It’s a familiar story: some naive individual aspires to a life of glitz and glamour, only to discover that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The American Meme takes this premise and applies it to the fledgling world of internet influencers, placing notorious socialite Paris Hilton as the creator of this new type of stardom. Whilst I don’t 100% agree with that premise, I found this Netflix documentary to be an interesting look at some frankly rather damaged people, and the farcical, desperate, and undignified ways they go about achieving and maintaining their fame.
It has to be said that they were never going to truly critique Hilton or any of her many projects – she helped to finance the documentary, of course. For the most part, it just attempts to make you feel bad for the multi-millionaire, and though on a feminist level I find the leaking of her sex tape pretty despicable, I struggle to sympathize with struggles like always being hounded by paparazzi when she does so much to encourage it. I also find it a little disturbing how much the other influencers seemed to idolize her, TheFatJewish in particular.
The opening of the documentary truly encapsulates what most of the film, and of internet stardom in general, is about: Vine star Brittany Furlan posting a parody photo to Instagram that apes Beyonce’s famous pregnancy shoot, only this time with a burrito food-baby. This kind of #relatable humour is the bread and butter of most internet comedians, as they try to appeal to the lowest common denominator possible in the pursuit of likes and follows. Quality and effort aren’t part of the equation for any of the people on show here – what matters is being provocative or funny in the most generic way possible.
Some of the darker elements of internet fame are also explored, though perhaps not as thoroughly as they could be. For instance, Kirill’s blatant misogyny and carelessness with his own platform are markedly depicted, but the documentary keeps too much of a distance to truly challenge this, never asking him any uncomfortable questions or investigating the real world impact of this kind of behavior. Regardless though, I’m glad that director Bert Marcus didn’t stray from these topics, and viewers are consistently encouraged to interpret what they will from the interviews, despite how biased they can be.
The structure is competent enough, switching back and forth between various celebrities before any can get too tiring, and slowly drip-feeding the viewer new information in a way that keeps you guessing. But I can’t help but wish the documentary had a host of some sort to guide the viewer through – if Louis Theroux was here politely interrogating Brittany Furlan, I reckon I’d have enjoyed the film far more. Honestly, if I was more sympathetic to the plight of reality stars I’d probably have enjoyed it more too. But to be fair, The American Meme is an entertaining, focused examination of internet stardom that’s worth shoving on if you have a Netflix account and a spare evening.