[A note from your friendly neighborhood writer-man: I challenged myself to not participate in social media while writing this essay. I did so with the full knowledge that I am a procrastinator with a full work schedule. It took longer than I expected… and I snuck and did a little Snapchatting. The overall experience was difficult, but hopefully the end result was worth it.]
A few nights ago, I walked into a theater with my head down frantically thumbing at my phone while dividing my attention, trying my best to hold a conversation with a friend in the real world before the movie began. It was very rude of me (Sorry Brian!). This movie could not have shoveled more crap back in my face if it were a disgruntled shovler at a shit factory (not my best metaphor). Ingrid Goes West brought to light the obvious truths that everyone with a smart phone and an internet addiction are burying in our backyards. The problems we have with that person we see in the mirror everyday, but refuse to look any deeper into.
In the movie Ingrid Goes West, our main character, Ingrid Thorburn (played by Aubrey Plaza), has an unhealthy obsession with the life loving, prayer hands hashtagin’ Taylor Sloane (Elisabeth Olson) who she follows on Instagram. This obsession leads her to pack up her things and move to Los Angeles with the sole aspiration in becoming her instacrush’s new BFF IRL. Through stalking and other questionable acts, she achieves her goal, lives her #bestlife and sees what the world is like behind the curtain of a social media aficionado… before things start to landslide. She finds herself fighting to maintain her position as ‘best girl’ in the eyes of her beloved when Taylor’s coked up brother and super model girlfriend come into the picture. Chaos ensues from beginning to end.
This dark comedy is a different kind of animal. I found myself sent on an emotional rollercoaster of a journey I was not yet prepared for. There were scenes that were laugh out loud hysterical and others that poured on tension so thick, you couldn’t cut through it if you were the destined, uniter of realms, wielder of Excalibur, Arthur, the one true king himself. Speakin of knights and shit, did I mention that O’Shea Jackson Jr (Straight out of Compton) is in this movie? Did I mention that his his character in this movie has a Strong affinity for Batman? Because he does. Bruh, I swear you could watch this movie just off the Batman references alone and have a good time. There was a part in the movie when O’Shea was explaining why Batman was so important to him, me and a stranger I was sitting next to in the theater just nodded our heads in solidarity.
Writers David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer did a phenomenal job telling a story so air tight that I never found myself questioning why characters made the choices they did. With Aubrey Plaza (MVP) taking the lead role where she is predominantly the biggest character in terms of screen time and character development is no small feet. She also produced the damn film! She absolutely rocked this roll as a believable stalker who just wants to be loved. Big ups!
You get pulled into these characters’ lives and you can relate to them. Oftentimes they are extreme versions of us, and thusly they go to extremes and tred beyond boundaries we do not dare tred, but at the center of their motives lies a gooey chewy humanly genuine desire or desperation or fear that we all face in this modern age. The true identity and perception of ones self is muddied by the mostly pointless, ever constant wall of “feeds” and “stories” that have rooted homes in our lives; reshaping how humanity interacts, and morphing the very core of our culture. This is a movie with a protagonist that could effortlessly be Darth Rita Repulsa who burns down Angel Grove while slaying younglings just by shifting the perspective. However, because we do see through the eyes of Ingrid, we can half-celebrate in her tiny victories as she crawls her way into somebody’s life and watch in dread when she makes the decisions that get her neck deep in uncomfortable situations that we can’t envision progressing amicably. We see that Ingrid herself is on the lengthy list of people she is hurting to get what she wants, and we brace for impact when her Jenga tower of lies start catching up with her.
There were a few times in the movie where they showed montages of Ingrid going on Instagram benders. From sun up to sun down. She just scrolled and liked picture after picture on her feed until there was nothing left to scroll. And then, she pulled the move that I knew all to well. The move where you drag your thumb from the top of the feed to reveal a loading wheel to refresh your wall and produce the most recent posts. But there was no more content. So she kept dragging her thumb over and over again. This reminded me of some dark times.
