American Meme is a recent document on Netflix that tells the story of a group of people who are ‘internet famous.’ That that means essentially is that they have achieved a level of notoriety on Instagram that has reached a level that in some ways transcends our popular culture. The documentary was directed by Bert Marcus as a rather dim profile of these internet famous people other than an actual investigation of this truly bizarre phenomenon.
The documentary opens on Paris Hilton. In case you perhaps thought that her pop culture profile had diminished since she hasn’t been on television in several years, Hilton is still out there and her medium of choice is Instagram where she has more than 50 million followers. The main takeaway from this short segment is how according to Hilton herself, her family is concerned about how much time she spends with her online fans, including allowing them to stay at her house.
The film proceeds next, and briefly, into the life of Brittary Furlan who has made her life on social media. Furlan does characters, impressions and straight up goofy nonsense. The documentary captures her as she is first performing an impression of Paris Hilton and then sets herself up for a photo shoot in which she recreates a famous Beyonce pose while holding an oversized burrito. The scene ends sadly when she finds that a rival called The Fat Jewish has recreated the same pose.
Josh Ostrovsky is better known as The Fat Jewish, don’t ask about the name. The film details mostly his pictures with his dogs and his love of Paris Hilton. The Fat Jewish was famous most recently for stealing bits from comedians and posting them on his Instagram as his own jokes but America Meme does nothing to cover Josh Ostrovsky’s controversial side. Instead they allow him to play up how he managed to get invited to the Washington Correspondents Dinner and got a picture with President Obama.
This vapid documentary is nearly nearly as vapid as the meme worthy people it portrays. Model Emily Ratajkowski shows up for a moment to talk about how she became famous in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video and then she’s gone. DJ Khaled is another celebrity featured talking about how he documents nearly every aspect of his life on Instagram. Everything from his breakfast, lunch and dinner to his successes as a rap music producer.
The worst of those profiled is a photographer named Kirill whose fame is based basically on light pornography, not unlike Girls Gone Wild. Kirll’s interview is hard to watch as his obnoxiousness radiates through the screen. I don’t have a problem with nudity, I am not a prude, I just really don’t like this guy based off of the interviews in American Meme. Kirill has been repeatedly kicked off of Instagram until he finally changed his name to SlutWhisperer and suddenly the platform just let him be for whatever reason. At least the name indicates his obnoxiousness.
Kathy Hilton is the only person who really comes off well in this movie. According to what is in this documentary, she never wanted this for her daughters. Based on this information, much of what became Paris Hilton’s infamy came without her mother’s influence. Kathy is portrayed not as some out of touch stage mom, but a reasonable and concerned parent who expresses genuine concern regarding the ways in which her daughter’s celebrity emerged.
American Meme briefly flirts with something meaningful in both the relationship between Kathy and Paris and in dealing directly and honestly with Paris’s sex tape. Paris expresses genuine sadness over how the tape came to be. When Paris talks about how the tape changed her life and prevented her from reaching her potential, it’s honestly moving. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for someone of such ludicrous privilege but I can say I did feel for her here.
That’s about as close to depth as you are going to get in American Meme. The documentary is about the lowest form of modern celebrity. Instagram is this empty place full of self-involved, obnoxious people who have made ridiculous amounts of money for doing things that would have had them in detention in High School. Or there is Kirill who is basically a pornographer posing as a provocateur.
If you are fascinated by the culture that your kids and grandkids are investing in, American Meme is kind of valuable in that way. It’s a cautionary warning to make sure that you are keeping a close eye on what your kids are doing on social media. Pay close attention to your kids and if they are following these people on social media, heed that and be afraid, be very, very afraid.