The American Meme

Paris Hilton is not a cartoon character. You probably already know Hilton as a social media influencer with an audience in the millions and a sometime reality TV star. But in the documentary The American Meme, which just premiered on Netflix from director Bert Marcus, you’ll quickly learn that Paris Hilton is also a human being. This surprisingly entertaining documentary takes a deep dive into the lives of social media influencers and how they manage to make a living running their Instagram accounts. You already know many of them, in fact, you probably follow a few, from Paris Hilton to Dane Cook to Emily Ratajkowski, and The Fat Jew. And you’ll find that they’re just as addicted to social media validation as you are. (I mean, if you are willing to admit your addiction to social media.)

“And they’re just as addicted to social media validation as you are…”

Perhaps the seeds of the need for social media validation started way back in junior high. You know, that one time when you passed a note to a friend that read, “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” And our carefully curated profiles are no different than those notes passed during class. We want to be liked. We are addicted to validation, but now we seek this validation from strangers. And the addiction to this dopamine rush is at the root of the unhappiness that many influencers experience dealing with the pressures of having to constantly entertain their fans.

Marcus doesn’t back away from controversy especially when turning his lens toward The Fat Jew who went about building his infamous Instagram account by appropriating content from others without accreditation. This is a comedy no-no as pointed out by many comics and made him a pariah within the comedy community. But TFJ seemed to take it in stride actually leaning into the accusations while mocking himself yet again. Making fun of himself is kind of his thing, it also makes him quite endearing as he lambastes himself as much as his critics. What follows is a detailed profile of Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky in which we learn where his desire for fame may be rooted.

“…takes a deep dive into the lives of social media influencers and how they manage to make a living running their Instagram accounts.”

The American Meme works best when it reveals the subtle pain behind much of the manufactured fantasy. In one poignant scene Paris Hilton stands before a piece of art — a giant photograph of cameras and photographers with their lenses pointed squarely at her. She flips a switch that then creates the sound effect of countless photographers snapping pics. Paris even admits that she sometimes hears that sound in random moments, when the camera shutters are not even there. Marcus does a great job of getting Paris to open up and discuss her trials and tribulations including how she reacted after the release of that infamous sex tape. Whether you like Paris or not, it’s impossible not to feel some empathy during these intimate moments. And perhaps that’s what’s so jarring about this documentary, learning the thing we knew all along, that social media happiness is manufactured, it’s sometimes fake and these people are actually real human beings. This doc shows you the parts that Instagram won’t — the business, the challenges, the pressures, the fleeting flame — this movie is a series of frames you’ll never see posted with the hashtag #blessed. FOMO isn’t just a hashtag, it’s something we are all experiencing it when we scroll through Instagram.

Marcus‘s documentary does a thorough job of breaking down the biggest social media stars, their origins and the problems each encounters when trying to constantly maintain their profile. Comedian Brittany Furlan faces love and hate from her audience as the daily social media content creation grind begins to wear on her. Who knew there were so many challenges involved in being funny day in and day out? Furlan faces difficulties with her family, love life and career proving that social media fame is often a double-edged sword. Her comedy is picked about by haters and the comments, well, after awhile, they hurt.

“Do you like me? Check yes or no.”

The American Meme won’t be the last documentary to take a look at this topic as we learn more about the longterm effects of social media consumption on ourselves and society as a whole. It’s entirely possible that this is all harmless fun. Or, as some have suggested, it’s as corrosive to our souls as smoking is for our lungs. (I highly recommend Jaron Lanier’s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts to get a clearer glimpse into the science of social media addiction.) Regardless of where you stand, I want to see more. I’m hoping there is a sequel in the works or a series, because the questions regarding the effects of social media on society, well, those are not entirely answered. Yet.

The American Meme (2018) Written and directed by Bert Marcus. Starring Paris Hilton, Kirill Bichutsky, Hailey Bieber, Amanda Cerny, Dane Cook, DJ Khaled, Lele Pons, Josh Ostrovsky, Brittany Furlan, Emily Ratajkowski.

9 out of 10

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