Mainstream Movie 2021 Message Discussion. Is Mainstream worth watching? UMmmm. Depends on who you are and what kind of movies you are into. Here’s a test – did you like Kajillionaire? No, please move along. Maybe this, or this? But if you enjoyed How it Ends, or Izzy Gets the F Across town and the like, then maybe. I saw Mainstream as sort of a Black Mirror kind of tale with an overly obvious morality tale at its heart… and yet, I couldn’t help but enjoy it all the same. The acting dropped on us by Andrew Garfield as Link, and Maya Hawke as Frankie? Pretty fun to watch. And I’m sorry, but this retread story is telling us something we can’t hear enough of. Just my two cents anyway. No offense, but I personally think this Spotlight nailed it when it recommended Mainstream to us all… including me. Who, when I pitched it as a possibility, hadn’t seen it yet. So yay random recommendation luck!
Mainstream Movie Overview
Look – there is nothing in this movie that was going to get the attention of the Oscars or the Santa Barbara Film Festival or what have you. (It should be noted that Gia Coppola did get nominated for best feature film at the Valladolid International Film Festival (Spain), and the Venice Horizons Film Festival (um, Italy), so there is that?) But I found the characters interesting and the pervasive undercurrent throughout society of hidden pain compelling. Or interesting from a discussion standpoint if nothing else. Yes, the movie is extraordinarily obvious. But still.
Frankie, an aspiring YouTube streamer can’t seem to get it going. Nothing she videos really resounds. Until, that is, Frankie films a guy working in rat costume flipping out about our utter disrespect for art and the disposability thereof. Or something. Not 100% certain what his point was. Regardless, eventually, Frankie successfully convinces the rat, otherwise known as Link, otherwise known as Andrew Garfield, to work with her to begin videoing various anti-establishment, or “be dumb to be cool” stunts in and around Los Angeles. And “No One Special” is born. In time we learn that Frankie’s father had pretty recently died in a car accident, in which Frankie was scarred. And it is the scar on her face that she is fairly self conscious about. Jake, the third member of their crew, and old co-worker of Frankie writes for the trio, and also might be quietly in love with Frankie. But Link and Frankie quickly develop a relationship together as they explode into international fame. No One Special is a loud mouth narcissist that helps to make the film’s pillorying of the world of social media influencers abundantly obvious.
After a number of wild internet stunts, No One Special gets his own game show. The show basically asks contestants to either give up their phone or give up their pride. But when Link humiliates a woman on the show who has a birthmark on her face. The show basically peer pressures her into releasing the unedited photos, but soon after the show the woman, Isabelle, comments suicide. After which, Jake has had enough, and quits the show after his ideas have been cut, and feeling like Link has started to become his stereotypical online character. During a round table with other internet celebrities Link is accused of hypocrisy and is confronted with the unedited footage of Link’s humiliation of Isabelle. Link doesn’t take it well at all and is eventually thrown out.
Turns out that Link isn’t an orphan, with two dead parents, but rather the son of rich parents. He also burnt down his own school, and was institutionalized as a result. When Link lets Frankie know that he’s been invited by YouTube to run a live-stream event, he asks her if she will do it with him. It comes out during their prep that Isabelle died via suicide, and because of the humiliation of her time on the show with Link. When Link shows he cares more about his own public image than about Isabelle, and her death, Frankie lets Link know that she knows the truth about his family and his upbringing. And when the live-stream kicks off, Link does give his condolences to Isabelle, but quickly spirals into a crass rant of toxicity and chaos. He rants about social media and during his vitriolic shotgun blast he admits that his name is actually Alex Goodrich, and that he only wants supporters that are willing to go against the mainstream. And surprisingly, the crowd goes wild and chants his name in support of his wild rant. And as the film ends, we see that Frankie and Jake make up during Isabelle’s memorial service, hinting that they are done with No One Special, and that they have made the right moral choice.
