UPDATE: Since the below post was written last week, the premium channel YouTube Red has dropped Morgan Spurlock’s forthcoming documentary, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken, in response to the filmmaker’s admission of sexual misconduct. The channel had acquired the film for $3.5M. Additionally, the production company Warrior Poets, which Spurlock has stepped down from, will no longer be screening Super Size Me 2 at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in January, and Spurlock has been cut from Stephanie Soechtig’s doc The Devil We Know, which is also set to screen next month at Sundance.
Last week, John Oliver offered a riveting, uncomfortable example of how to confront other men about their past behavior toward women. Now, Morgan Spurlock has confronted himself about his past behavior toward women–and it’s making me uncomfortable for different reasons.
The documentarian most famous for Super Size Me has just released a long, purportedly unprompted statement in which he admits that he is part of the #MeToo problem. It’s an oddly emotionless account of past infidelities, the settling of a sexual harassment lawsuit, and an encounter from his college days that was, according to the (unnamed) woman involved, rape. Spurlock claims that all of the survivors coming forward in recent weeks moved him to reflect on his own behavior and to blow the whistle on himself so that he may lead by example.
That’s an admirable goal. Self-reflection is indeed something every man should be participating in right now. But Spurlock’s statement reads much more like someone looking to cover his own ass.
#MeToo is meant to refer to the victims of sexual misconduct, but it could also refer to the perpetrators. If most men did an inventory of all of their past behaviors–exploring whether they’ve ever turned a “no” into a “yes” through manipulative persuasion, for instance–they would likely discover that #TheyToo have been part of the problem. It is a wrenching thing to realize, and it’s probably buried beneath several dingy layers of denial. What this kind of introspection dredges to the surface should inspire men to make changes and amends. In Spurlock’s case, it seems to have inspired him to go public. But why?
This morning, Jodi Kantor, one of the New York Times reporters who helped break the Harvey Weinstein story, tweeted a journalistic treatise (below) that nails much of what is problematic about Spurlock’s statement. (The timing somehow doesn’t feel like a coincidence.)
Excellent questions from the wall of my daughter’s classroom. pic.twitter.com/ntgKHYG9eU
— jodikantor (@jodikantor) December 14, 2017
These are the questions I’m asking about Morgan Spurlock right now. Why is he telling this story at this moment? Why isn’t somebody else? Spurlock’s mea culpa seems designed to make himself feel better about what he’s done, not the people he’s done them to. He’s test-driving potential excuses for his behavior, all while congratulating himself for having the “courage” to do so. By offering his confession and attempted absolution in this particular way, Spurlock seems to be classifying his past actions as “definitely not that bad.” If they were that bad, after all, would he dare broadcast them to the entire world? But for the people he hurt, his actions likely did, in fact, feel that bad. (We don’t know; we haven’t heard from them.)
The woman involved in the college incident–which Spurlock describes as a one-night stand and she described as a rape–clearly experienced something altogether different than what he did. He tries to paint an innocuous picture of that night, all while including the crucial information that she said—twice—that she did not want to have sex with him. His description of the encounter makes it clear that there’s more to the story. Telling it at all feels like more of a pre-emptive strike than a regretful survey of the damage he’s done.
“I am part of the problem. We all are,” he writes. “But I am also part of the solution. By recognizing and openly admitting what I’ve done to further this terrible situation, I hope to empower the change within myself. We should all find the courage to admit we’re at fault.”
Spurlock is patting himself on the back a little too hard in his statement. He’s trying to have it both ways: admit he’s been a shit, while simultaneously submitting himself for consideration in the Good Guy Awards. It’s image rehabilitation disguised as a wrecking ball. Could it also be tactical? Could he be trying to get ahead of some news about him that’s about to come out?
He goes on to take a shot at diagnosing the source of his problems:
“Is it because my father left my mother when I was child? Or that she believed he never respected her, so that disrespect carried over into their son?”
No, it’s not because of those things. Childhood experiences may have helped shape the person Spurlock has become. That person, however, made the conscious decision on his own to behave inappropriately with what sounds like a lot of women. By unsubtly pointing fingers in a few directions, he turns a supposed statement of personal responsibility into a laundry list of excuses. This is not what taking responsibility looks like.
Spurlock was on the right track and then he rode that track way past his stop and ended up deep in Side Eyes Emoji Town. At this moment, every single man should be reevaluating his behaviors, past and present, and looking for ways he may have contributed to the culture of toxicity. If he does find something wrong, he should deal with it. That may entail changing some behaviors, it may mean making amends, and in the case of public figures, it could involve old information coming to light. But if they are going to be telling such stories, it shouldn’t feel so performative and self-serving, and it should perhaps include some input—or a willingness to include input—from the victims. Without that other voice in this story, it feels like we’re hearing from an unreliable narrator.