America is, because the chorus goes, divided. This has been demonstrated empirically, with proof on America’s rising political polarization, and anecdotally, for those who’ve lived in America for the previous decade, and particularly the final 4 years. Simply legible examples of a rustic fraying on the seams abound; American Selfie: One Nation Shoots Itself, a brand new documentary from Showtime, serializes among the most outstanding ones of the final 12 months, with a retrospective of such indelible but shortly pale pictures as crematory vans within the top of pandemic New York, the Trump bike rally in pandemic summer season South Dakota, and a fraught border checkpoint in El Paso, Texas.
Hyper-partisanship is one thing American Selfie’s director, Alexandra Pelosi, is aware of properly – her mom, the Home speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is without doubt one of the Maga-sphere’s most loathed targets, and a frequent recipient of the president’s Twitter ire. The Democratic chief’s youngest daughter, 50, has over the course of 13 movies original herself as a traverser of America’s cultural divides and interpreter of the conservative mindset. She embedded with the George W Bush marketing campaign bus for her first movie, Journeys with George; 2018’s Exterior the Bubble (her 12th documentary for HBO) endeavored to parse the Trump voter psyche with visits to “real America”, from coalminers in Pennsylvania to survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas.
American Selfie grew out of her longstanding custom of marketing campaign road-trip movies, a mission she has described as “taking the temperature of America”. The movie seeks to “take a selfie of how America looks in 2020” throughout a 12 months when, as a calling card says at the start, “smartphones and social media changed the course of American history”. That change particularly in 2020, Pelosi advised the Guardian, is the nationwide motion for social justice and Black Lives Matter launched by cellphone footage of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in Could. American Selfie, hopscotching throughout the nation from September 2019 till final month, will get to Minneapolis in its closing half, however begins actually: vacationers at Cloud Gate in Chicago, explaining learn how to take the best selfie; round-the-corner strains on the Apple retailer in Manhattan for the launch of the brand new iPhone in September 2019 – a celebration of American tech consumerism simply days earlier than, the movie notes, a world Local weather March.
The distinction encapsulates what Pelosi sees because the double-edged sword of cellular cameras in a movie that shortly strikes past the literal selfie. “For every pop tart, every sorority girl who was standing in line for a new iPhone to take pictures of her perfect life, one 17-year-old girl used that phone to start a revolution,” mentioned Pelosi, referring to Darnella Frazier, who filmed the homicide of George Floyd on what was purported to be a visit to the grocery retailer. Frazier “used her phone to show that we are all war photographers, we can all use our phones for good, to show the world what’s happening”.
In making American Selfie, Pelosi got here to see the cellphone as satirically each the propulsion of American division and a unifying supply of concern. “Every single person I talked to, no matter who they were going to vote for or if they weren’t going to vote at all or didn’t even know who was on the ballot, would say: social media is destroying our mental health,” she mentioned. “It’s destroying our conversation.”
“People are so much angrier because of something they read on the internet that may or may not be true,” she mentioned. “People now have these devices in their hands that feed them toxic mistruths.”
In her man-on-the-street-style interviews for American Selfie, Pelosi riffs with topics from two completely different conceptions of America: one, a typically fact-based understanding of the racism uncovered by the Trump presidency; the opposite a fandom of the president and the “America First”, “don’t tread on me” ethos he embodies. Typically, she movies, together with information cameras and numerous iPhones, the 2 camps screaming at one another – at a Minneapolis Trump rally in fall 2019, after Trump referred to as for Consultant Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somali-American to “go back home”. At Black Lives Matter protests in DC, an abortion rights march on the Capitol in February, and a “reopen” protest in Sacramento this summer season.
The chasm between the 2 teams within the streets this 12 months has, she mentioned, widened within the years since she started filming. “There used to be we had something called facts, and we could all say, ‘here are the facts, now you can have an opinion about those facts, you’re allowed to be pro-gun or anti-gun, you’re allowed to be pro-life or pro-choice, but now we don’t have the same set of facts. We’re not operating in truth any more.”
Pelosi is a self-professed abstinent from hyper-connectivity – she doesn’t use social media, she says, besides to grasp TikTok sufficient to know what her two teenage sons are consuming (they’ve new iPhones regardless of her objections after she says her 12-year-old raised the cash through a lemonade stand); she didn’t shift to an iPhone till March of this 12 months, when the pandemic made human interplay through display screen unavoidable. Nonetheless, she has come to see iPhones as a serious risk to American democracy: “I always tell my kids: I would rather buy you a gun than an iPhone,” she mentioned. “Because a gun is something you control – I can pull the trigger and shoot you if I want to, but an iPhone is controlling you. There are tech companies that have algorithms to shoot little bullets at your mental health, shooting little bullets at your brain to stimulate you or depress you.
“I think phones are much more dangerous than guns.”
Pelosi does, nonetheless, discover some redeeming qualities in smartphones and social media: “It can be used for good, that’s your choice. You can use it to fall off the side of the Grand Canyon to take a selfie – many people have fallen to their death trying to take the perfect selfie, you could use it for that – or you could use it to amplify a message that you want communicated or an idea that you want communicated,” she mentioned, referencing Frazier’s filming of Floyd’s killing, footage that made anti-black police brutality plain.
Requested concerning the pitfalls of parachute journalism – the much-criticized observe of dropping right into a group to shortly refract an evidence of America to a coastal, metropolis readership – when reporting on so many locations for American Selfie, Pelosi replied that she noticed the movie extra as a set of extremely public occasions than in-depth portraits of various communities. “When you go on vacation, you don’t live there, but you feel like you get to know a place, right?” she mentioned. Pelosi, who works with a handheld digital camera sans manufacturing workforce, mentioned she by no means felt like she was interviewing; “I just talk to people,” she mentioned.
“I selected iconic events to see what people had to say,” she mentioned, from the painful reopening of a Walmart in El Paso the place 22 individuals have been killed by a racist gunman in August 2019, to the Tremendous Bowl in Miami. “The word selfie has never been a comprehensive – this is just a snapshot. All this is is a snapshot. I’m not writing a history book that you’re going to study. This is a selfie; it’s as disposable.”
What made this 12 months – this taking of the temperature, so to talk – completely different from election-year highway journeys previously? “This was the year white America woke up,” Pelosi mentioned. We will’t conceal it, we are able to’t deny it any longer. We will’t fake we don’t have these ghosts in our closet and we’ve got to face it.”