Chris Crocker will always be a byproduct of Britney Spears. And it’s easy to hate him for that, as easy as it is to hate Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton and anyone on reality TV. In the new documentary Me at the Zoo, premiering tomorrow night on HBO, I got the sense that we’ve made very easy for Crocker to hate himself too.
First time filmmakers Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch put Crocker in front of camera one more time, but now the former pop culture punching bag gets treated more like the human he is: a victim of celebrity obsession, internet stardom, online bullying and public stigma. But beyond that, Me at the Zoo tells the story of a generation discovering itself with emerging technology and against a truly intolerant society.
The documentary explores the web’s transformation in the early 21st century, going fast from communication device to a method of non-stop self-expression and mass approval. Then, during MySpace’s early days, Chris’s catch phrases and outlandish dance routines made him a comedic force. The self-proclaimed transgender twink from Tennessee quickly gained a following as a true provocateur with Britney posters plastered all over his walls.
Not surprisingly, Chris’s take-me-or-leave-me personality and refusal to succumb to gender norms didn’t garner quite as many friends in real life Tennessee. He was homeschooled in high school and kept making videos with an angry — almost violent — demeanor as a way to fight back at all the prejudice he had experienced. His videos and his fixation with a young Britney Spears, society’s manufactured blonde pop perfection, gave him quick salvation.
Of course, all that changed once Britney became over burdened by her own fame, ironically giving Crocker a platform to experience his own taste of the fame monster. The “Leave Britney Alone” video became a pop culture staple almost over night, the first memorable viral clip to embed itself into the public arena largely in part to its timely appeal.
Chris’s defense of Britney’s performance at the VMA’s in 2007 would not have reached such wide-scale notoriety if it had not been authentic, raw, much like Chris’s previous videos. At that time, before Google decided to capitalize on YouTube with ads and partnerships, creating a viral sensation was more of an art than a science. And if anything Chris Crocker is a fascinating performance artist. And quite famous, too. But as Octomom has told us, there’s nothing worse than being famous and broke.
Me at the Zoo is not just a capsule of a lamentable era, how the internet fueled our celebrity-obsessed society train wreck. Directors Veatch and Moukarbel (Jake Shears’s husband) slowed down the fast-paced, information highway pastiche composed of media clips from YouTube, late night talk shows and Britney interviews with beautiful, sweeping imagery of the South with Chris Crocker as the out-of-place fairy — a platinum blond with a tank top tan, hooker boots and an iPhone — in the midst of it all.
During those moments, I learned things about Crocker I never knew before: his mother’s drug problems and her attraction to men who break chairs over her back, how his grandmother’s reliance on prostitution led to her untimely death, his great-grandmother, a hooker too.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned from watching Me at the Zoo was that Britney Spears is not the only tragic Southern mother in need of public care. Crocker was surprised he had been the first to make a video defending the pop star during her breakdown. For to Chris, defending moms with scars was the familiar thing to do.
The film also captures how genuinely funny Crocker really is in person. The thing is, Crocker does deserve his own reality show, but one that focuses around his chatty barbs with his grandmother (who knows how to cleverly shoot him back), instead of him prancing around Los Angeles like a agglomeration of every paparazzi-bait blonde who’s died well before her time.
I left The Zoo rooting for Chris Crocker to make an escape and become a ring leader of his own. Rooting for his unapologetic — almost defiant — way he never once stopped being himself even after all the death threats. Rooting for him being so conscientious of the world despite growing up in a town that can only be described as narrow-minded at best. A town still perhaps more sympathetic than the internet at large.
Crocker critics including his hometown church-goers, Fox News anchors and countless cyber bullies have commented on how he brought all this upon himself, by relentlessly posting intimate details of his life and provoking with wild gender fucks. But why can’t a teen make videos in his home, post them on the internet, be crazy, experiment with gender identify, have fun, dance, incite conversation, all that without fearing for his safety or that of his family? Our society should be one of communal support of our youth, as queer and crazy and downright self-obsessed as they may be, not one that loves to hate other people for opting to try and express themselves. To borrow one of Crocker’s early catch phrases, bitch please!