Where’s he going with this? That’s the question I find myself asking about the reality show Thirty Days, featuring reality film star Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock, whose documentary Super-Size Me turned heads and caused corporate giant McDonald’s to be foisted by its own sloganeering petard, managed to parlay his one-shot film into a steady gig on the FX network. Following his film’s formula, Spurlock recruits volunteers to spend thirty days straight living a life that is notably distinct from their own.


fX Network (USA)
(2005) Television Review

CREDITS

Cast (in alphabetical order)
Hanaan Haque .... Herself
Sadia Shakir Haque .... Herself
Shamael Haque .... Himself
Morgan Spurlock .... Host
David Stacy .... Himself

Produced by
Mary Belton .... segment producer
Jonathan Chinn .... co-executive producer
Jonathan Chinn .... supervising producer
R.J. Cutler .... executive producer
Sebastian Doggart .... producer
Alison Ellwood .... supervising producer
Keith Hoffman .... supervising producer
Autumn Humphreys .... associate producer
Jill Hutchinson .... associate producer
Mark Koops .... co-executive producer
Alan LaGarde .... producer
Mark Landsman .... producer
Blake Levin .... producer
Monica Martino .... producer
Patrick McManamee .... producer
Chris Nee .... producer
H.T. Owens .... executive producer (as Howard Owens)
Fred Pichel .... producer
Ben Silverman .... executive producer
Benjamin Silverman .... executive producer
Morgan Spurlock .... executive producer
Angela Victor .... associate producer

Original Music by Jeff Cardoni

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SYNOPSIS
From Academy Award nominee Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) comes 30 Days, a new series where Morgan will explore what life changing experiences are possible in 30 days. The concept for the show stemmed from the transformation Spurlock underwent when he ate nothing but fast food for 30 days in his movie Super Size Me. In this new FX series, Morgan Spurlock asks the question, what would happen if people spend 30 days living in someone else’s shoes? Find out the answer as he brings you 30 life changing days in one hour focusing on topics such as minimum wage, anti-aging strategies, and binge drinking.

The Shelf-Life of 30 Days

REVIEW BY DAVID ZIMMERMAN

David A. Zimmerman is the author of Comic Book Character: Unleashing the Hero in Us All. Read his blog “Strangely Dim” at www.ivpress.com/campus/sd

Where’s he going with this? That’s the question I find myself asking about the reality show Thirty Days, featuring reality film star Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock, whose documentary Super-Size Me turned heads and caused corporate giant McDonald’s to be foisted by its own sloganeering petard, managed to parlay his one-shot film into a steady gig on the FX network. Following his film’s formula, Spurlock recruits volunteers to spend thirty days straight living a life that is notably distinct from their own. For Spurlock, the film’s challenge was to replace his vegan diet with nothing but McDonald’s menu items; for the pilot of his TV show, he and his girlfriend lived for a month on minimum wage. If Super-Size Me was a rip-off of Eric Schlosser’s book Fast-Food Nation, episode one of 30 Days was a poor man’s version of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel & Dimed.

But, I thought, who am I to judge? I rip people off all the time. And the film and the TV show were illuminating, if only a bit manipulative. So we set the VCR and prepared to be carried through rerun season on Spurlock’s imagination.

Week two broke from formula a bit, with a middle-aged former jock who wanted to get back into his college jeans agreeing to a chemical regimen rather than diet and exercise. That wound up being a short month—more February than March—as concerns for his health led him to drop out. Still, watching TV beats reading, right? So I made plans to tune in again the following week.

Weeks three and four got back on task. The theme of both weeks was for a “typical” red-blooded American—white, male, Christian, from the heartland—to live a lifestyle completely foreign and possibly irreconcilable to his own. Week three tracked a man’s month living as a Muslim; week four followed a guy from fundamentalist Michigan to the streets of San Francisco. As I watched, the question I couldn’t shake from my head was Where’s he going with this?

The episode about Islam was very interesting, and the Muslims who invited “our hero” into their world took advantage of the thirty days to confront the racial and religious biases that have taken root among the American majority culture. They did so with gentleness and respect, and they endured the awkward stumblings of “our hero” along the way. Back home, he carried with him a newfound appreciation for the vulnerability that plagues American Muslims. So far so good.

My problem with this episode was that “our hero” was required to meet regularly with an imam, and their conversations frequently turned to religious debate. Now, I’m all for inter-religious dialogue, but in a debate over religion between a trained theologian and an occasional church attender, the theologian is going to win. So “our hero,” who learned a very valuable lesson about living respectfully in a multicultural society, also found himself effectively indoctrinated, his own faith tradition woefully under-represented.

Likewise with week four, a particularly longsuffering gay man from San Francisco opened his home to “our hero,” enduring his new roommate’s homophobia and sloppiness with great patience. But moving beyond respect and awareness of a cultural hostility toward homosexuals, the show required regular meetings with a minister who deconstructed “our hero’s” scriptures and theology, and “our hero” was ill-prepared to talk intelligently about what he believed. By the end of the month, he could tell you anything you might want to know about wine and cheese (apparently core to the gay lifestyle), but he could not tell you why most churches in the Christian tradition (or the Muslim faith, for that matter) do not officially endorse homosexuality as a lived practice.

Maybe it’s all that cheese, but something smells funny. After all, there’s no indication that Spurlock has anyone lined up to live as an evangelical from the heartland anytime soon. Maybe, however, I’m just a bit sensitive about my faith. I’m American and evangelical enough to have a bit of a persecution complex. So I suppose I can keep watching. But wait—what’s this? Week six will feature a woman binge-drinking for a month? Didn’t I see that in the theaters, when it was called Leaving Las Vegas? Didn’t it end badly?

So I’m faced with a variety of questions regarding 30 Days:

1. Why does Morgan Spurlock hate these people so much? Why would he create a scenario where his subjects’ health and whole worldview are destined to be compromised?

2. Exactly how far will people go to get on TV for a night? What is any one of these subjects gaining, over the long haul, from the experience?

3. What does Morgan Spurlock want the world to look like? I don’t now know how to solve the problem of systemic discrimination or poverty, so what am I supposed to do with this show?

4. How long will a majority-culture audience put up with this kind of self-flagellation?

And the nagging question that keeps fighting its way to the top of my list: Where’s he going with this?

Private Spiritual Concerns

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