A few years back a young video blogger named Chris Crocker took the world by storm with his histrionic, tearful plea to “leave Britney alone!!!” Crocker was infuriated by the harassment the pop idol was receiving and used his own already somewhat-popular YouTube channel as a soap box and the video went viral creating an Internet meme that would challenge LOLcats and cats playing piano to a virtual showdown. Filmmakers Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch train their cameras on Crocker and show us his odyssey in the often interesting, but in the end too Crocker-heavy, documentary “Me @the Zoo.”
I have absolutely nothing against Chris Crocker, and aside from the Britney video, didn’t know much about him. He’s a flamboyant, transgender person living in a tiny town in rural Tennessee. As you might guess, his personality doesn’t jibe well with the townsfolk but Chris has a loving grandmother who, although frequently annoyed by his antics, loves him just the same. Due to serious threats and harassment at school, Crocker goes on home study and spends hours a day making video clips for his YouTube channel which gain millions of hits and comments and spawn parody videos as well. Then the Britney clip hits and Crocker is propelled into a weird kind of “not celebrity celebrity” that proves difficult for him to manage.
As I said, I have nothing against Crocker and at times found him charming and engaging. Yet I really didn’t feel his story was compelling enough to merit an entire documentary and there were other intriguing areas to be mined in the YouTube arena. I liked “Me @the Zoo” (incidentally, the film title derives from the title of the first ever YouTube video) best when the filmmakers cast their eye on Internet celebrity culture and how completely insane it can become. Websites where people are encouraged to slap, beat and torture animations of Britney Spears and later, Crocker himself are beyond disturbing and it’s as if the Internet creates a filter in people where they don’t think these are human beings they’re seeing. Raging homophobes threaten Crocker and his family in their own videos and call for his death all because they don’t like seeing a gay person getting attention and it’s incredibly sick and twisted. I wished the film would have delved more into the psychology around Internet personae and memes rather than stay with Crocker as he ostensibly grows up on camera.