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April 19, 2013

If you use the internet you will lose all your money and possessions, you will abet white slavery rings, and you or someone you love may even die. At least, that’s what Disconnect would have you believe. Every so often we get one of these pieces of hyperventilating Luddism trying to convince us that electronic devices are going to bring about the downfall of civilization. You know, like the novel did, or radio, or television. And to make this case, we get three stories of doom and gloom, all tangentially but meaninglessly connected, because badly-executed Magnolia-style confluentialism is still totally a thing.

First up: Derek and Cindy (Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton) find their identity has been stolen when their credit cards are maxed out and their bank accounts emptied. Was it the shady online poker sites Derek visits? Was it the man (Michael Nyqvist) that Cindy’s been confiding in on a grief-support website over the loss of their infant son? Either way we can be assured that Derek is going to go off half-cocked, because that’s what ex-military people do, of course.

Next: Jason and Frye (Colin Ford and Aviad Bernstein), two puerile pranksters, decide to catfish Ben (Jonah Bobo), a loner at their school. They make up a fake Facebook profile for a “Jessica” and reach out to him, but things quickly spin out of control.

Finally: aspiring TV news reporter Nina (Andrea Riseborough) makes contact with professional camwhore Kyle (Max Thieriot), with the aim of producing a feature on the industry behind him. Kyle shares a ramshackle house with a bunch of other young people — some of them underage — recruited from the streets to perform on cam sites.

In a way, this last scenario is the most honest, though not in the way screenwriter Andrew Stern may have intended. By cherry-picking the ugliest bits she can find and spinning them into a sensationalistic account to promote her own career, Nina is a perfect mirror for Stern and director Henry-Alex Rubin. For all the scandalized gasps Kyle is meant to evoke, he likes what he does. There’s never any concrete evidence presented that he or anyone in the house has worked while underage; it’s heavily suggested, particularly by the fact that the FBI wants to investigate, but never actually proven the way a better script would. And while Nina may be right that it’s not a great idea, it’s not like people need the internet to be exploited into sex work.

Similarly, the internet is hardly necessary for people to be victims of crime, or for kids to be bullied into despair. Yes, the internet makes some forms of bullying, and of crime, and of exploitation easier, but if anything it’s because we’re more connected, not less. We have the ability to connect casually for sex like we never have before; we connect in communities that feel so much like those we’re used to that we lower our guard and risk identity theft; we are so constantly connected to our social networks that when they turn ugly we have no means of escape.

And the filmmakers can’t seriously make the case that the internet exacerbates these problems by making people “disconnect” from those around them, even if we do grant some sort of primacy to physical proximity. The Beach Boys sang of teens’ desire to escape their parents and retreat “In My Room” in 1963; The Rolling Stones had housewives running for the shelter of their “Mother’s Little Helper” in 1965.

We have always wanted to get away from each other at times, and alienation has always been a problem. It’s just a clichéd, petty, bourgeois sentiment to put all the blame on this newfangled technology the kids are playing with these days. And Stern and Rubin are sure to get high praise from many for this claptrap which panders to the basest cultural tropes and flatters them to be high-minded. But they won’t get it from me.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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