Why Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ Resonates
Bo Burnham’s Inside has been streaming on Netflix for weeks now, but for those who know, know: It stays with you. Maybe longer than some may like.
It’s part stand-up, part musical special, part experimental film, but attempting to typecast the work feels counterproductive. If we glean anything from the piece it’s: Does any of this even matter? As long we’re grinding out more content, who cares what exactly it is? This article notwithstanding.
Inside’s title is loaded — inside one’s home, head, internet and dark zeitgeist. And it’s the 8K clarity snapshot of today’s online cultural moment that makes Inside so refreshing... yet so uncomfortably grim. Reality has never been streamed back at us so articulately... and musically.
There’s a lot of referential commentary about the internet today, but so little nuanced understanding of it.
As Bo puts it, it’s the difference between a Taco Bell hashtag Chalupa *dab* emoji ad vs. an empathic reflection of the struggle to attract attention online as a middle schooler (ex. Bo’s 2018 film Eighth Grade). Inside is no different. It falls into that rare category of deeper meditations about our lives online.
Bo doesn’t just offer a reflection of our online complex, he delivers a rare two-way mirror — an unfiltered look inside the social production process, which he and young adults know all too well. He’s us, and we’re him. After all, he helped kindle our desire and the standard of internet fame today, literally paving the golden brick road for viral possibility on YouTube 14 years ago.
It’s this unique perspective which adds the complexity to his meditation. There’s a palatable tinge of guilt. He’s opened Pandora’s Box. He guiltily suffers alongside us, while continuing to deliver even more content... despite the agony required. “Daddy made you some content.” His lonely, anxiety-fueled COVID-19 journey isn’t unique, and because it isn’t, it resonates even more. Still, no one else could tell this story so well — he’s experienced just a little bit more as he’s now swallowed up inside the system. Netflix payments and all.
According to Letterboxd, the social network for film lovers, Inside has a higher rating than nearly all the classics: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Rocky, Jaws, and even The Shining, arguably just the predated and fictionalized version of Inside. Its rating is so high, likely not because it defies genres or is so artistic for a solo endeavor, but it respectfully addresses the viewer beyond conventionally breaking the fourth wall. Deadpool is child’s play. Today’s entertainment glut drowns us, sucking us in, and permits an escape from reality. Inside does the exact opposite. It looks at us dead in the eyes and recites back all what we already know. It’s sugar-coated nihilism.
Simply put: our mental health is dire, our world is hopeless, and our internet is off its rails.
Admittance lessens the weight. Thank you Bo for finally saying it. We’re no longer alone with this dread.
Bo documents the pressures of performance, content creation and mere existence in the throws of our Creator, Influencer and Capitalistic Economies... none of which have significantly paused amidst a global pandemic. When our AFK (away from keyboard) experiences become the reverse-engineered source material for our now prioritized URL lives, the figure and ground reverses. No longer is everyday life organically captured. Everyday life is now scripted and manipulated to make for better (funnier, sexier, more outrageous, etc.) content to publish. Content is our livelihood, whether it’s for attention or money. When fiery outrage to emotional anguish catches eyes and cashes checks, it’s hard to tell if Bo is helplessly stranded inside the system, or actually playing into it. It makes no difference.
Inside addresses this tension. It’s about Bo’s struggle and questioned responsibility to create during an eerily solemn moment. In “Comedy,” he sings:
The more I love, the more I see nothing to joke about
Is comedy over?
Should I leave you alone?
His internal dilemma becomes his deliverable, but also our entertainment. Conflict as content. He doesn’t want to ignore the tension, yet he keeps creating. But hasn’t that been our entire last year? The limbo between addressing our mortality and fear of a deadly virus yet striving to live life as normal. Hoarding canned soup for the end of the world while getting our work timesheets in on time.
Bo presents this middle. And the middle is a funny feeling...
“That Funny Feeling” is perhaps the strongest proof distillation of our moment and of Inside. With a projected campfire setting behind him, Bo plays an acoustic guitar citing these extreme tensions we live within: the sparkly and the dark, the pretend and the all too real.
The livе-action Lion King, the Pepsi Halftime Show
Twenty-thousand years of this, seven more to go
Carpool Karaoke, Steve Aoki, Logan Paul
A gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall
Juxtaposing soulless Disney remakes for profit and today’s vapid celebs, with the looming climate crisis, over-consumption, mental illness and terrorism, creates an ickiness. Or a funny feeling. Nothing brought up is new — if anything, it’s all trite — but what is new is addressing, and singing, the co-existence of all of these things together — the glittering, monotonous and acceptable, and the depressing, ignored and sensitive.
Inside isn’t about one thing, it’s about everything.
The film and particularly “That Funny Feeling” zooms out as far as we could go to acknowledge it all. The whole zeitgeist.
This un-cropped screenshot of everything is what evokes our appreciation but distress. It’s true reality TV.
It’s pandemic isolation in light of an unhinged internet, in light of rising water levels, in light of video game culture, in light of self-doubt and perfectionism, in light of hyper-woke paranoia, in light of income inequality, in light of text-based horniness, in light of a mental breakdown. Despite all of this crushing complexity, the request still stands: “All Eyes on Me.” Let’s get the performance on with and the content out. The show must go on. The pain plays a starring role.
Best representing Inside and its theme of funny feelings is its very release. Seemingly “delayed” as Bo labors to get it across the finish line, Inside is finally released as vaccines are rolled out and restrictions are lifted. The pandemic is over. But it’s as if Bo is too late. We’ve moved on. Back to normal. Which leads us to the most powerful sensation... Watching Inside, or re-watching our pandemic so soon, is a hit of reality. A funny feeling.