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Tribeca Film Festival: ‘The American Meme’ (review)

Produced by Bert Marcus & Cassandra Hamar
Written & Directed by Bert Marcus
Featuring Paris Hilton, Kirill Bichutsky,
Brittany Furlan, Josh Ostrovsky,
DJ Khaled, Dane Cook, Emily Ratajowski


We all complain about the person whose famous for being famous.

That person who somehow managed to create an entire career and a sustainable paycheck for basically doing nothing but Snapping, Instagram, Tweeting and Facebooking themselves for likes, clicks and views.

Dodging traditional hard work for sunny days of tanning selfies in the sun, attending clubs and crying over their various “leaked” sex tape.

While we all love to hate that person we also can’t look away.

There’s something unexplainable about hanging on to their every word, picture and fashion update.

We follow their recommendations, find joy in their joys and cry during their struggles.

Millions of viewers thrive on a daily social media diet filled with the antics of the Fat Jew, Emily Ratajkowski, Brittany Furlan, and Paris Hilton, all of whom, through a seemingly endless stream of posts, allow the public into their everyday lives in a distinctly intimate manner.

But sometimes, even the biggest social media stars have to turn off the cameras.

Director Bert Marcus explored this through fascination in The American Meme, which tells the stories behind these social media giants images, exposing the cost, including exhaustion, depression, and the inevitable backlash each has experienced from the media and from fans, that comes when social media influencers attempt to turn their followings into empires.

One of the most surprising documentaries of the year, it both shames America’s obsession with social media influencers while showcasing the branding and marketing genius of those who profit from these skills. These entrepreneurs are able to make close to six figures by showcasing brands on their social media accounts to their millions of followers who will buy anything to look and feel like their idols.

Considered one of the first people to tap into this phenomenon is Paris Hilton, who guides the documentary through the ups and downs of being an influencer, engaging with fans and building an empire separate from her family’s fame and fortune.

As we meet a variety of social media influencers, we soon learn you don’t need a famous last name, just about anyone with an iPhone can attract millions of followers, like Josh Ostrovsky aka The Fat Jew. Posting a plethora of ridiculous photos with hilarious (an often allegedly stolen) captions, his brand of humor is just what companies are looking for to sell their products. Amassing millions of followers, his sudden and unexplainable fame has resulted in him attending A-List events, meeting politicians at the White House Correspondents dinner and being on various TV shows. Bold, brash and obnoxious, his videos and trademark hairstyle has given him access to a world many will never experience first-hand, even surprising himself.

Unfortunately, like any platform, social media has it dark sides. Kirill Bichutsky, the self-described “Slut Whisperer,” makes a living by posting topless girls in nightclubs. Often inebriated, these girls are taken advantage of by Bichutsky finds joy and an audience with those love seeing young woman doused in champagne. Bichutsky uses the argument of empowering these woman by giving them his trademark “champagne facial” (which is to mimic semen), but it’s sad how they revel in whipped cream being poured over their faces as men gawk along.

One of the most opinion changing moments came when watching influencers have meltdowns over the lack of likes or decrease of followers. While it’s easy to make fun of how vapid, self-absorbed narcissistic social media has made this generation, it’s easy to forget this affects their income. At the end of the day, they shape the current trends of the world, affect capitalism, can shift American markets. While this is very non-traditional, it’s still a non-stop business that affects entire companies.

While the life of a social media influencer isn’t as respected as other professions, they have to work 24/7 to maintain their business. Running on pure exhaustion, they must capture their lives from eating to what clothes they wear to which brands they use constantly. The endless struggle of keeping up appearance for their fans, following daily trends and constantly reinventing themselves has caused many to simply breakdown.

When the cameras aren’t rolling, the party-going Bichutsky is just a sad hungover man-child who confesses his inability to sleep unless he’s drunk and beyond tired because he’ll actually have to think about the terrible actions in his life. While he’s found monetary success and fame, he’s too miserable to actually enjoy the fruits of his champagne facial labors and constantly feels the void he’s created in his life.

The American Meme is a unique documentary that tries to make sense of a generation who managed to find success in everything that’s hated about American culture. Eye-opening, funny and just head-scratching, it’ll have you questioning everything you thought you knew about American values, branding and Paris Hilton.


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