'The American Meme' (2018) Review: Just as Guilty

By: Larissa Couto

Social media: the “American dream” facilitator. As Bert Marcus' documentary The American Meme reveals, the life of influencers is not all fun, money, and parties; there’s way more hiding under the surface of the concept of celebrity. Because being a celebrity—or social media influencer—is the new dream shared among youths. The American Meme focuses on the roller coaster lived each day in the pursuit of likes and followings. Khaled, Brittany Furlan, Kirill Bichutsky, Josh Ostrovsky, and (the source of this entire culture) Paris Hilton open a window from where we peek at how they all made billions and created an entire industry based on the idea of living life on their own terms.

The American Meme begins by showing how far people can go on the internet to have a brief moment of fame, even at the risk of putting their own well-being at risk; but the tone shifts quickly. The American journey of these influencers starts (and ends) with Paris Hilton. Seen as the one who blazed a trail to a new kind of dream, Paris is the influencer who created the job/“not-a-job” of being—not an actress or a model—but something else: a social media celebrity. Every single aspect mentioned by younger celebrities like Kirill or Furlan, Paris has already lived, survived, and come back stronger than ever. The American Meme is, indeed, a description of how Paris became the character she created for herself. An angsty tale of what social media is and how this invisible web traps those who accept playing with it, this documentary has a clever approach in showing something somewhat brutal, but deeply contemporary, such as social media culture.

Without defending a positive or negative point of view on the world of influencers, The American Meme simply adjusts the camera and lets the protagonists tell their truth. Wisely, the director’s choice is a reminder that anyone who uses social media is, inevitably, just as guilty of this process: a process of granting value to whatever is being successful (even for just 15 minutes) on social media. With appropriate editing, The American Meme is efficient in introducing the celebrities, their work, and their stories without confusion or a slow pace. In keeping with the theme, the documentary allows images to speak for themselves at various times. The movie avoids treating the viewer as ignorant—as someone
who doesn’t know what influencers are and what people can do to reach their social media goals.

With good rhythm, the Vine girl, Fat Jew, Slut Whisperer, and Paris slowly spill out, as a confession, their fears, anxieties, hatreds, and loves. What do they have in common? They all love (or “luv”) their fans—but hate people. A difficult childhood, bullying, and a desire for instant gratification are just a few of the propulsions that made them who they are. It all comes with a cost, though. Personal or professional, the cost of being an influencer doing “what people want” requires a large amount of self-realization; of knowing that at the other end of the post people don’t actually “like” them or even care about the Vine girl or Slut Whisperer.

It’s a hard life, full of hard-working people, innovative ideas, and an urge for pushing the boundaries without days-off. If these new celebrities seem to be starting to unveil a darker side of their dream, Paris is there to tell us that everything will be ok. She reminds us that she’s not 21 anymore, even though she still has to correct herself when she calls herself a “girl” instead of a “woman.” She guides us all to the future in the form of virtual reality. Extracting every single bite she can from what the internet and social media have to offer, Paris is the final example of how you can start as a shy no-make-up girl, become the soul of nightlife, be seriously damaged by the media, find your way out of it, create an empire, and even have time to reinvent yourself. Living as if they’re on stage at all times, the rush they feel with fame is the most precious thing, and that’s what it means to conquer “the dream”—nevertheless, as with any god or goddess who envies the mortality of simple humans, they all still wish for a family and some rest.

Grade: A


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