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ME at the ZOO | Review

Leave Chris Crocker Alone, or Don’t

Chris Moukarbel Valerie Veatch Me @ the Zoo PosterYou’re first introduction to the self documented web star, Chris Crocker, may very well be the now infamous “Leave Britney Alone!” video in which he defended Ms. Spears after her public meltdown with an over-the-top divulgence that garnered millions of online views. The Tennessee born gender bending boy has been making and posting bedroom produced videos since the advent of Myspace, gradually gleaning admirers and haters along the way. Thousands of videos later, first time feature directors Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch have waded through the mass of material, miraculously piecing together a fresh documentary that not only tells the personal story of Crocker’s life, but questions what it means to inhibit cyberculture and how it affects our view of the world at large.

Fearing for his safety in his hillbilly ridden rural hometown, as a transgendered teen, Crocker dropped out of school in 8th grade. Under his grandparents roof, he took to creating distorted web videos he treated as a shielded confessional to his oppressors. The videos feature Crocker in his Britney plastered bedroom spouting outrageous commentaries on the world, often with input from his tolerant, but highly religious grandma or his young, drug addicted mother. They’ve attracted massive amounts of comments, and response videos ranging from genuine admiration to full on physical threats. After his popularity exploded with the Britney vid, he was offered a television deal, but after moving to L.A., his life seemed to follow in his idol’s footsteps. His deal fell through, his public persona became a caricature of his cross-dressing self. As the hate mail poured in, he retreated back to his grandparents’ home, only to reemerge a man transformed, now fiscally responsible, nobly caring for his addiction crippled mother in the meantime.

Crocker is a man of both an unyielding inner strength and an untamed self righteousness that has grown out of his somewhat sheltered existence. Being the person he wanted to be must have been horribly traumatic in his backwoods neighborhood, but his unabashed courage is a shining example of strength for gay youth around the world despite his lack of a formal education and occasional embarrassingly ignorant statements. As an uneducated adult struggling to find his place in a world that is quickly forgetting him, Crocker’s tribulations are far from over, but as a lucrative, primordial cyber star he has adapted surprisingly well in the ever changing internet community.

Though it’s obvious countless hours went into paring down the material, the film often feels a bit frivolous in its choice to include copious response videos that confer little enlightenment. That said, Moukarbel and Veatch, with help from editors Jesse Haas and Matthew Sanchez, did somehow managed to whittle down Crocker’s personal creations and others’ random responses to form a tragic family story that harbors a wealth of internet history, an abundance of cultural intolerance, and a gleaming bit of hope among the chaos. Me @ The Zoo is, if nothing else, a document of the bizarre production that only the internet could nurture.

Reviewed on January 29th at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival – US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION Programme.
90 Min.

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