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These powerful films and documentaries take a sinister look at social media and Internet fame: Cam, Eighth Grade and The American Meme

These powerful films and documentaries take a sinister look at social media and Internet fame: Cam, Eighth Grade and The American Meme

Under the influencer

Text: Aravin Sandran


Eighth Grade 

It might sound a little strange on first glance that comedian Bo Burnham's directorial debut is a coming-of-age tale that centres around Kayla (played by Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old vlogger who dispenses life advice to her YouTube subscribers. Yet, Burnham might know a thing or two about this; he became a viral Youtube star a few years ago with his laugh-out-loud comedy routines. Admittedly, his teen flick concedes to actor-director Greta Gerwig's vividly fleshed-out Lady Bird (2017). What it excels in though, is its authentic portrayal of the modern adolescent's online and IRL anxieties. The eighth-grader in question Kayla is basic. She chases 'likes' and 'views' with an exaggerated persona on social media. Yet tragically, she is a socially challenged hot mess offline with little to no resemblance of a support system besides her overbearing dad. She listens to Top 40 music and wears regular clothing but aspires to something greater. There isn't a dramatic arc in her storyline, instead, the film coasts along on well-observed, relatable and cringey interactions between Kayla and her peers, whether it's her inane conversations with her crush Aidan or attending a pool party at a popular kid's house with crippling anxiety that could kill a cow.

The American Meme

Netflix's The American Meme revolves around today's most prolific social media stars, their claim to fame but also, their emotional turmoil and existential struggles. The Fat Jew makes an appearance with his obnoxious brand of slapstick comedy, proudly admitting to amassing a fortune by plagiarising memes and sustaining his currency through a line of basic AF "White Girl Rosé". On the other hand, formerly one of TIME's most influential people, Vine comedienne Brittany Furlan is now scrambling to find work after the social video platform closed in 2017. She finds some much-needed offline love in Mötley Crüe's most well-endowed member Tommy Lee. There's also Kirill the photographer who made his mark with a portrait of rapper Nas but is currently struggling to keep up with his raunchy party-hosting gigs as he hits 30 years of age. The most seductive of the cast though has to be heiress and mogul Paris Hilton. The way she muses and reflects on her ritzy childhood (hanging out with Andy Warhol), her accidental fall into tabloid culture (blame photographer David LaChapelle), her now-iconic The Simple Life stint with Nicole Richie, her fall-from-grace sex tape and her ongoing globe-trotting DJ gigs traverses between scatterbrained blonde and worldly guru. It's no wonder her fans call her "Mom".

Cam

Sexually active women are usually fated to die in horror flicks, often half-coital in a bloody mess seemingly punished for their promiscuity. This misogynistic male gaze gets flipped in Netflix's alluringly psychedelic film Cam. It stars The Handmaid Tale's Madeline Brewer as Alice, a young camgirl who uses her coquettish all-American appeal to cash in on a live-streaming softcore pornography site. What's fascinating though, it's not her thotish behaviours that get her into trouble, but rather the mysterious theft of her online identity that propels the storyline. Web-camming has seen an uptick in recent years among young girls who are looking to make a quick buck in the comfort and security of their own homes, but the misrepresented industry hasn't been explored through the aesthetically pleasing lens of a psychological thriller like Cam. In the face of adversity, Alice always remains autonomous and in control of her sexuality. As is always the case IRL, it's some creepy mature dweeb who intends on manipulating women's bodies for his own sick power trip.

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