Movie Review: “The American Meme”

What if there is a dark side to fame?  What if money does not always buy happiness?  What if there are actual real-world consequences to one’s actions? Such are the supposedly shocking revelations put forth by the new documentary, “The American Meme.”

Directed by Bert Marcus and featuring more social media celebrities than you can shake a stick at, “The American Meme” examines how individuals who have become famous on Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Twitter, and [Insert Social Network of the Day Here] may not have the greatest life ever.  Sure, they may be hysterically funny online, but that doesn’t mean that’s who they are at home, and it doesn’t mean that they want to be seen that way forever.

If those realizations don’t sound new, or you don’t particularly want to here Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky blow off plagiarism, and you’re well aware that actions have consequences, “The American Meme” isn’t for you.  If, however, you want to see a greatest hits clip of Kirill Bichutsky exploiting women, explain why it’s okay, and kind of sort of backtrack later, this piece is right up your alley.

Marcus’s documentary shows the celebrities both at home and at work, doing the thing which made them famous and discussing their own personal lives. It also includes direct interviews with the camera, but eschews the use of a narrator.  This feels like a particularly telling choice, with the movie, perhaps, best functioning as one of the little bits of video or jokes that the celebrities themselves put out.

That is, while the basic takeaway from the movie is that so many of these people regret some of their choices and their hunting for fame by appealing to the lowest common denominator (DJ Khaled is the notable exception), the lack of a “voice of god” allows for backtracking on not just the part of the celebrities, but the film itself. Any criticism of the movie, or the way it depicts individuals in it, seems likely to wind up with the response of “no, that’s not what it means, what it’s showing is…” even if it quite obviously does indeed mean the other.

Moreover, “The American Meme” seems perfectly content to exploit its celebrities in the same way that individuals like Kirill exploit others.  This is a documentary that watches as Kirill speaks of grave depression, of not being able to sleep unless he’s completely drunk, of his not wanting to be alive, and uses it for its own ends, to showcase its own would-be depth and seriousness.  It is a movie that lets these internet celebrities say anything they want, like Ostrovsky explain away plagiarism and mis-explain the concept of fakes news (he takes credit for its creation in the same way he took credit for the work of others), without any serious examination of their statements.

With little more to offer than a riff on a very standard tale, “The American Meme” seems destined to wind up like so many internet celebrities – it’ll garner a few likes, a few complaints, and shuffle off into oblivion.  In this particular case, it will be buried under the never-ending mound of content Netflix releases, occasionally bubbling to the surface if the algorithm sees fit to bring it forth.

It could have no more deserving a fate.

Movie Review: "Keeping up with the Joneses" (2016)

photo credit:  Netflix

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