Always prepared to satisfy the public need for weird, PG-13 rated technophobic paranoia, Lifetime Movie Network has knocked out a couple of DVD releases this month for their made-for-TV Original Movies Girl Fight and The Bling Ring. Neither film is as in-your-face confrontational about its hatred of iPhones, social networking, and the Internet generally as, for example, Cyberbully, but like creeping modern classics Odd Girl Out and Cyber Seduction, they represent an encroaching and exciting new trend in the out-of-control teens subgenre that obsessively levels passive-aggressive (and passively regressive) hostility toward all manifestations of technology that offer teenagers knowledge, resources and mobility outside their parents’ established periphery.
In Girl Fight, the existence of YouTube and Facebook causes a group of catty teenage girls obsessed with their smart phones to lay down a skull-crushing beating on one of their friends in a bid for online celebrity. Socially outcast brainiac Haley is thrilled initially to be accepted into a popular clique at school, fronted by bitch goddess Alexa Simons. After Alexa’s jealous compatriots uncover a cache of incriminating pre-popularity Facebook comments Haley posted about them, their tacit domineering acceptance turns to violent hate, and Haley is subject to a 30-minute videotaped beating that lands her in the hospital. Haley’s humiliation is further compounded when her outraged parents have all of her trendy new friends arrested, and the video of the beating ends up going viral, reducing her to a reclusive, media-dodging pariah. Meanwhile, Haley’s friends, though confined to juvenile detention and awaiting trial, bask in the glow of newfound fame, aided by muckraking yellow journalists eager to maximize the controversy.
Both Girl Fight and The Bling Ring are based on true stories, but Bling Ring’s source material is more high profile and specific than Girl Fight’s, and in fact has already inspired a more upscale adaptation by director Sofia Coppola that’s currently in production, starring Emma Watson and Kirsten Dunst. Featuring a rare (for a Lifetime Movie) male protagonist, Bling Ring recounts the adventures of a group of teenagers arrested in 2009 for breaking into celebrity homes and stealing fetish red carpet objects like shoes, dresses and jewelry to covertly resell on the Internet.
Zack is a fresh enrollee in a ghettoized high school remedial program following his prior dismissal from multiple schools due to poor grades and attendance. Constantly emasculated by his ball-busting father and suffering from an acute anxiety disorder that makes socializing virtually impossible, Zack’s luck changes when he accidentally befriends fashion-obsessed habitual shoplifter Natalie. Tempted by the Satanic influence of Facebook and TMZ and aided by newfangled gadgets like GPS and Google Maps, Zack and Natalie embark on a spree of petty celebrity burglaries that spirals further and further out of control, until Zack, Natalie, and a loose cadre of their friends discover that they have suddenly become underground industry VIPs – and multi-billion dollar felons.
Just a few years ago, Lifetime was churning out paranoiac STD fantasies like She’s Too Young that focused on sex and barely mentioned the Internet except as a lurking and insidious possible vector for porn. Bling Ring and Girl Fight both tacitly acknowledge the existence of sex and drugs, but the real demon stalking the movies’ ethos is the Internet, and all the game-changing things about the Internet that make it so great – instant access to money and information, effortless public image manipulation, cultural redefinition of celebrity, and the ability to coordinate and network with flawless precision.
There are tragically no extras on either of these DVDs, which is disappointing especially in the case of Bling Ring, whose high-profile counterpart has already drawn fire from media outlets for incorporating paid technical advisory information from police officers involved in the real-life takedown of the suspects. Both films are windows into the disturbed imagination of regressive, dowdy technophobes preoccupied with how much fun and personal power is being enjoyed by a generation younger and more hip than themselves, which makes the films’ morbid train wreck appeal and hilarious callback potential maximal. If you can’t envy the children of today their cell phones and social networking savvy, at least envy the possibility of being forced to sit through movies like this in health class.
The Bling Ring: