THE AMERICAN MEME
Bert Marcus’s third documentary gives a brief window into the potentially self-destructive effects of social media celebrity culture as indivertibly birthed by poor little rich girl Paris Hilton. Marcus reminds audiences that Kim Kardashian started out as Hilton’s personal assistant before kicking off her own cult of celebrity with a leaked sex tape that arrived four years after Hilton’s sex tape.
Social media is “like a drug; we don’t know what the side effects are going to be 20 years from now.” What we do know is that privacy is dead, along with every other great social institution Americans once took for granted. Millennials couldn’t care less.
What’s missing from this documentary is any historical context about how people such as Napster founders (Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker), and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, contributed to creating a bottom-of-the-barrel economy built on people willing to sell their souls for pennies on social media platforms such as Vine and YouTube.
Slavery to the corporate machine of social media platforms comes in many forms. America no longer has any legitimate media outlets because these companies all now cater to a clickbait formula that ignores editorial responsibility for their meager existence. Groupthink and popularity are all that matter. A dissection of the economics behind social media’s stranglehold on corporate media, and on the lives of thousands of YouTubers, would have been an appropriate addition to this film.
Josh Ostrovsky (a.k.a. the fatjewish), Brittany Furlan, DJ Khaled, and Kirill (“Was Here”) Bichutsky are the other social media personalities that Marcus interviews and examines as examples of people who spend every waking minute seeking fame and fortune from the lowest common denominators of clickbait mentality. Creating endless scenes of topless girls receiving champagne facials at nightclubs is where it’s at for Kirill. The film’s “celebrities” share one thing in common, these are lonely people seeking approval and validation from a mob of fans who care only about themselves.
The Hilton Hotel granddaughter is arguably the least compelling of the bunch. We watch as Paris goes through her childhood doll collection with her mother Kathy, a woman whose arrested development roughly matches that of her daughter. If ever there was an example of vapid beauty, Paris Hilton is the poster-girl for it. We listen as Hilton prattles on about how her top was pulled down for “one-second” during a photo shoot for Vanity Fair that launched her famous-for-being-famous career that has led to her becoming a DJ, and launching an endless product line of merchandise. Paris Hilton overload sets in. Cute is, after all, a dime a dozen. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame be damned.
Brittany Furlan’s tale of Vine success exemplifies a small town comic actress who rose to fame for making humorous six-second video clips before Twitter inexplicably shut the service down. The filmmakers shed no light on the fractious relationship between content creators and the concealed corporate machinations that hold these people’s fate in their hands. As many people have discovered the hard way, you can pour your entire life into creating a brand for a platform such as Vine only to have the rug pulled out from under you without notice.
Ironically, Furlan wins her escape from the clutches of the social media rabbit hole via rock drummer Tommy Lee whose own career received a significant boost from a notorious sex tape involving Pamela Anderson. There is something tragically fitting about Furlan taking up a romantic relationship with a wealthy musician 30 years her senior.
In a bumbling manner “The American Meme” exposes the hollowness of social media platforms that chew up people’s lives in the interest of likes and follows. We get a glimpse of the collapse of social media that will take many lives with it in one way or another. The film poses a significant if silent question, what is left after you put your entire persona on display for the internet to comment on, critique, and masturbate over?
All the money in the world won’t help you then, for you have sold your soul to capitalism’s demons; there is no way to ever get it back.
Not rated. 90 mins. (B-)