The internet is such a weird concept, isn’t it? It’s this sort of invisible storage cupboard where there’s so much FUN and INTERESTING and BAD SHIT and AMAZING PEOPLE on it. And you can do so much on it! Shop, order food, write things, watch things, play games, book holidays, find yoga classes, make friends. The list is bloody endless.
I think for a really long while we’ve had a hard-time, in art I guess, trying ton visualise or make stuff about the internet. How are you supposed to represent it, anyway? It feels like such an impossible task. Royal Court show Teh Internet is Serious Business made the Internet out of a huge ball-pit, and National Theatre’s Wonder.land made avatars into colourful, floating, air-brushed beings. In addition, there haven’t been that many plays or movies, I guess, which have properly discussed the internet. Sure, there’s little jokes and the usual tropes all over the shop, but never usually films or theatre made where they properly discuss or situate themselves in an online world (I guess, maybe, the Emoji Movie??).
The sequel to the 2012 Pixar film Wreck-It Ralph jumps out of an arcade world and into the online one, and boy do I love the whole design of it.
It’s this big, sprawling, metropolis of a city. Net users have these square-heads and are taken to different areas of the internet in self-driving cars. It’s colourful and futuristic yet recognisable. Huge skyscrapers tower over the Internet City, with massive product-placements emblazoned on them. When you first watch it you kinda go, ‘oh, there’s snapchat, there’s Amazon, there’s Twitter” ***, and then you think “oh ffs, here’s some more product placement in a Disney movie – great”. But five seconds later you realise you don’t care because, hey, it’s actually giving a clear image of what our internet looks like. I say ‘our’ because in five, ten years who knows if these big companies will still dominate (probs) or if we’ll even be using twitter –omg, imagine.
The thing I like about this design of the internet is the subtle details about it. I read an article which had the animators talk about their development of the design, and it’s fascinating how much research and how many things they considered when creating the internet’s design. The bits that I specifically pick out include the little people who pop-up to give you an ad, or the clickbait. Screamed when I saw that. Also, the character of Knows-All, the search engine who keeps finishing your sentences because…duh, autocomplete. Just think it captures it so well – we’re so used to the internet/technology in general finishing our words, whether that’s on Google or predictive texts, or Facebook knowing who you’re going to tag in a meme.
The main crux of internet culture which the film centres upon is the idea of viral fame and YouTube. The inclusion of the Algorithm feels incredibly grown-up for a young audience but I feel like a lot of them watch so much Zoella they’ve probably heard of the algorithm anyway. The focus on Ralph becoming viral just sticks a pin so much of our digital lifestyle now – gaining likes, followers, attention. We also see the rewards and pitfalls of viral fame – we see the money (shadily being very little, like many YouTubers explain) and adoring fans of Ralph, as well as the negative comments. The idea of ‘don’t read the comments section’ is one I’ve heard so many times, and hear so many online influencers/digital celebrities say exactly the same sentiment. The film touches on mental health, in that respect, which I think is quite admirable for a family film
Of course, the film’s portrayal of the internet is not without its problems. Many critics say it makes the online world a bit too fun, and doesn’t show the icky side enough. It shows a few dark websites as well as the comments section and a segment (which I really need to watch again to fully understand) about viruses, but on the whole the internet portrayed in the film is incredibly kid-safe. I mean, this makes sense as it is a family film, but I do understand why the critics may wish to see a more truthful and fuller imagine Internet on the big screen. To not only show a more faithful portrayal, but perhaps to educate.
But do we really need that? After all it is a fun film, and maybe the characters of Venellope and Ralph are just symbols for us all when we first used the internet – only seeing the fun and benefits of this invention – before we realised there may be more harm than good, if you’re to believe what you read.