Social Media in the Festival Films
Elsie Fisher plays the insecure Teenager Kayla in EIGTH GRADE
Two boys jump around on a stage. They fire confetti from a cannon and move their lips to a pop song that's blaring from the loudspeakers. This sounds like a performance by a boy band, but it isn't. These boys have neither sung the songs themselves nor rehearsed a choreography. They're a boy band without a band — just some boys who frolic for a few minutes and then give hugs to an audience of mainly young girls.
That's what it's like when social media stars, so-called influencers, go on tour. In the documentary JAWLINE, director Liza Mandelup follows online aspirant Austyn Tester, age 16. He came to fame on a platform for live chats and is always eager to look especially hot when answering questions about his life.
What does this life as an influencer do to a boy who himself is still very impressionable? In this film, we see all his highs and lows, his innermost desire for recognition and his deep sadness at not finding it online. Everyday life takes a back seat to the parallel digital world in which influencers live. Austyn's manager, Michael West, robs him and other influencers of a bit of their childhood and the pleasure of social media. He rushes his young charges from shoot to shoot, because he knows what their followers like. And: social media is hard work.
Social Media as Self-Therapy
So does the online world cater only to the masses? Do talent and individuality also get lost in the vortex of social media? Seeing JAWLINE could make a person a bit sad: boy bands are still supposed to dance. One might think the new stars just look good, talk only about themselves, whether or not they have something to say, and give the camera dreamy looks.
What happens, then, when the person sitting at her laptop is a self-conscious young girl who doesn't quite fulfill the prevailing standards of beauty? Bo Burnham has emerging actress Elsie Fisher conduct this experiment in his debut film, EIGHTH GRADE. Fisher plays young Kayla, who is trying to cope with her last year of junior high school. In her videos, Kayla doesn't talk much about her day-to-day life, but rather about what she's learned from her own experience with boys and school.
These are things that she wouldn't be able to tell others face-to-face, preferring instead to entrust them to the anonymity of the Internet. She herself, of course, does not remain anonymous. But when she speaks, she sees only her own face on the screen, not the intimidating face of someone else.
Her self-reflection on the Internet is like a kind of self-therapy. What used to be written in a secret diary is now shared with everyone — just without specific details. Whether she is able to help anyone in a similar situation remains to be seen. The important thing is that it helps her. The things she does online are transposed to her everyday life. Although she puts her foot in everything she can find, she ends this year having more self-confidence than before. Comedian Bo Burnham tells this story with such empathy that it feels more immediate than almost any teen comedy.
In CRSHD the young women communicate via Text-Nachricht
Social Media as a Tool of Communication
It's worth remembering that social media started off as a simple tool of communication: a way to connect with friends around the world and a way of meeting new people. In this context, many people can hardly imagine a life without their smartphones.
Social media and mobile phones are essential tools, particularly to those who've grown up with them. Such individuals show the object of their affection, for example, that they really like him or her by "deep liking" that person's social media profile. That is to say, they scroll very far down and like a very old photo. That shows how great their interest is.
That's only one of the things to be learned in CRSHD. This film tells the story of Izzy, an art student. Eager to have her first sexual experience, she prepares to go to a "crush party". That works roughly the same way as the Tinder app: when someone has "crushed" you — that is, written your name on a piece of paper and turned it in — you're invited.
The way director Emily Cohn uses film techniques to depict digital communication is particularly fascinating. Her protagonists sit down with their phones, recite to the camera the messages that they're sending to their friends, and are promptly in a conversation with them. If their mother sends a message, she's suddenly sitting in the car with the teenagers on the way to a party. Social media means being far away, but particularly close.
CRSHD shows how digital communication influences and even determines many aspects of everyday life. But in the end, Izzy must realize that a real party is not as simple as swiping right on Tinder.
In the documentarys PRESENT.PERFECT. and JAWLINE young people fight for approval
Social Media as Self-Expression
In China, many of the social networks we use in the West, such as Facebook and Instagram, are blocked; other local platforms exist instead. Some 422 million Chinese regularly make videos of themselves and stream them live on the Internet. Director Zhu Shengze collated roughly 800 hours of material for the film PRESENT.PERFECT. from the live streams and everyday videos of various users.
These videos transport us not only to a pedestrian bridge, but also to a pig farm and a patch of gravel. And streaming is done from everywhere. Like Austyn Tester in JAWLINE, the streamers react to live commentary from the viewers: they dance for them or answer questions about their sex change.
All in all, this documentary, too, shows the young generation's eagerness to communicate with the public. Some social media users allow the public to look deeply into their everyday lives, more deeply even than some of the people in their immediate circles. They want to be heard, to be recognized.
Four films, four different perspectives on social media — and all of them definitely deserve a deep like.