Beyond Creepy - We Live in Public Movie Review
We Live in Public follows the life of dot com millionaire and early internet pioneer Josh Harris. Though psychotic and delusional, Harris was clearly ahead of his time and made several brilliant predictions about contemporary media usage including oversharing, targeted advertisements, and the superficial nature of online relationships that still hold up today.
Director Ondi Timoner does a great job of presenting Harris as both a visionary and a psychopath. The documentary begins by depicting Harris as a talented young media executive at the forefront of the internet’s rise to prominence in the 1990s. Josh quickly became a success, but as “the greatest internet pioneer you’ve never heard of” Timoner also made it clear that Josh wanted to be more than a pioneer.
He wanted to be famous. And in his own creepy, sadistic way, proved why reality television has become so popular - life is legitimized by having the camera turned on you.
Timner and Harris show that the desire to be famous have been subliminally drilled into our heads from an early age. With an absent father and an alcoholic mother, Harris admitted that he saw the characters of his favorite television shows as his true family. Harris was neglected as a child, and the effects of his poor family relationship were clear through the interactions that he had with his mother. Though they hardly talked while he was a child, Harris would contact her frequently as an adult to brag about his successes. He was searching for the approval and validation that he had been deprived of as a child, and slowly became a psychotic figure that resembled Psycho’s Norman Bates.
The film does an excellent job of depicting Harris both as a genius and egotistical control freak. By selectively showing footage from Harris’ professional life, his “Quiet: We Live in Public” experiment, and the “We Live in Public” that he conducted in his own home with his girlfriend Tanya the mental toll that oversharing can have on society was made clear. Harris received personal validation solely based on how many people were watching him, an idea that has manifested itself across many social media networks. It was disturbing to watch Harris’ and Tanya’s relationship self-destruct, and how instead of talking to each other they reached out to their online viewers for support and consolation. Even after Tanya left Harris, who was becoming more and more delusional by the day angrily screamed at the cameras in his house “Tanya didn’t leave me, she left you.”
Watching Timoner’s documentary would disturb any audience. As a Communications major I have an interest in media, but the severity with which Harris has destroyed his own life through an obsession with media and social experiments was definitely a jarring thing to witness. The participants in “Quiet: We Live in Public”, though initially attracted by the freedom of the experiment soon became uncomfortable and claimed that “the freeness was turning people into beasts” and that it reminded them of slavery.
Overall, Timoner’s documentary has a powerful, but cynical message about contemporary media usage. Intense oversharing leads to personal detachment, and a lack of intimate relationships. Josh’s misguided social experiments prove that we place too much of an emphasis on the validation that we receive from others, and as a result have lost touch with ourselves.
I give the film a 9/10.