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Social Animals

“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.

Eighth Grade

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

“Thanks for watching. Gucci.”

It’s the last week of eighth grade for Kayla May (Elsie Fisher), a shy teen who dreams of attaining the confidence that seems just out of reach. In her spare time she films and uploads motivational videos for her YouTube channel. She’s talkative on screen but at school she says very little and has no real friends. She lives with her dad (Josh Hamilton), and Kayla, like many kids her age, is overly concerned with how her dad’s behavior affects her social standing. We follow Kayla over the span of one week as she gets voted most shy, examines the contents of her 6th grade time capsule, gets invited to a popular kid’s birthday pool party, lusts after the hot kid in her class, befriends a high school girl and hangs out with a new friend and possible love interest, Gabe (Jake Ryan). Every single event, no matter how big or small, is fraught with tension, excitement, and fear. It’s clear that the advice that Kayla gives in her YouTube videos and the life she leads online is very different from her day-to-day reality.

Eighth grade is a pivotal time in the life of a young teenager. They are on the brink of a big shift in their lives both socially and academically with high school just around the corner. Still in the throes of all the changes that come with puberty, everything is new, different and constantly in flux. Every social situation to them is life or death. Their status in eighth grade sets the bar for what’s to come.

Director Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is an ode to coming of age in a world where social media is part of our every day lives. But for adults watching the film, it’s also a story about anxiety and its overwhelming effects. As someone who was as timid as Kayla was at her age and as an adult who deals with social anxiety every day, I found this film and Kayla’s character endlessly relatable. Just watching the film brought up those feelings of anxiety as I was embarrassed on Kayla’s behalf. I know those situations so intimately and the memory of them is so vivid. That moment when Kayla is at the pool party, looks through the pane of glass to the kids outside, takes a deep breath and walks out, I felt that moment because I’ve lived it so many times. Burnham’s film was therapy for me. Allowing me to process a lot of these emotions as I followed Kayla on her journey.

The best scenes in the movie are the interactions Kayla has with her dad, played by Josh Hamilton. When Kayla explains to her dad he’s being silent wrong, or when she catches him staring at her and her friends at the mall, or the loving conversation by the fire, those moments all reminded me of moments I had with my parents. They’re raw, real, hard to watch but necessary too.

In an interview with Alicia Malone on the FilmStruck podcast, Bo Burnham said he auditioned many kids for the lead role and he saw something in Elsie Fisher that he didn’t see in the other kids. The other actresses were confident kids pretending to be shy. Fisher is the real deal. She brings so much authenticity to her performance. And I love that she’s the character’s age, she has the body type and skin type of pretty much any young girl that age. If you gave her dark eyes, dark hair and an olive skin tone, she’d look exactly like I did in junior high. I could relate to Eighth Grade in a way I couldn’t with Lady Bird. Burnham’s feature debut is a winner and I can’t wait to see more from him.

As a DVD Director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent Eighth Grade is available to rent on 

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