Thursday, January 25, 2018

Instagram Culture Through the Lens of Ingrid Goes West [Contributor: Megan Mann]

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Millennials, for all of their various monikers, live their lives in only one way: extremes. There’s very little middle ground, on the whole, for this generation. We’re up, we’re down, we’re busy, we’re broke, we’re thriving, we’re sleeping too much or not enough. The same can be said for our addiction to social media. We’re either obsessed with it — whether we want to realize it or not — or we’re some sort of weird social pariah because we’re “off the grid.”

For a generation signified by its self-indulgence and narcissism, you’d think there would be far more films focusing on the culture of people in their early twenties to mid-thirties. But there’s a surprising lack of films centered on characters in this age group, let alone ones that seriously explore the positives and negatives of this experience.

Enter Ingrid Goes West. This 2017 film stars Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid, a girl who has just lost her mother. She is introduced to the audience by causing a huge scene at the wedding of someone she considered a close friend. Reeling from this, Ingrid finds Taylor (Elizabeth Olson) on Instagram. Ingrid becomes obsessed with her and decides, on a whim, to move to Los Angeles, emulate Taylor’s life, and hope against hope that she can become her new best friend. This, of course, goes horribly wrong. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that it is a fascinating look at Instagram culture and how we all fit into it.

First, let’s take a look at Ingrid. We first see her scrolling through an Instagram feed depicting a wedding to which, we assume, Ingrid had unfairly not been invited. But once we see that Ingrid actually wasn’t invited because the bride barely knew her, we realize that Ingrid has fallen prey to one of the most pervasive issues with social media: tricking ourselves into believing that we’re part of people’s lives because we get to see so many glimpses of them. She gets angry, pepper sprays the bride and is then put under a psychiatric hold.

When she comes home, Ingrid’s flipping through a magazine and sees Taylor. She is immediately taken by Taylor, finds her on Instagram, and spends a great deal of time scrolling through her feed before finally following her. It takes a dozen tries (with a comment that sounds cool on a post about a restaurant), then Ingrid waits and practically jumps through the wall when Taylor responds saying she should try the restaurant the next time she’s in L.A. Ingrid picks the magazine back up and sees that Taylor lives in Venice. After that, it’s off to the races.

While most people would not go as far as Ingrid does, it’s not unheard of for someone to want to emulate the life of their favorite social media star — or even someone just outside of their social circle. They see the food they eat, the music they listen to, the type of events they attend, and take their recommendations.

In an effort to have Taylor like her and become her friend, Ingrid studies her and does what she does, eats what she eats, and fabricates her existence to fit into Taylor’s. It’s cultivating a fraudulent life on a digital level.

However, on the flip side, Taylor’s Instagram life is equally as fraudulent — but in a different way. Instead of accepting her life for what it is, she too cultivates a life for herself full of glossy images of Joshua Tree, margaritas, avocado toast, and a boho California dream that she doesn’t live exactly. Sure, those are aspects of her life, but they’re not the humdrum day-to-day world she inhabits. It is a fact that her husband points out in a vulnerable moment to Ingrid toward the end of the film.

Ingrid’s feed is a complete fabrication of what her life really is. She’s giving us a version of her life rather than the reality of it. It’s an Instagram smokescreen. There’s nothing bad that is posted, there are no struggles shared. Her feed is cultivated to insight jealousy and sell an idea rather than a fully-realized existence. This is evident in the scene where Ingrid drives Taylor to Joshua Tree and they end up needing to get the car fixed. She asks the mechanic to take a picture of them and when she gets her phone back, asks him to take another one, then another, and maybe just a few more. And could he also get down on the ground to get the sign in at a better angle? Instead of posting just the first snapshot, Ingrid insists on finding the right shot that has the proper pose, background, and angle. It’s all about aesthetic rather than the rawness of reality.

When Taylor’s brother comes to visit and says how he had met a famous model on the plane ride there, Taylor just about falls over with excitement. Being seen with this model could almost guarantee that she’d see an increase in followers. Isn’t that what Taylor is after? She seeks Instagram fame and adoration from countless clicks on a keyboard around the world. She wants to be goals in the worst way. It would somehow validate her and what she’s doing.

Ingrid is willing to change her life to become friends with one person, and Taylor is willing to throw away anyone seen as a stepping stone in order to find the right friends to make her Instagram famous. In essence, they both want to be liked, but they go about it differently.

This is essentially what’s wrong with Instagram culture. We create these lives that are highlight reels instead of whole truths. We create our own version of the truth — one that looks good to others. We post the best photos with the right lighting, the right filters, and a zippy caption. We create new versions of ourselves that aren’t who we are as a whole, though that’s what we brand it as. We also assume that we’re privy to the other aspects of a person’s life: the aspects seen and unseen in this perfectly cultivated world. We insert ourselves where we shouldn’t be and mold ourselves to fit into someone else’s version of their life. As a result, we create false bonds.

Ingrid falsifies her life to gain friends, and Taylor fakes her way through friendships in order to gain fame. It’s the dichotomy of social media: we’re always trying to lie our way to something else.
Ingrid Goes West is a rare look into the Millennial psyche, but an important one. It’s a generation labeled often inaccurately and this film shows that we are constantly having to fake it until we make it. Sometimes that absolutely backfires. And sometimes something new comes from that — something we didn’t expect.

We need more films like Ingrid Goes West that help show the complexities of a generation constantly at odds. We need more films like this to remind us that we’re not alone and that everyone else is just as lost as we are.

Ingrid Goest West is available now for streaming on Hulu.


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