K-Fried-C: Killer Joe’s Reflection of Human Interaction in the Age of Social Media
Social media has literally changed the entire world. From creating uncountable communities great and small, to expanding our reach and allowing connections the world over, to creating billions of collars of customer data, social media is an ever-evolving juggernaut that reworks the fabric of society in a heartbeat.
As social media changes how we interact with each other online, the effects spread to our offline interactions. Character dynamics in stories reflect society, and as culture curves towards more online activity and more online influence, it is reflected in print and film. The expansion and fragmentation of social media is reflected in the Smith family in Killer Joe, as the genie is unleashed and cannot be contained, forever changing their lives in unexpected and tragic ways.
The Smith family relationships are already fractured as the film begins. Ansel is on his second wife, Sharla, and their favorite hobby is being disgusted at each other. Chris begins the film being thrown out of his mother’s place, having committed violence against his mother after she stole his drugs, causing him to owe far too much money to a local gangster. And Dottie is always in her own little world, rapidly switching from childlike innocence to implausible omnipresent knowledge at the drop of a hat.
Instead of “likes” and “retweets”, the Smith family deals in “anger” and “screaming” They are the living embodiment of getting into a political argument on Facebook, where suddenly your relatives that you’ve loved forever start spouting abhorrent viewpoints that make you question their humanity. The Smiths scream and some openly hate each other. Chris and Sharla do nothing but scream insults at one another, barely containing their contempt to just throttle the other. As internet discourse takes over, the veil that polite society limits such squabbles to sniping and occasional remarks is long abandoned. In order to get any point across, the easiest way is to yell and scream the loudest. As the family’s arguments increase in volume, the screaming gets louder and more violent. Like online, no one filters what they think, everyone just ramps things up.
The trigger that changes things is the introduction of Joe Cooper to the mix. Soon all relationships are formed around Joe and the plan hatched with him. Joe becomes the center of their society. Their own little social network has twisted, a new king has been crowned. Soon the arguments will increase in viciousness, followed by bannings and ragequitting. But as this is the real world, violence has consequences, and logging out means you are dead.
Chris’s simple plan to murder his mother in order to get insurance money to pay off the gangsters threatening his life balloons far beyond the intended consequences. Like many plans on message boards and websites, it is poorly thought out, relies on one person to do most of the work, and fails to materialize any substantial results. The Smith family is trapped in their small social circle, reinforcing each other that the plan is a good idea. If anyone with common sense was to try to voice objections, the would be shouted down, forced into line or booted out.
Joe Cooper is introduced as an outsider, a meeting is set up and he’s invited into the social group. His background as a police detective is known, but no one really knows him. He is an enigma, though he tells stories, there is little to verify them. What does get revealed is a cold ruthlessness and a lack of respect for women. Dottie treated as merely an object to bargain with, and Sharla gets a sexually humiliating punishment as revenge against her treachery. Both events are used by Joe for sexual release.
Facebook has been cited at a source of ruined relationships for years now.(1) Not only does it make it easier to check in on your former flames, who you might just still have a thing for, but the friend of a friend approach allows the rapid meeting of new people and an expanse of your reach. Even the increase in online dating and dating profiles and social networks leads to ease of signing up and browsing. This makes straying easier, as a whole buffet is spread before you.
Sharla’s relationship with Rex is a warning against sending nude pictures to your online acquaintances, even the ones you trust. Those pictures have a way of ending up in the hands of people you don’t want to see them, which can lead to some nasty consequences. As the big reveal shows that Rex and Sharla were basically trolling the entire group, the social circle erupts in a massive outpouring of drama. Drama that proves fatal
Social media continues to be a slave to trends, and at current the young are fleeing the larger networks for their own smaller groups with less permanent footprints (SnapChat) or just more visual media (Instagram). Teens view adults at the enemy, and is one of the motivators to migrate to other sites.(2) Adults spend more time on Facebook, which drives away teens who see the site as an obligation and too full of their own parents.(3) Facebook causes drama, and often teens find it easier to just barely use the site, if at all. Killer Joe sees the murder of one parent and other parents helping in the killing of their son, it is a literal generational warfare.
A Killer Joe film of the future wouldn’t contain a family, but a group of like-minded friends, such as from a My Little Pony fan club or a specific brand of motorcycle enthusiasts. Their connections would be from their similar interest, their flaws from their inability to function in the online world, and their disintegration hauntingly similar.
NOTE: The preceding article was an entry for the CineD Subtext Game (and was the subsequent winner of this round!) The assigned subtext was “The effect of social media on interpersonal relations” Read our other entries in prior contests – Hustle and Flow – Human Nature and Kung Fu Hustle and Driving Miss Daisy Towards the Meaning of Life
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