American Meme looks at social media influencers

Photo courtesy of Meghan Roberts, Wikipedia

“The American Meme,” a documentary initially released in April and recently put on Netflix, takes on four different major personalities: Paris Hilton, Josh Ostrovsky, Brittany Furlan and Kirill Bichutsky. It also offers insight into the transgressive world of being an influencer and public figure in a world where everything is on show for the world to see.

Though the documentary can feel a bit disjointed, it tackles the issue of public image well and how the glamorous life viewers see is really just a show with no substance for these people.

At one point Bichutsky mentions he feels like a zoo animal and that he's only there for people’s entertainment with no one caring for him.

The blessing and curse of social media has been discussed at length, with many studies of its effects and campaigns advocating for internet safety being at the forefront of discourse for the consumption and development of media.

Most of these are targeted at normal people with the reminders that things that are posted stay forever and to watch what one says. To see the use of media from the perspective of somebody famous and how they making a living off of garnering attention – essentially being paid to stay relevant – is interesting and makes it even more of a high stakes topic.

This documentary is incredibly dark and delves into the mental health of its subjects multiple times – they simultaneously live for the attention and hate how controlled they are by it.

Everything comes down to how many likes they have or how to curate their own personas without really showing their true selves. At the same time, the film does appear to inexplicably glorify it, too – especially in the case of Paris Hilton.

The aforementioned disjointedness comes in cuts that seem to always go back to Ms. Hilton. She is considered the first real influencer and has so many product lines it’s hard to keep count.

While the film humanizes her, it still seems to stay away from commenting on her immense privilege and instead markets her as a self-built woman. In a sense, this documentary could be a cash grab for these four featured stars (as well as other influencers they brought in for interviews.)

At times it appears to be a cry for help for some with hints of nihilism in the meaningless and senseless lives they lead in pretending to be people they aren’t and having to maintain it 24/7. Unfortunately it will go unnoticed as a recent glimpse at Kirill’s Instagram page (who is the most outspoken on his hatred for his fame and treatment because of it) sees him making fun of a serious portion of one of his interviews from the film and even making that into a meme.

Overall, the film at times seemed confused with what it wants to say. It makes the audience feel for its subjects, but it is unclear what it wants them to do with their newfound awareness. It is still worth a watch and shows the fast-paced and rapidly changing world of internet stardom which keeps many on their toes.

4 stars