If it were not for technology, 2020 would have been the end of the world.
We have had pests before. We have had calls for social justice and government reform. We had elections, overthrew tyrants. But we have never had it at the same time, with a population of over seven billion and endless news and communication at our fingertips.
TV and movies now have no choice but to incorporate technology and social media into characters’ lives and worlds, but even decades into the 21st century, it can sometimes be forced, styled, or indecent. You have the feeling that the people who make these stories are not necessarily engaged with whatever device or platform they have written in it, which may alienate the viewer or create something incredible.
Everyone who lives has been through it.
But 2020 made it impossible, or at least unacceptable, to go back to that life. This was the year everyone in the entertainment industry held meetings on Zoom directors dad did Tiktoks. Phones and internet (or tablets, TVs, whatever you have) were our lifeline to the outside world, for immediate updates on case numbers, local safety guidelines, recipes to try and how our friends and family are doing. This is just as true for you and me as it is for the people who create and produce our entertainment, and it’s starting to show.
Take for example: Shudder is brilliant Host, which not only took place in a Zoom call (complete with a time limit), but was also filmed by the video calling platform for maximum authenticity. How many times have we seen a phone or computer screen in fiction that simply did not behave like any existing device? There are legal clearances to put this stuff on screen, but if the alternative is so weird that it takes the audience out of your story, you need to reconsider. I have so far never recovered from this moment in 2018 Sierra Burgess is a loser, which is the only thing I remember about the movie now:
To be honest, there was always some shows that got it right. Jane the Virgin realistically used SMS (a sexting), and sometimes choose to use the on-screen text bubbles for critical conversations instead of traditional dialogue and movement. It may not feel like the best use of actors at the moment, but it evokes a different kind of performance and depicts the reality of modern communication. American Vandal was so knowledgeable in his understanding of teens’ use of social media that it regularly recorded vertical video footage and conducted an entire investigation into a actual iPhone error.
Works like these were the exception. That’s why Host seemed like an impossible achievement made the reality, why Never have I ever had – pre-COVID filmed, but released in May – feels so smooth. This is why every second of Netflix Social Distance is a welcome surprise, whether the characters are at a Zoom funeral, security camera, FaceTime or Discord.
Even It’s us entered the fight (that show can not resist a good fight); it gave us the best junk fire of Childcare Emergency meets Political Livestream meets Viral Shirtless Moment when Randall accidentally pulled him out in front of his camera this season. It’s hard to believe any character who has survived Jeffrey Toobin headlines would be so foolish not to check the current status or at least shut down their laptop after they started live, but this scene also gave us Sterling K. Brown’s adorable dance moves so we can not find too much fault.
The thing about social media on this side of the pandemic, is that technology and trauma are now our big units. Everyone who lives has been through it. You can not capture this moment or any time that follows without capturing the technology that keeps us going. Media that prefers to ignore this progress will stick out like a sore thumb – the analog world is a thing of nostalgia, but it’s long gone. A job without it might last forever, but we need to count the current.