AM

Yeah, I doubt my school had much more than $30,000 a year, period. I bet we could have come up with a lot better things to do with it.

I still haven't seen Supersize Me, maybe because as a former McManager, I don't need anyone to tell me how bad that food is for your body when that's even a daily portion of your diet, much less the sole food group.

Also, there's a big difference between making your speech accessible and interesting to your audience, and pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Verdict: Wank

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at March 31, 2006 10:09 AM

I saw the original post on Blogging Baby too, and posted a letter to Mr. Spurlock on my blog (My son has Asperger's Syndrome, and it upset mt greatly what he said in the same way it upset you. Instead of reading my letter though, people attacked me for what I named my blog. I just felt that since Mr. Spurlock had brought obesity to our attention in such stunning detail, the least he could do to correct his statements from his speech is volunteer with special needs kids and see first hand what they go through. That point got missed by some people.

Chris, I love your blog and read yours and Beth's every day. Mia is really adorable. Keep up the great work!


Posted by: Shash at March 31, 2006 10:30 AM

Have a great weekend Cactus-Fish people!

Posted by: That Girl at March 31, 2006 10:32 AM

Okay, I have a question...
Why was this guy at the school giving a talk in the first place? I mean, it said he "went off on a comedic rant, telling jokes and stories" but what was he actually supposed to be talking about?

Posted by: fauve at March 31, 2006 11:09 AM

I thought that movie was pretty good but he sounds like a complete jackass now. Thanks for posting this and like Contary, I don't think he was apologetic at all. I think all the fame from that TV show and the movie supersized his head.

Posted by: Sabrina at March 31, 2006 11:11 AM

Yeah, I'd say he's definitely missing the filter between his brain and his mouth. Or the grease has totally cancelled out his brain and he has a major case of verbal diarreah. Seriously, he seems like a moron.

Posted by: Jessie at March 31, 2006 11:15 AM

No kidding, earlier person. Where does a school get $30,000? I work at a school and there's no frigging way. No way. And.......

I worked at McDonald's. For a long time. And it was a good job that was super not easy. (see me and 1 person ONLY in a busy store from 4-7 on a weeknite [that's counter and drive thru...AND!]) Take that! Zing! Asshole.

Posted by: andy at March 31, 2006 12:26 PM

Yeah, my little sister is a McManager, and she's good at it. Although, she does say to my mom, "Don't worry, if I'm still working at McDonalds when I'm 30, it'll be because I own the damn thing." Still, it's a good job, up to a point.
And no way should any public speaker get away with making cracks like that at mentally challenged people. That's just complete and utter bullshit. A speaker brought into a school shouldn't be setting that ridiculous example; that it's okay to mock and belittle people! ARGH!

Posted by: Heather at March 31, 2006 1:00 PM

"...trying to get through to them at their level..." Uh, excuse me, what?? I am flabbergasted.

Any go teacher knows that when you go to the level of the students, you've lost them. If the message is that important, why not treat it with importance? Why should a student respect a message that you yourself don't?

Believe it or not, the youth of America (at least the ones I encounter on a daily basis) are not as racist or intolerant of those with disabilities as Morgan Spurlock might make us think.

Posted by: Jen at March 31, 2006 1:37 PM

Oh, and one more thing - that comment about the teachers sitting in the balcony smoking pot? What the hell kind of statement is that to make about public education? Obviously the man has no respect whatsoever for the public education system in this country, or he would think that maybe teachers are more than just pot addicts who are paid to babysit. Obviously, the man has some serious issues with authority, or he wouldn't see the need to undermine what little the teachers of this country have left.

Posted by: Jen at March 31, 2006 1:42 PM

I love that even after being told not to use the "f bomb" he only used it twice. Huh. How is that okay to use in front of a bunch of high school kids....when you've been asked not to?


Posted by: Isabel at March 31, 2006 2:58 PM

If I wasn't disgusted enough by his movie, I'm totally disgusted with him now. Count him off the good list!

Posted by: laura at March 31, 2006 7:28 PM

Great comments. Thanks for pursuing this.


Posted by: cas at March 31, 2006 7:42 PM

You know what is f-bomb level sad? $30K is more than A LOT of teachers make in a year.

Also, can someone please clue me in as to why Morgan Spurlock is considered such an admirable public figure? The point of the movie: eating McDonald's is bad. Can you seriously tell me people didn't know this already? Yes, the movie was dramatic and compelling in a watching-a-train-wreck-and-can't-turn-away sort of way, but dude, please. Maybe I can make a movie about how consuming 12 drinks a night for a month would be bad? Or about how a movie on the horrors of not brushing your teeth for a year? Or not showering? Morgan Spurlock is proof that perhaps we truly are living in the matrix, not to sound all alarmist or anything. :)

Posted by: susannah at March 31, 2006 9:00 PM

I'm too lazy, uh, I mean, busy and important to read all the other comments and much of what I want to say has probably already been said. But, that doesn't ever stop me.

I question the H.S.'s wisdom in asking this guy to come and speak? Is he from academia (uh, no, the dude got fat on McD's), is he a humanitarian? Philanthropist?? Why do we need h.s. kids to hear him?

And, yes, I agree he was old enough to know better. Too bad they don't give swats anymore. And drill holes in the paddle. Grab your ankles, Morgan!

Posted by: DebbieDoesLife at April 1, 2006 8:12 AM

wow, I had only heard a snippet about this story, so now I feel really informed! I think if I was in high school, I would have thought he was pretty cool. However, what did the staff expect? He's just a guy who ate a lot of crap food for a month - nothing more! $30,000 for THAT?

Posted by: Dawn (webmiztris) at April 1, 2006 9:39 AM

I'm glad Morgan made his movie. Prior to Super Size Me, I don't think people had given a lot of thought to the obesity epidemic and the consequences of fast food in general.

That being said, Morgan is not an intellectual. I read his book and found myself wading through the gimmicks and childish analogies (probably similar to the type he used at the school) in order to get to the really good stuff -Re: statistics, etc. (His girlfriend's book, The Great American Detox, however, is very good.)

I think he'd be great to listen to at a college campus, where it's okay to say "eff" all the time and where your teacher's probably really are smoking pot.

This is my first time here. Hello!

Posted by: Hänni at April 1, 2006 12:08 PM

As a mother of 3 disbabled children, his comments really hit home with me. He is right, it's nothing these kids haven't heard. They hear it every day of their lives from kids who have parents just as fucking stupid as this guy is. Parents who don't tell their kids to be understanding of those who are different. He's right, these kids hear it every day. Nice to see they now have to hear it from adults too.

Posted by: Lori at April 1, 2006 3:00 PM

Oh wow. Yeah 36 is old enough to know better.

Posted by: Lisa B at April 1, 2006 5:29 PM

I'm pretty late blogging on this, but I too want to know where a school, especially Hatboro-Horsham, would get 30K to hire an asshat like Morgan Spurlock to give a presentation? And it still hasn't be clarified (at least to me)what exactly he was there speaking about?? What a joke. Glad to know either one teacher isn't getting paid that year or one had to be fired just to get this idiot to talk at their school.

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