Morgan Spurlock knows a thing or two about giving offence. His celebrated 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, in which he ate nothing but McDonald's for a month and chronicled the ever more alarming results, was greeted in the fast food industry much like one of the vile-smelling piles of vomit Mr Spurlock periodically produced in the course of his research.
Now, it seems, Mr Spurlock has shocked and outraged a group of educational administrators at a high school in suburban Philadelphia where he was invited to speak.
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".
The 700-strong audience at Hatboro-Horsham High School clearly responded to his student-accessible approach, giving him a standing ovation and mobbing him for autographs when he had finished. But others in what is an unmistakably conservative corner of the Philadelphia suburbs were not amused.
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 humour 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.
"If you put the whole package together, the use of the F-word and poking fun at teachers and the comments about special-needs students, it just wasn't appropriate," superintendent William Lessa commented.
Some audience members accused Mr Spurlock of that unforgivable American sin - political incorrectness. High school senior Emily Wible said she didn't like the "retarded" line. "I work with special needs kids," she explained.
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.
Mr Lessa said the school district was considering withholding payment for Mr Spurlock's appearance, something he was more than happy to accept. "I don't want their money if they feel I didn't do what was promised," he said.
The film-maker was not entirely magnanimous about his hosts, however, hinting that what might have really given them offence was his attitude to the fast-food business as opposed to his use of language. He said that before his talk he was asked not to talk about McDonald's because a member of a local education board owned a McDonald's franchise - a claim that was impossible to verify over the weekend.
"To think I'm going to give in to that type of censorship is unbelievable," Mr Spurlock said. Not only did he talk about McDonald's, he also ripped into other chains, including the Outback Steakhouse. "No one in Australia has heard of Outback Steakhouse, and everyone who works there is Mexican," he said.Reuse content