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Social Media Obsession Satire Ingrid goes west was released five years ago to mixed reviews – but its exploration of how women build personalities and relate to each other online might just be ahead of its time. Ingrid goes west stars Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid Thorburn, a lonely, clumsy, grieving woman whose desire to be the best friend of social media influencers on her fuels mania. Elisabeth Olsen and Meredith Hagner, at the dawn of their notoriety, play the influencer-objects of his obsession. As social media continued to evolve at lightning speed in the years that followed Ingrid goes westthe film now feels less like a dark, honest parable about the dangers of living for online acclaim and more like the first entry into an emerging genre: the stories of the lives we create online, and how women in particular communicate with and with each other in the world of social media.

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The emotional core of Ingrid goes west, Ingrid’s obsession with influencer Taylor, is nothing new – we’ve been telling stories of it since time immemorial, from Greek myths to old Hollywood. But the film was new to the specific exploration of social media obsession, a phenomenon we’ve probably all experienced on occasion, but hopefully not to the extent that Ingrid does. Ingrid’s particular obsession leads her to move across the country, hurting the few real friends she manages to make, and spending her inheritance trying to impress the very people who make a living by influencing others.

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Aubrey Plaza in ‘Ingrid Goes West’
Courtesy of Everett Collection.

As a first approach to the dangers of getting too invested in influencer culture, Ingrid goes west is dedicated to showing how Ingrid harms herself and her real life in this quest to appear likeable and valuable to someone whose Instagram presence she admires. Ingrid is still operating at a loss because she doesn’t fully understand the cost-benefit analysis of living her life online: losing friends and alienating people, to paraphrase Toby Young’s 2001 memoir.
of not succeeding in the media industry. At least not until the very end of the movie, when she goes viral for acknowledging her obsession — the first genuine thing she did. It remains to be seen whether she is doomed to repeat her patterns of toxic female relationships or, now that she is internet famous, whether she will fall victim to the fanaticism of her own followers.

Hulu’s Not good with Zoey Deutch takes the genre one step further. Unlike Ingrid, Deutch’s character Danni Sanders understands very well what it means to grow up online – and so the film explores not only how she harms her own life by prioritizing an online reality, but how she actively harms those around it and strengthens global systems. wrong with the image it presents online.

Deutch’s Danni is a very online zillennial with the trigger Y2K hair and wardrobe to prove it, working as a photo editor for a News Feed-esque media startup with the dream of being a famous writer. She puts her image editing skills to good use by photographing herself in pictures of Paris, where she tells people she is attending a prestigious writer’s retreat. And then tragedy strikes – for the people Actually in Paris during a terrorist attack. Lest Danni be caught in her lie, she spins an even bigger one, becoming the face of anti-violence activism in America, appropriating the work of a black teenager named Rowan (Mia Isaac), with who she befriended and who Actually activism against violence.

The lies that Danni tells on social networks are of a completely different flavor than those of Ingrid Ingrid goes west shares on his stream, though both characters are basically building complete fantasies and passing them off as their everyday lives. With Danni’s Lies, the film explores cultural appropriation and white victimization: how a white face amplifying everything from true crime to a style of dress can capture mainstream attention while people’s traditions and traumas color are ignored.

As Danni hatches his master plan of deception to impress a guy, it’s Danni’s relationship with Rowan that’s most interesting. While society has normalized and validated white women’s attention-seeking behavior online or otherwise, women of color rarely get the same benefit of the doubt. – and so, Rowan instantly sees through Danni’s white girl antics and greets her with a wariness that Danni will continue to earn in full. But Rowan doesn’t allow himself to stay in those feelings for long, overcoming his doubts, and the film would have benefited from a deeper exploration of how Rowan controls his feelings towards Deutch’s character rather than brushing them off in the dark. precipitous climax. The film points out a few times that by living her life for likes, Danni harms the people whose real experiences she co-opts: she harms Rowan by co-opting his activism work, and she harms real trauma victims by co- opting. -opting their trauma for online fame (this last point hammered home by a support group scene in which Danni shares her newfound notoriety in a support group attended by many black survivors of real trauma).

Either way, Danni’s status as a white woman is an indelible aspect of why she feels so empowered to do what she does and why she’s so easily believed – and the film shows how the rise of white stories on social media reflects our own worst impulses as a society.

by Issa Rae Rap shit!, currently streaming on HBO Max, is another entry into the stories we tell on social media and how they interact with our lives — and thankfully, this time not from a white woman’s perspective. The series takes an integrative approach by not only having us watch characters create social media realities, but showing us stories and narratives directly from social media to drive the plot and character development forward. The eight-episode series follows two black women, Shawna (Aida Osman) and Mia (KaMillion), in Miami who were high school friends and reconnect — you guessed it! — via social media as they both try to make the titular rap shit happen on their own. Rap shit! takes Instagram’s heavy stylization of Ingrid goes west – easily dismissed at the time – and works with it, incorporating the images, videos and social media screens through which we digest our lives as an integral part of how we see these characters’ worlds, just as we see the worlds of people we know in real life. In times when Rap shit! drops the social media filter, it gives extra meaning, showing us through more traditional camerawork that the characters have lowered their facades for the time being.

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Aida Osman, KaMillion in ‘Rap Sh!t’
Alicia Vera/HBO Max.

What is interesting Ingrid goes west, Not good, and Rap shit! is not only how they show the creeping takeover of social media in the way we live our lives, but they demonstrate the avenues that social media creates for women to break with patriarchal expectations and communicate directly between them. The interactions they have while seeking the attention of other women can be just as toxic and destructive to their lives as any other validation-seeking behavior, but they open the door to a world without male-only gaze. Women trying to become internet sensations fall prey to all sorts of trappings depicted in these movies and TV shows, but they also introduce a new set of terms for success, different from those the women were instructed to follow. in everyday life for so long.

In Ingrid goes westIngrid is obsessed with earning the approval of the social media influencers she follows: that means following a detailed regimen of brunches and aesthetic clutches, not curating a stream of bikinis and belfies more likely to attract attention. attention of men. Not good‘s Danni, who – as discussed – is not immune to desiring male attention, always sticks to what she thinks will be most appealing to her online persona – and flared jeans, the result of the bleached bangs is as quintessentially 2000s as it is completely man-repelling. Rap shit! goes the furthest in attempting to extract social media from the male gaze: Shawna teaches Mia the concept of it in one scene, and has the explicit goal of showing that women in rap don’t have to show their body to succeed. Throughout the series there is a barrage of Facetimes, Reels and TikToks taken from unflattering angles that would amplify double chins in those of us less bright than Osman and KaMillion and show the banality of life. daily. Throughout, Mia also plays on OnlyFans to earn extra cash, demonstrating the hidden, not entirely escapable, male gaze in these online worlds, but Rap shit! explores how social media can reach beyond these worlds in a self-aware way.

One scene in particular alludes to how women’s online communications can overshadow the importance of male validation. In Episode 2, Shawna has just sexted her long distance partner and flashes a smile on her phone that her boyfriend thinks is a post-coital smile. In reality, Shawna is beaming at a text from Mia about how she can’t stop thinking about the track they just recorded. Women becoming more fully into themselves when given the opportunity to fight for more than men’s attention is a story as old as women’s liberation – but this new genre of movies and TV shows doesn’t do only scratch the surface of how social media has taken it one step further. Ingrid goes west and Not good are the worst examples of what it feels like to get lost in the online influencer world, even if you manage to drop the male gaze along the way – Rap shit! examines what it’s like to explicitly try to drive away that sense of performance without being objectified.

As social media continues to evolve, so will what movies and TV have to say about it. These entries are just the beginning.

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