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Unfriended: A Glitch in Self-Mediation

by Ethan Tussey

The ability to reformat one's image—to narrate or control what the self is—marks a change in our conception of identity and what we conceive of as our digital "selves." Yet, with the recent revelations of Facebook privacy leaks and the growing threat of misinformation that "social" media perpetuates, the elation that has characterized the modern plasticity of "self-ness" is frequently undercut by incidences of material violence, bullying, and shaming it facilitates.

Levan Gabriadze's Unfriended (2014) taps into that shaky line between curated self-expression and material violence. However, the violent "revenge" of the spirit that returns to haunt the “friends" that bullied her, I would argue, is not the central horror of the film itself. It is a narrative McGuffin of sorts that paves the way for the film's core affective criticism: the gleeful deconstruction of the carefully crafted online "selves" of the main characters. The film cleverly feints toward traditional horror tropes (the avenging spirit), but frequently is preoccupied by both literal and figurative deconstructions of the bodies/images the doomed teens have carefully crafted through their computer screens, iTunes playlists and Forever 21 searches. The horror of these self-mediated images lies in their fragility and ultimate translucence—emphasized by the frequent glitches and shadows of their Skype video. All the ghost in the machine that is Laura Barns has to do is pull up one webcam video or excavate a single Facebook message to unravel the carefully managed selves these kids (and the film's unique POV style) have created—of course the payoff is that she viscerally pulls apart their "real" selves as well.

Though now five years old, the film raises a timely question: what do we do with the increasingly frail connections between the lived, bodily self and the self-image? I think it is ultimately ambivalent about the answer to that question, but how should we read such ambivalence? Is the facile and fragile nature of the “curated self” ultimately detrimental? Or, perhaps, is the film more nuanced in its criticism—pointing out the fact that people, not technology, are always already the problem?

Unfriended | Official Trailer | MTV

Six high school friends with a dark secret receive a Skype message from a classmate who committed suicide a year ago after someone uploaded a video of her online.

from Unfriended | Official Trailer | MTV (2015)
Creator: MTV
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey