Film Review: “The American Meme” Does Justice to Vapid Cultural #Phenoms

Film poster: “The American Meme”

The American Meme (Bert Marcus, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.

We can’t #hashtag our way out of this: #fame is the name of the game. But when everyone strives for celebrity status, however brief its duration, then what does stardom mean? If we are all famous, then are we not all equally anonymous? Exposure means nothing if it covers the entire world.

Such is the subtext for the fascinating, if also nauseating, examination of the state of social media and social status that is The American Meme, a new documentary –on Netflix starting 12/17/18 – from director Bert Marcus (Champs). We follow a variety of subjects, from the original fame-maven herself, Paris Hilton, to Josh Ostrovsky (@thefatjewish on Instagram) to Brittany Furlan to DJ Khaled to Kirill Bichutsky (aka @slutwhisperer) and more. They make an eclectic bunch, each renowned for different things, but all united by their desire to be known and liked (or “liked” on their various sites) by as many people as possible.

Brittany Furlan doing Beyoncé in THE AMERICAN MEME ©Netflix

Some are famous for being famous (like Hilton), others for their talents (so to speak). They all have a knack for marketing, though the rat race to stay on top and in the limelight takes its toll. Bichutsky, for example, has made a name for himself by throwing what amount to stripper parties in night clubs where women receive “champagne facials.” Apparently, that’s a thing; excuse me, a #thing. Suffering from lack of sleep and the effects of long-term alcoholism, he is understandably a nervous and physical wreck. He’s 33 now, and I have my doubts as to whether he will make it past 35.

The rest are in less immediate danger of anything worse than sliding into obscurity. Furlan, an actress, began her career on Vine (now defunct), making short videos – some of which we see – of variable quality and humor. There’s no question she has skill as a performer, though given her focus short-form memes and images, that talent is scattered to the point of diffusion. Similarly, Ostrovsky is clever in how he uses his chubbiness and phallic braid (a “hairection,” he calls it) to draw attention to body image in our culture, but what else can he do? At least he is supremely self-aware and looking for ways to ensure future security.

Paris Hilton, @thefatjewish and his hairection in THE AMERICAN MEME ©Netflix

And then there’s Paris Hilton, who occupies a central place in the narrative here, the one who came of age pre-social media yet still found a way to make her early mark (it helps to be rich). Though Marcus is perhaps too enamored of her story and her protestations of cultural abuse and celebrity loneliness (sorry, but you reap what you sow), he makes a solid case that she paved the way for the next generation of internet stars. I found much of the material amusing, even if the subjects, themselves, hold little interest for me. I mostly do not like what they do, and care little about the wages of their exhausting lifestyles. But I did enjoy the film, and believe it showcases a very real aspect of our world today. #sad #help #theendisnigh

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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