My mom told me once that I had seen a therapist when I was little. Not necessarily because I needed to talk to one I don’t think. I’d assume it was like going to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned. I don’t remember it at all, but my mom said that the therapist observed that I had a hard time dealing with change. That kind of makes sense to me. I haven’t seen a therapist since, but I know that I have some problems. I experience high levels of anxiety which keep me from doing tasks as simple as meeting new people, answering my phone calls or making appointments (or I dunno… finishing articles on time). I also, and I don’t know what the technical term for this would be, but I seem to have a sort of love blindness (let the record show that I am in no way a therapist). To put it more simply, more times than not I can’t tell whether or not someone genuinely cares about me or if they have ulterior motives (which maybe seems like a ‘duh’ kind of thing because I don’t know if anyone “knows” if another person is on your side or not, but let me keep explaining).
It’s like that cliche thing that Scarecrow does to Batman (O’Shea knows what I’m talking about) where he makes you think everyone around you is some kind of monstrosity attacking you and I know it’s an illusion, but I can’t find where my friends are. So I keep everyone at arms length. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t those that I know are my friends and I have people I that care for deeply. It just takes me sooooo long to build up the courage to let anyone in. I’ve just been building this wall so high for so long that it’s hard to open up and let them know that I appreciate that they’re apart of my life; that I love them, like properly. Because even if they don’t have a cartoonish scheme to rope me in, like my subconscious suggests, there’s a good chance that they’ll leave one way or the other. And this fear of loss, fear of the inevitable, leads me to live a life that is mostly solitudinous. A life, that until recently, hasn’t changed. Where I’m comfortable and safe. I was living a life where I had the illusion of being in control. I do have friends and I have loved ones, but I don’t think I’ve ever been 100 with anyone, myself included. And I’ve been bargaining the notion that loneliness is a small price to pay.
So when I went online to use Facebook, it was to feed my anxiety demon. The part of me that “can’t even”. I paid the minmal cost for small, cheap interactions and it gave me the same feeling you get when you eat birthday cake exclusively for diner: a fleeting burst of joy and amazement followed by the long weighty after taste of feeling slothful and depressed. I rarely post anything close to the chest. I post funny things here and there, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that it doesn’t matter if I find the funniest things first. I am rediscovering that I don’t need likes on a posts to feel loved or supported and vice versa. Being online from the times of MySpace has skewed my perception of what it means to feel valued.
See that? If it bleeds we can kill it.
I’m just a dude who spends too much time online. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc are all different fronts for our operations away from our day to days. Social media has allowed us to be the curators of our lives. We get to choose what the world gets to see from us which has put us in a predicament. It’s extremely easy for those of you, like me, who fed off the little spikes in dopamine through likes and shares to get addicted. This new age of internet has mutated a new strain of vanity that can easily be masked in a false vale of humility (#blessed) and therefore goes unchecked and a lot times, or even rewarded. There are many, like Elizabeth Olsen’s character in the movie, who make a living by sharing their lives on Instagram. Being “influencers”. Not knocking it, you do you boo-boo. It’s so crazy to think that we live in a time where there’s no such thing as overexposure; there is no over sharing. We can give everyone and anyone access into our lives just by simply accepting a friend request.
I just finished this article and I’m not gonna lie, I can’t wait to get back on Facebook. There’s just so much I feel like I might be missing out on *Tyrone Biggums neck scratch* Bout to hit the like button on so many cute animal videos. You have #noidea. Social media isn’t all bad either. You can connect with so many people and keep in contact with friends that before you could only call. And knowing my anxiety, that means I’d never see y’all again. That’s what got to me the most about Ingrid Goes West. It identified the problems and insecurities I have with social media so accurately that it made me take a step back from all of it. Do I dare go back into the dark underworld of madness, mimosa brunches, and fail videos? I take a deep breath… and open my 20+ notifications. Alas, who is Batman without a Gotham.
Alexander (Axx) McAlister