By Don Simpson | March 5, 2012
Directors: Chris Moukarbel, Valerie Veatch
YouTube. Oh, YouTube. You certainly are creating (or at least proliferating) a mockery of the human race. Thanks to you, we have devolved into a species that enjoys nothing more than laughing at the mishaps of others. You could say that YouTube’s closest known relative is the television show America’s Funniest Home Videos, but that program seems like a doctoral thesis in ethnography when compared to YouTube. That is not to say that some good has not come from YouTube, but for the most part the videos that attract the most traffic on YouTube are also the most mind-numbingly dumb; YouTube’s content has continued to spiral further downward as contributors have learned to pander the the lowest common denominator in order to generate more income, since their income is typically based upon their traffic statistics.
One such YouTube creation is Chris Crocker, a flamboyant small town Tennessee video blogger who is best known for his relentlessly boisterous support of Britney Spears. Crocker is undeniably an offspring of popular culture. His language is an absurdly exaggerated hybrid of slang from pop culture’s portrayals of white trash, urban and queer cultures; and his transgender fashion sense is enough to get him quarantined inside his grandmother’s home for the rest of his life. To say that Crocker is an outcast in his rural Tennessee hometown is an understatement. If seen in public, he would probably be beaten or killed — and this is even before he becomes an Internet celebrity. The self-imposed quarantine during his teenage years (Crocker opted not to attend high school) prompts Crocker to communicate with the outside world via the Internet, by way of MySpace and YouTube. Crocker is clearly a product of the Internet generation, young people who might have difficulties relating to others face-to-face but have no qualms about sharing intimate personal details with the world via web-based social media.
Especially for someone in Crocker’s social situation, this connection with others can be a good thing, as Crocker discovers a group of loyal followers who listen to him and accept him for who he really is. At first Crocker utilizes the new medium as a video diary, providing the world with TMI about his personal life and openly discussing his sexuality; but as an unabashed fan of Spears, it is Crocker’s destiny is to be transformed into a cyber-celebrity because of Spears. As Spears battles a paparazzi gone wild, Crocker hops on his YouTube soapbox to defend her. Millions of people observe his emotional tirade, but Crocker’s experiences with his newly discovered fame are far from positive. As seems to be the case with the Internet — where people are more willing to attack and ridicule others than show their support — Crocker is bombarded with hateful comments and death threats; even Spears refuses to show her gratitude or support, instead she brushes Crocker off like any other annoyingly rabid fan.
Directors Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch rely heavily upon Crocker’s own video footage to tell his story. Occasionally Moukarbel and Veatch interview Crocker, as well as his mother and grandmother, but a majority of Me @ the Zoo feels like a first person autobiographical documentary, which is certainly a fitting approach to the subject. Me @ the Zoo functions as a shot across the bow for the Internet generation, begging them to think before they post. This documentary also is a plea for Google and advertisers to reevaluate the ways in which they reward their YouTube contributors. Me @ the Zoo also reminds the YouTube audience to think before they click, because a click is the equivalent to a positive vote and therefore could have a direct correlation to someone’s paycheck. Internet advertisers care more about how many unique users see a web page or click on a link than what the users actually think about what they are looking at. In other words, it was the multitude of haters that gave Crocker his fame, not his fans.