How Bo Burnham Turns Anxiety Into a Work of Art

Bo Burnham Eighth Grade Elsei Fisher

This is a very sad and beautiful story,” says Bo Burnham. We are watching an instructional video on how to tie a necktie. The narrator is pointing out the skinny and fat ends of the tie, and noting that choosing a length is a difficult step. It’s part of an exhibition on Internet videos at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, which also includes porn, zit popping, ASMR and something Burnham calls “established cute boy” videos. Yet it’s the over-explained tie tying that seems to affect him the most. He’s imagining the type of person for whom this kind of detail on a simple skill from a disembodied stranger is necessary. Why would someone not have a human to teach them this?

The Internet has diverse effects on its users. For many of those raised as digital natives, it has sown discord, disconnection and dissociation. For Burnham, 27, it has increased his humanity.

A star on YouTube by 16, thanks to a series of witty songs that went viral, Burnham is deeply familiar both with almost every genre of Internet video and the effect of being watched. He has mined those experiences as the writer and director of his first feature film, Eighth Grade. It’s the story of the dignity-destroying last week of middle school for Kayla (Elsie Fisher), voted Most Quiet in her grade. She has a whole different persona on her YouTube channel, but nobody notices her there either.

All the classic middle-school indignities are represented: Kayla has a crush on a shallow classmate whose Instagram account she scrolls through and who consents to talk to her only under a desk during a darkly hilarious drill for a school shooting after she fibs that she has naked selfies on her phone. At home, her bewildered single father interrupts her pressing screen-related duties with lame questions about her day. She’s fighting a battle with her own self-loathing on- and offline. For most of the movie, it’s a draw.

What business does a 27-year-old white male comedian with 1.4 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, a best-selling book and two Netflix comedy specials to his name have in telling the story of a 14-year-old girl with blighted skin and zero friends in an age when identity is so proprietary? Next to none. And yet Eighth Grade has already won several festival awards and a number of critics’ hearts. (The 17-year-old

Source:: Time – Entertainment


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