Viral Dreams is a documentary about YouTubers in 2020. It focuses on 7 young people whose big adventures were sent awry by the global pandemic. Their ever-growing subscribers follow them navigating isolation, uncertainty, fear, joy, and love. From Tequila, who is juggling raising a son, starting her own business, and earning a living as a stripper, to Riley, whose trajectory working on an empty cruise ship seems to start out like Sam Rockwell’s character in Moon, and end up closer to Chris Pratt’s character in Passengers (though a whole lot less problematic, I am sure).
Deftly curated collection of videos, such that you forget that they did not set out to be part of this project. Do YouTubers ever consider themselves documentary filmmakers? These individuals don’t seem to think that. They talk of being part of a community. They have created TV shows with a built in parasocial aspect.
This generation does appear to wear its heart on its sleeve. As though they cracked the secret early on that strength and vulnerability are inextricably linked. Is the ‘content’ interesting? Sure. Up to a point, though it’s not for me. It’s for their peers. Not wanting to leap headfirst into generational bickering (some of my best friends are boomers), but as a ‘Geriatric Millennnial’, I did not grow up immersed in social media. Young people have always used whichever technologies are available to them for communication purposes. If Wayne’s World is to be believed, Gen Xers had public access TV.
A lot of this film shows familiar aspects of growing up. Self expression is nothing new, though usually there is a break in communication with older generations (Abe Simpson put it best):
Teenagers tend to pull away from adults, while those in their 20s appeal to them for respect. A bambi-legged display of confidence, worldliness, and bravura.
So what is different? It seems to come down to the sheer scale of it. 1m subscribers? That’s a baffling number. Imagine the entire population of Bordeaux suddenly taking an interest in the minutiae of your life. How can it continue to be compelling? Mind you my nephews can watch hour upon hour of unboxing videos, so what do I know?
I recently watched Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, and was struck by how much the following statement could refer to social media, in Viral Dreams: “The Spectacle is simply the common language of the separation. Spectators are aligned solely by their one-way relationship to the very centre that keeps them isolated from each other. The spectacle thus reunites the separated, but it reunites them only in their separateness.”
The highs and lows that we all felt throughout 2020 are displayed here, and accented brilliantly by the score, which is made up entirely from lockdown sessions. Viral Dreams ties together two main themes: Youthful exhibitionism, and the collective trauma of a global health crisis. The desire to build an archive is an innately human one, and an indelible record of young adulthood will prove to be a blessing and a curse.
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