Socialist Worker

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: It’s time we all took a commercial break

Morgan Spurlock’s assault on advertising is fascinating—but flawed by its own premise, writes Ruairidh Maclean

Issue No. 2274

Capitalism permeates every aspect of our lives—every relation, every space and every surface. The most visible manifestation of this is advertising.

In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, filmmaker activist Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days) brings this creeping infestation into focus by documenting his pursuit of corporate sponsorship through product placement and “partnering”.

Spurlock is funny, engaging and adept at drawing out the absurdity of his subject matter.

The critical viewer is struck by the movie’s polished, up-beat style, coupled with its frequent uses of montage and dynamic cutaways.

They soften the audience to its message, while also thrilling them with a spectacle, keeping them alert and receptive, wanting more.

These, of course, are the tools of advertisers.

But the very nature of the film suggests to its audience a suspicion of precisely these techniques—the viewer becomes more critical, more genuinely engaged with the ideas on offer, something more than a passive consumer.

Resistance

By being aware that we are subject to commercial forces, we are performing a—however minimal—act of resistance to them.

But the film suffers partially from its own premise. It creates the very thing it’s poised to critique—the

un-reality of brand promotion.

We’re told repeatedly “the individual is a brand”, reducing the individual to an object. If a person can be treated like a thing, then a thing can be treated like a person.

So we get workers stripped of their livelihoods and

dignity, and corporations—and even their products—given rights meant to protect humans.

On one hand it’s precisely this twisted logic the film satirises. The image of Spurlock’s own body sold as advertising space is a recurring theme.

On the other, this points to a flaw common to Spurlock’s films—his own over-presence. The subject is product placement—but like all his work it relays this by focusing on himself.

Up to a point, this is the basis of the format’s effectiveness. Spurlock’s struggles lead us to understand the commercial pressures experienced by artists as they try to realise their work.

In one scene, we get a disturbing insight into advertising in US schools. We not only see managers actively soliciting for commercialisation, but also teachers and parents.

Confronting

Morgan does an excellent job of confronting us with the extent of this reality—and without moralising. It’s clear the schools are underfunded.

At no point, however, do we get any sense of why the school system is underfunded, or that the teachers could have resisted this process.

This absence is felt all the more keenly because the political vitality of the film lies in its exploration of the line between resistance and

submission to commercialism.

But the film’s reliance on the “reality” conjured from the personality and individual experience of Spurlock means that resistance can only be understood as a series of abstract “choices” made by individuals.

Even so, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold remains an entertaining and effective way to draw the public’s attention to the ever-increasing commercialisation of our culture.

Whatever else, it presents a powerful illustration of the unspoken truth— that advertising is nothing short of the privatisation of the visible world.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is out now


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Article information

Reviews
Tue 18 Oct 2011, 18:59 BST
Issue No. 2274
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