Thoughts on Mainstream
I recently read at a book (at, as opposed read thoroughly… definitely wasn’t insightful enough to READ) called “Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation” by a teacher that shares about the coming dumbing down of America. The book’s author, Jeremy Adams opines that America needs to brace itself for what is coming. “I write this book as an alarm bell… a project born out of worry, concern and frustration.” This National Teacher of the Year nominee worries that our kids today are completely devoid of any sort of values, or hopes, that people have generally found higher meaning or purpose from. Heck, he’d even be okay if our kids had any level of deeper connection that even brought about contentment, but he’s not even seeing that. Adam opines that this generation of children are living totally solitary lives – ultra-connected to technology – but lack interpersonal connection. The ties to families, church, and communities are dying. And with that he sees the tragically growing trend of teen suicide and depression – suicide has been rising by 56 percent, and depression by 63 percent. Suicide has been growing so rapidly that it has become the second highest killer among teens.
Now, bear with me a tangent. Over twenty years ago, a book by Robert Putnam came out called Bowling Alone. The book was hand grenade to the social and political sciences. Why? Because he took a fairly simple societal observation, bowling leagues, and noticed that we generally don’t do that anymore. Rather, we bowl by ourselves. (The Washington Post called Putnam the de Tocqueville of our generation.) (If you know de Tocqueville at all, you realize what a compliment this is.) Basically Putnam opined that in America we were abandoning social connectivity and were instead doing things on our own… that we were abandoning the “social capital” that made America great. Social clubs, church groups, neighbors, political parties, bowling leagues. They all stitched us together to make a social fabric that made the country healthy and vibrant. That it is these social bonds that are a very powerful predictor of satisfaction in life. And with this decrease we can also see a direct correlation with increases in crime, and other measures of neighborhood quality of life. (His study of northern and southern Italy still rings in my head years later after reading it. The differences in social connectivity, and the correlated differences in crime rates etc.? Blew my mind as a college student. Highly recommend you read the book if you dig that sort of thing.)
Which brings us back to Mainstream. I find it interesting that as I was growing up, the IT idea was to build an internet start up (of which I’ve been a part of two different attempts… and wow, that is a different conversation for a different day… but wow, talk about insider baseball running it’s own lottery.) but today? Kids think that becoming an influencer, living in a TikTok influencer home, and churning bucket loads of banal 30 second videos is the real dream now. Becoming a scientist? Going to Mars? Is that dream dead, and has it been killed by real life Max Headrooms determined to create nothing of value or permanence? Hell, I enjoy a hilarious TikTok video just as much as the rest of you guys do (@parkerjjames brings out my personal middle-schooler – cracks me up as he ends every video screaming incessantly)… but it does feel like we’ve gone over the edge of meme-dom and are teetering on the edge of a social network apocalypse.
Mainstream’s social media legend No One Special posits that we should all strive towards brutal honesty, and that our number one flaw in this new digital world is the falseness we all convey. All while conveying falseness himself. But ultimately we see that the culture doesn’t care about accountability or honesty really, just cutting edge chaos and hostility. Which makes me wonder, is honesty, or a lack there of, really our deepest problem happening in the land o’ Facebook, Instagram and TikTok? Um, maybe? Sure, the fact that we only show our A-roll lives to everyone that is watching is a problem. But hasn’t that been a problem for eons? I think it’s just more exacerbated now. Could it be that we are teaching our brains we don’t really need anyone else, that we are signaling to our psyche’s that we are fully independent and autonomous entities? When, if you even think about this idea for a mere millisecond, we know this to not be the case. We are desperately in need of social connectivity. Which makes me wonder if the post-Covid work world catapulting forward into remote working situations being actually even worse for our society than even our malicious No One Special TikTokers? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do wonder how much social connectivity is capable across a screen.
Final Thoughts on Mainstream Proper
Mainstream was interesting as a completely anecdotal, non-scientific, observation of the larger culture. We strive for honesty – and want connectivity, but social networks can’t provide any of that even though it feels like it might be. I left Facebook what, 15 years ago now? Something like that. (Not literally true – I went back to Facebook, and only have one friend.) But I don’t think that is really besides the point. Facebook is really fantastic for keeping up with long distant friends (especially friends on other continents) and for letting you stay in your friends lives that are long distance. I think the larger problem is that when we substitute a screen of interactions that are consciously cultivated towards showing a facade as our normal real, that is when we spiral downwards towards isolation. Mainstream was okay, but have you seen the Netflix documentary, the Social Dilemma? Now THAT is a discussion worthy of your time and thought cycles.
Edited by: CY