“We need to matter. We need to feel relevant in the world.”
A quote often misattributed to Andy Warhol states that at some point in their lives, everyone on Earth will be “world-famous for 15 minutes”. Since this entered the cultural lexicon in 1968, many have resorted various outlandish attempts to gain notice with the general public, but it’s only when smartphones became commonplace, thereby giving almost everyone the ability to become a video producer and distributor, that we’ve really begun to see the ugly side of this endeavour.
Across YouTube, Instagram, and the Zillenial-favoured TikTok, countless otherwise normal people have foregone the 9-5 grind to become “influencers”, individuals with large followings who resort to various means to keep their global audiences engaged. @jakehillhouse puts his body through torture via various ill-advised stunts (ripping off eyebrows, pellet gun through the cheek) à la Jackass, @avalouise flaunts the results of her endless plastic-surgery while occasionally licking toilet seats, @peterteatime takes his love of parkour to literally dangerous heights (don’t attempt unless you’re Spider-Man), while @jumanne causes mayhem at his various minimum wage jobs. Tyler Funk examines these influencers and the forces driving them in the NFB doc Anything for Fame.
The film interviews the aforementioned influencers as well as PhDs and cultural commentators who try to make sense of why these people do what they do for clicks. The answer seems to be as simple as the need to matter in this life as well as the dopamine effect that attention gives us. It’s an extension of the age-old need to be popular only on a global scale.
The film offers other compelling reasons for the influencer’s chosen path. All appear to be millennials and zillennials who grew up exclusively in the internet age and are having trouble getting ahead in a challenging and inflation-plagued post-boomer economy. Many stumbled upon internet fame by going viral once, sometimes by accident, and then making whatever made them viral into their entire identity. There are rewards besides dopamine. Some make serious money like Ava who started to take in over six figures in her early 20s which has resulted in a gaudy luxury handbag collection.
But influencers like Ava are far from the norm. Jumanne has arguably the most compelling arc as he is still broke and sleeping on an air mattress after five years of posting stunts that have likely blacklisted him from every minimum-wage job within his zip code. He eventually realizes he needs to change the type of content he produces, but like his fellow influencers, is still basically a prisoner of his “career” choice. But if they are prisoners, we as a global audience have some responsibility for putting them there given the public’s general taste for shocking and obscene content. This being said, those who design the algorithms that help drive these viewing habits are far from innocent, but that’s a whole other doc.
Funk has crafted a sobering and dare I say frightening portrait of the price of fame and who or what we as a society decide to make famous. In parting though, I can’t help but feel that the internet “fame” experienced by most of the subjects here isn’t just a tad inflated. After all, I personally hadn’t heard of any of them before seeing this doc…
Anything for Fame begins streaming for FREE across Canada on nfb.ca on Nov 8