Spree - Controversy Sells (If You Do It Right...)
Updated: Jan 16
Disclaimer: This Post Contains Spoilers
The way we access media has forever changed, and will no doubt continue to do so with the exponential growth of new technology designed to enrich, simplify, optimize, and above all, distract us from our lives.
No longer do we refer to our shows and movies, as shows and movies, it's about what 'content' we access; and I'll be the first to admit, I never watch 'live' TV anymore, and that is to say, scheduled programming on set channels like the ages of yore. Everything I watch is via streaming services, because I like to have a sense of control over what I watch, and when I watch it; and Youtube, for all its humble beginnings, is just as much a contender for these things, and since the dawn of live streaming, myriad new genre of 'content' are born.
Unboxings, reactions, pranks, tutorials, you name it, there's a channel for it.
Rideshare driver Kurt has been trying for years to make a name for himself online, with high hopes of becoming a respected social media influencer. He tries everything he can think of to get there, before one day finally settling on a golden idea, guaranteed to get him to the upper echelons of influencer culture - A killing spree, coming to you live in your pocket.
The thing I like most about these sorts of films, is how much of a satire they are for reality. Spree does a great job of showing how stupid the way some of these influencers behave, in terms of the way in which they play up to the cameras, almost devoid of any genuine personality trait, yet at the same time, fans lapping up their stuff either believing they are genuine, or not caring enough to recognise they're not.
The funniest thing, is that when you have millions of people watching you behave that way, it's expected of you, but when you have zero fans, you're just a sad joke of a wannabe loser; but you can't be a serial killer without cracking a few skulls first.
Still I'm left wondering, what's Kurts' goal here, is it genuinely infamy, is he simply searching for that one viral hit that will draw attention to the rest of his content, so he can become a steady earner from his videos...Is he just a loser trying to fit in with the generation and environment he's surrounded by, or maybe he really has just lost the plot and is channelling Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?
One thing is for certain, his motives are so sparse and debatable, that they are unfortunately, entirely relatable. You could have been the popular kid at school, for all your adolescent life, but then you take to the internet and you can immediately be the bottom of the barrel.
I for one, have hidden in the back of my brain, dreams of being popular in some context; initially as a musician, then as a sound engineer/recordist, at one point in my life a film critic, and when I was a kid aspirations of being an actor (even though, I'm pretty sure, I couldn't act if I tried), but I never make a real try out of anything, for fear of exactly the presentation of the start to Kurts story - No response, (as will ironically be shown by the lack of views on this very post), and a disconnect between personal perception of my own abilities versus how it will be received.
Kurts' struggle is very real, and it's easy to see that his desperation for fame and fortune, push him over the edge, leaving one very big question - Has he just gone insane, and discovered a joy for killing, or is it to him, just a means to an end. That once he goes viral, and gets his subscribers and patreons, that he'll be back on his unboxings and game streams?
My girlfriend after watching this said she found the initial reactions unbelievable, in that viewers were disbelieving of the authenticity of the content, and exclaimed it to be lame and boring. My girlfriend believed that if someone did that in real life, someone would immediately report it, or call the police...I am somewhat unconvinced. I think the responsibility to do so would be assumed by other people, and that people who exist to view content in these means would be too curious to see how it plays out were they to believe it was real.
Vine was ahead of its time, binning itself due to an inability to predict their companies future, and in its place slots in TikTok, along with a generation of increasingly attention deficit consumers more interested in booty shaking 'challenges' than anything real - A point surmised near the films climax by Jessie Adams, a comedian who by happenstance, crosses paths with Kurt on his endeavour.
This is the thing, he only starts to get the viewer status he wants, by 'jumping in on' somebody else's streams. Piggybacking, using who he knew, as a platform to kick off from. Not that he hadn't been trying to do this before resulting to murder however, but it does give an ironic twist that still, it has nothing to do with what you do, and what you're capable of, but who you know, and that's the same for any creative industry you go into. Hard work and passion gets you only part way there, but if you don't have the right connections, you're veritably dead in the water, and even once you have that connection, good luck needs to complete your journey.
Is virality still a relevant method of achieving stardom in today's culture? It did seem at one point, that off the back of one successful globally praised, or reviled, 5 second video you could amass a following of Ritalin popping sheep, the volumes of which only to be rivaled by our lord and saviour himself, Jesus Christ. But like Jesus, if the miracles stop, so do the believers.
Content creation has evolved beyond that, and it almost seems these days that people create content on the regular, with the odd clip going viral to keep their relevance, and it also shows us that you can't make a viral video...That happens by itself. People try so hard to come up with an idea that will explode their popularity, but I feel like it's impossible to manufacture these things, and perhaps that's why Kurts homicidal efforts still fall flat in the first instance.
Scroll through Facebook these days, and people are churning out videos on the daily, of manipulated pranks and fakery, some of which are so unashamedly contrived, that you can't help but wonder why they bothered...But those creators do them in such large quantity, and pander to both the outreach algorithms, and public attention span, with such precision that they work in their favour whether people like them or not.
Gone are the days of getting lucky with a viral video to reach your following, gone are the days of content creation to share the things that you're adamantly passionate about without expectation, and desensitised we are as a populous to the point where murder no longer shocks us. Originality is becoming rarer and harder, Youtube and live streaming requires a schedule and a procedural setup of execution akin to a televised game show.
OK, so I'm talking about this film like it's the greatest, most thought provoking film of our generation...
It's not, but it certainly is enjoyable. For all the commentaries it is making, it is deliberately tongue-in-cheek, but with that comes a bit of an imbalance between the severity of Kurts' actions, and the moments of genuine comedy. There are some laugh out loud moments, some of which born from awkwardness, and there is some warmth there too. Kurt is a relatable character, he is not just someone who tried to become a star in his own right, he is someone who couldn't keep up effectively with how the internet and new media changed around what he wanted to do, and someone who for all his drive, never found that thing that set him apart from everyone else.
There is no such thing as bad press, because infamy is still made up of fame. People will forever talk about Ted Bundy and Barack Obama in equal measure, for completely opposing reasons, but if you really think about those who we perhaps consider most famous, most talked about, there's something nefarious about their narrative that stays with you, and it stays with you because the things that shock us stick heavier than that which charms us.
Negativity forms more quickly than positivity, we remember our bad times more vividly and clearly than our good times, and it's that psychology that is exploited by media to gain attention.
Like Logan Paul taking selfies of a hanged man in a forest, or Alfie Deyes 'taking a break' during his challenge to live off only £1 in a single day, to spend frivolously because he just so happened to be near a shopping centre, and you can bet they did these things on purpose, because how many more views did those particular videos have by comparison to the rest of their content?
They irritate us, they appal us, and yet we can't stop talking about it, and sharing it, giving these people what they want in spite of our opinions, because that which divides our opinions, and creates a debate, or a forum flame war (is that still a thing...?) garners the most attention, ad infinitum, and probably, nauseum.