Written by Nahum Gale
Art and top 5 songs by Nikki Sztolc
Hi and welcome to… whatever this is. I have been working for the last couple of months, reading, editing, writing for Verse, and I have decided to try and pen a new article on Bo Burnham’s Inside. Yep, its just me and my ideas. And you and your page… or screen… the way that our Lord intended.
When COVID-19 hit early last year, I remember, amidst all the serious reporting and investigative journalism on what the world would look like post the pandemic, I was more curious about how the art world would respond. I find, usually, the truest, most raw, commentaries and portrayals of real-world dilemmas and trauma are depicted within artistry. But what happens when that art becomes just, well… content?
That brings us to our main topic.
Burnham’s Inside is a tricky contraption. It is sold as a comedy special, edited like an album length music video, adopts a thematic cinematic relevance, but also creates the intimate setting of a one-man theatre performance. I was initially drawn to the Netflix special after word-of-mouth, mid-June 2021. I only recently found my way back to it over the last few weeks for the fact that, without knowing it, it was exactly what I was looking for. It confirmed every article, theory, or idea I dipped my feet into during the pandemic; the idea that eventually artists will respond to this modern age of living. And the insane nature of the special in its mashing of genres, tones, music and visuals, only go to show that this inventive artist’s statement is, basically, everything all of the time.
“He [Burnham] portrays the chaos of the internet in sharply purposed and detailed vignettes of infinite flavours, all whilst descending into madness as a result of solitude…”
The artist, Burnham, creates the ultimate form of content in his artistic commentary of content on Netflix, a content platform. He portrays the chaos of the internet in sharply purposed and detailed vignettes of infinite flavours, all whilst descending into madness as a result of solitude. His anxieties of being both the artist and the consumer are visualised and lyricised in accessible pop and inviting lights. Lines concerning his derailed mental states are dressed in flamboyancy and colour, as if a mental breakdown is just another episode cued up to play once the last one ends. And like the algorithm that will never leave you lonely, transitioning you to the next half an hour of television, there becomes no line between art and content. The two eventually blur together in an endless loop – a streaming, if you will – until Netflix asks you whether you are still watching.
The thing is, the mental breakdowns Burnham suffers in Inside are not staged or falsified. They are not scripted or rewritten. The descent into madness is real and the pain of isolation seeps through. Inside did more than I anticipated an artist to do in commentary of the pandemic. For Inside is not exactly an artistic commentary on the pandemic at all, but an insight into how the pandemic has created the perfect stepping stone for art to become content without anyone noticing.
“Our [digital] experiences become shallow; the real becomes fake and the fake becomes real…”
Art was once attending the cinema for a film, buying records for music and joining energised crowds for a comedy special. There once was no barrier, no middle man, between the artist and their audience. But since our retreat back into our rooms for the pandemic, we needed not fret, for all art, entertainment, adventures, friendships, relationships, connections, experiences and life have been condensed down for us into our phones. Yes, we have everything in our hands, all of the time.
And it’s not just art that we are finding digitised in this modern age, but connections with family and friends and the outside world that is becoming more and more of an echo. Our experiences become shallow; the real becomes fake and the fake becomes real. Burnham jokes of his weary mental health, clicking a laugh track button as he does it, in search for any kind of reaction he can reach. And, maybe, we are doing the exact same thing, reaching for a falsified laugh track to add levity to our suffering.
And as Burnham parodies his mental ill health, as opposed to regular comedian pisstakes, the irony remains that this Truman Show-like deep dive is just another consumable piece of media up next on Netflix. Just another slice of entertainment added to the pile…
“Inside was never just content for me. It spurred me on to edit this edition, to write this article, to leave my room…”
And maybe I am just being overdramatic, but that “funny feeling” is, I think, what has touched me the most about this film. I was in quarantine for the majority of editing and writing this Mental Health Edition, left to just self-actualise in a lonely corner reading lonely submissions that comment on the state of our world. I was left wondering if any of what we wrote and read was impactful or just another form of content.
But, the thing is, Inside was never just content for me. It spurred me on to edit this edition, to write this article, to leave my room. I realised the distinguishing factor between art and content is that content can never exist forever; it’s disposable. True art – true connection – will forever impact you and help you see a world beyond your anxieties and, help you understand, there is someone else out there who feels the exact same as you. Like Burnham.
So, when you self-actualise next time, don’t just look inside. Look outside too. You’d be surprised, it will stop any day now.
Top 5 songs:
Bo reminds us of his wit in this final triumph, summarising the last hour and a half with little nods to previous songs and forcing us to question everything we just watched. It’s the ‘well, well, look who’s inside again’ for me.
The opening song. Catchy and entertaining, it perfectly prepares us for the journey we are about to embark on. If ‘daddy made you some content, open wide’ doesn’t play through your head at least once a day, you haven’t listened to this song enough times.
3. Bezos I
If you haven’t seen Inside but spend any amount of time on TikTok, you have probably already heard Bezos I. Bo knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote this song, where taking the piss out of the richest man alive is guaranteed to secure anyone millions of Spotify streams. 45,055,646 to be exact.
2. That Funny Feeling
Despite Bo announcing that he can’t sing or play guitar very well in the intro, the song plays through with a simultaneous sense of ease and discomfort as the audience patiently listens to find out the next thing that causes Bo to disassociate. And now it’s time to make a mental list of your own.
1. All Eyes On Me
This song is only allowed to be played in a dark room at maximum volume. I still can’t tell if ‘you say the ocean’s rising like I give a shit, you say the whole world’s ending; honey, it already did’ is comforting or breakdown inducing.
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