“When image is everything, nothing is off limits.”
Technology has drastically changed our culture. The Instagram generation is creating a social dynamic unlike anything that we’ve ever seen. These youths are living their lives in the public arena well beyond the scope of their immediate IRL (in real life) social circle. Their online presence is highly strategic. Teens will go to great length for the attention that comes with likes, comments, follows and a reputation they can sell. It’s the new modern version of the pursuit of happiness. These teens eventually become addicted to the thrill and the reward that Instagram has to offer by portraying a contrived version of themselves. What repercussions will these teens face for sharing their lives online?
“Instagram opened the horizon for pettiness of my generation.”
Directed by Jonathan Ignatius Green, Social Animals is a new documentary that explores the world of Instagram teens by looking at three different case studies. First is @kalynslevin, an aspiring model with a rapidly growing following. She’s blonde, beautiful and incredibly rich; all the criteria you need to become Instagram famous. In her interviews she states that she’s just a regular person and wants her followers to see her as such. However, her carefully curated Instagram is built with the help of professional photographers and stylists and is more aspirational than anything based in reality. Second is @humzadeas, a New York City based teen who dreams of becoming a professional photographer. Instagram for him is a creative outlet where he can share his creative vision with the world. He becomes a daredevil, ascending great heights to capture incredible images of the cityscape and urban life. His adventurous spirit gets him in trouble.
The most fascinating of the three is @emms_crockett, a Mid-West teen studying at a small Christian school. She feels peer pressure to use Instagram and when her ex-boyfriend and high school friends use it to bully her, the experience sends her on an emotional rollercoaster. We see the horrifying consequences which lead to a suicide attempt. Through her we see how social media platforms like Instagram can negatively affect a person’s mental health.
One thing Emma points out in one of her interviews is how she gave the audience too much power. Perhaps it’s something that’s overlooked but I would love to see a documentary, perhaps a follow-up one to this, that explores the nuances of interaction and how it affects both sides. In Social Animals, several teens, beyond the three profile, go into detail about the methods they use to rig the system for the most return on their efforts.
As an adult who was a teenager in the 1990s, I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t have smart phones or social media. Many people of my generation and others will agree. I dealt with bullying, stalking, sexual harassment and more types of emotional and mental abuse but I’m so grateful it didn’t play out online where classmates, friends, family and members of the public could see it.
Social Animals is a relevant documentary that relies on the voices of the Instagram generation to shine a spotlight on this new social dynamic. It lacks some focus and could benefit from some more in-depth study. We may not fully understand yet how to analyze the social of social media. This is a start.
Social Animals is available from Subconscious Films is available on iTunes and VOD with a release date on Netflix scheduled for later this year.