Why I'm Running Out Of Patience With Morgan Spurlock

I liked Super Size Me as much as the next guy, which is to say I found it a smart and humorous skewering of the fattening of America and the McDonaldization of our culture at the expense of members of lower social and economic strata. So when I saw last summer that the film's director, documentarian/brave-Fu-Manchu-wearer Morgan Spurlock, would be bringing a show called "30 Days" to FX that would conduct similar freshman-level sociology experiments in random areas, well, I was pretty excited.And at first, I was a fan of the show. The pilot episode featured Spurlock and his fianceé attempting to live for 30 days on minimum wage, and it was an eye-opening hour into just how genuinely crappy it is to be poor in America (not like this is any surprise, but still). But Spurlock only played an onscreen part in that first episode, serving as a producer for the remainder of the season as the episodes (a) began to focus on regular people and (b) started playing pretty fast and loose with some blatant stereotypes (again, not like this is any surprise, coming from FX, but still). But the "Muslims and America" episode was merely a glimpse of things to come. The show returned this summer for a second season, the theme of which seems to be Let's Find Simplistic Ways To Let People Talk Out Of Their Asses And Reinforce Nonexistent Divides Between Groups Of Disparate People. The season's first episode, "Immigration," transplanted a gun-toting Minuteman into a family of Mexican immigrants. Mmm. Deep. But oh, Morgan had some better treats in store for the third episode: "Atheist/Christian." The episode followed a female atheist tasked with spending a month with a family of fundamentalist Christians. The entire concept smells like Texas, and sure enough, it all went down in the Metroplex. The entire outing was irrational and poorly planned, and overall just extremely depressing for two reasons: 1.) I'm so sick of reality shows that I could puke blood all over my TV. And I love my TV. The whole mindless sub-genre has managed to pare itself down slightly since the c. 2001 heyday of the format, but programs like "The Apprentice" and "Project Runway" and "Laguna Beach" still remain. The shows are tightly scripted and written/produced within an inch of their lives, pulling out every melodramatic trick to make the viewer think they're watching some kind of legitimate human drama when they're really not seeing anything but film-school-reject Final Cut Pro tricks accompanied by a predictable soundtrack. The shows are overprocessed to an insane degree. They're like the visual equivalent of late '80s adult pop, all synthed-out and soulless. Watching crap like "30 Days" is like listening to Starship's "We Built This City." Over and over again. And liking it. Reality shows like "30 Days" thrive on creating conflict where none existed, which means that instead of having two clear-headed people sit down to discuss their respective beliefs/nonbeliefs in God, Spurlock's show found a couple of extremists, tossed them into a jar, then shook it up and watched them fight. This is an unfortunate but expected turn of events for reality TV, but it gets a lot worse. 2.) These are fractious times, the man said; fractious times, and we need each other badly. The country is bitterly split right now, and confused about it, not least because members of both political parties and those of various faiths and beliefs feel like the government has been hijacked. So I was hoping — because I cannot make myself stop hoping — that maybe Spurlock's show would take advantage of the current political climate and use their religiously themed episode to maybe spread a little tolerance. But the atheist never got a straight answer out of the patriarch of the Christian family she'd been staying with about just why he believed what he did. Granted, I completely sympathize with the guy, since there's only like an 11% chance that someone who randomly lived with me for a month would pick up on any kind of religious belief. But this guy was (a) on TV and (b) attempting to answer some pretty big questions, and I would have appreciated it if either he'd been smarter or Spurlock had picked someone else. I don't even remember most of the answers the Christian guy gave. As the month wore on, his temper seemed to shorten. At one point, he advised a group of atheists that, if they didn't like the fact that America was a Christian country, they were welcome to leave. Yes, leave. I held my head in my hands. As if the thousands of denominational splits in the country weren't sign enough, most people tend to forget that not all Christians are the same. Not even close to it. Referring to Christians as a solid group that acts/thinks/votes a certain way makes about as much sense as calling it "the black community." Still, I hoped that maybe this guy would try and use his public platform to say something along the lines of: I believe in an ultimate right and wrong; I believe that these notions of right and wrong are independent of human consensus, i.e., an act is right and therefore recognized as such, not right because it is called such; that God is the source of the right and its separation from the wrong; etc. Granted, that's all pretty vague, but still, it would have been a good place to start. But "30 Days" offered none of this, just an angry, increasingly hypocritical and closed-minded man doing his best to alienate those who don't share his beliefs. The whole thing was just so sad and sick and depressing. I'm trying to figure out faith and culture and politics a day at a time, and it's extremely hard, and the last thing I need is Spurlock making it seem like I'm one and the same with the hardcore extremists who advise non-Christians to leave the country. But I guess I should have seen this coming: It's always the crazy ones that wind up in front of the cameras.