By Meredith Garcia
Flexing for the ‘Gram
A response to Picture Perfect
Andrew Williams’s digital remix of Kat Napiorkowska’s popular video explaining the hidden struggles of depression draws attention to two aspects of life in a networked society: 1) the challenge of existing as both a public and private person when so many events in our lives are recorded/documented and responded to in public spaces and 2) the ways social media can, paradoxically, amplify feelings of isolation and disconnect even as it puts us in contact with a broader audience. By inserting social media posts at strategic intervals and layering pop-up social media replies over the original video, Williams juxtaposes the isolation and unhappiness of the video’s protagonist with the networked sociality and constructed perfection of her online representation of self.
The original video is a spoken-word meditation on the difficulty of connecting with others when depression sets in. It follows a female protagonist through her day, and she is alone—waking up, working, commuting, cooking, watching television— in all but five seconds of the video, where we see her embracing a person who, the voiceover suggests, is being pushed away. Even the public spaces she travels through are eerily empty, and we see her sitting alone in a movie theater and staring forlornly out the window of a train. The pace of the video is steady, representing depression as a potential killer that “creeps up on you quietly.” The effect is one of resignation and despair.
It’s important to understand the intent and effect of the original video to appreciate the way Williams has seamlessly remixed it to comment on an aspect of networked sociality that is not addressed in the source material. Williams’s remix begins with a loud and grating digital alarm clock, followed by the appearance of a short Twitter-style post—“@jesyz2 how did you become so perfect?”—which pops up with a brief notification sound layered over the protagonist’s commentary on the quiet approach of depression. It’s a rhetorical question, of course, one designed to convey a message rather than propose an interaction. Williams names the protagonist Alexa Calhoun and inserts social media posts by her to match various scenes—posts about making dinner for her boyfriend, of going to the movies with a group, of a beautiful cityscape from the train window, of watching Scandal with friends. These posts elicit increasing admiration and confessions of envy from followers, and the last minute is a montage of close-ups of Alexa in alternating states of anguish and disconnect as the messages, and the “pop” that accompanies each one of them, overwhelm the viewer, who can’t keep up with what’s on the screen.
The added social media posts, responses, and sound effects complicate the original by introducing an additional layer of performance to the protagonist’s everyday life. Where the original video drew attention to the way a depressed person might try to keep up a façade of normalcy, pushing people away when the effort became too much, the remix suggests that Alexa maintains a “picture perfect” life even as depression takes hold. She pours effort into holding onto an appreciative audience, but having that audience doesn’t actually aid her in dealing with the depression. In fact, in his reflection, Williams stated that one of his goals was to capture the way “the fading line between what we see on social media and what we experience in real life has a detrimental effect on our real lives.” His remix suggests presenting an idealized version of your life, can actually make you feel worse. In doing so, it offers an opportunity to begin conversation about the role of technology in representing daily life, or about explanations and approaches to depression, or about phenomena like “flexing for the ‘gram.”