Cam: The Horror of Our Digital Doppelgängers

Cam: The Horror of Our Digital Doppelgängers

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Hello, and welcome to Nightmare Masterclass. My name is David Stockdale. I’ll be your host on this excursion into
the dark unknown. In this installment, I’ll be doing a short
little analysis/review of a horror film that recently came out on Netflix called Cam. This little horror gem almost snuck under
my radar, but I saw it on a list somewhere and it the premise piqued my interest. And I have to say that I was delighted to
find another excellent horror movie in 2018, which has overall been a pretty good year
for horror. The film is about Alice, an up and coming
camgirl, whose identity is somehow stolen. And, well, I guess this is the point where
I should say if you haven’t actually watched the film, you really should do so prior to
watching the rest of this video. If you have seen the movie, needless to say
there’s a horrific twist to this whole ‘identify theft’ situation. Namely, Alice’s profile has been co-opted
by some kind of digital copy of herself. We’ll talk about that soon enough. But, first, I think I need to make something
clear right off the bat, lest you construe my interpretation of the film as some kind
of reactionary criticism of sex work as a general practice. To be entirely clear, I am pro-sex workers,
and I believe sex work is work just like any other job. And it should be treated as such. It should be legalized and regulated so that
people in that line of work have a safer lives and better working conditions. And ultimately, it should be the workers themselves
who call the shots in this industry, not the handful of rich, exploitative turds who oftentimes own
these platforms. This shouldn’t be a controversial position,
and I shouldn’t even really need to point it out. But, alas, this is America in 2018. So, I just felt it was important to say something
about that upfront. You know, horror is a sort of double edged
sword when it comes to the realm of social politics. It’s a genre that can often be incredibly
regressive. For instance, there’s a sense in which a film
like Friday the Thirteenth might be construed as a deeply conservative movie, since, you
know, the killer basically goes around murdering horny teens the whole time. The subtext is that they kind of deserved
it. I think that’s a valid way to read the movie,
and if you don’t like slasher movies that roughly follow this formula, I certainly wouldn’t
blame you for it. One might read Cam in the same way, like this
woman’s choice to become a camgirl is what ultimately lead to this horrific episode in
her life. But I certainly don’t see it that way. While it’s not entirely clear, I would say
that there is some kind of otherworldly force at play in the generation of Alice’s uncanny
double. I say “force” because it doesn’t even
seem as though the double is self aware. Rather, it just mindlessly adheres to the
incentives of the platform. This occurs on the level of the plot. What it means with respect to the underlying
themes of the film is a more thorny question. I would argue that it’s not quite Alice’s
specific profession per se, but rather the way in which the exchange relationship is
mediated; that is to say, it’s the mechanisms of platform itself that lead to the generation
of this autonomous digital doppelganger. The point here is that, it’s not the simple
fact that Alice is a camgirl that leads to her, uh, situation. Rather, it is the mechanism by which she becomes
utterly consumed in the spectacle of it all: the dazzling sound effects, the emojis, the
euphoria of watching herself go up in the ranks. It’s a platform designed to be addictive,
both for camgirls and their customers alike. It becomes like a kind of feedback loop that
conditions Alice, as well as her colleagues, to continually up the ante, so to speak. The dynamic created by the platform leads
to a sort of arms race, a competition of who can do the most fucked up shit on camera basically. I mean, the film starts with a cold open in
which Alice mimics committing suicide, much to the enjoyment of her viewers. There’s a sense in which the framework of
the platform creates certain incentives that might be construed as self-destructive. And, you know, it isn’t the theatrical element
of Alice’s performance that I’m referring to here, although perhaps the fact that mimicking
suicide is a viable way to work your way up the ranks is a foreboding indication that
something is deeply wrong with this platform. The film sets up certain illusions that are
thoroughly dispelled in order to drive home the basic point relationships mediated through
these platforms usually tend to contain some element of coercion or inauthenticity. We do see quite plainly that there’s a troublesome
dynamic between Alice and her customers, as evidenced by various interactions with two
dudes in particular. I would say that these two guys represent
different aspects of toxic masculinity: the pathetic “nice” guy who is actually a
creepy, obsessive stalker, and big ol’ sugar daddy who is actually an entitled and aggressive
manchild. For the stalker guy, we can discern that the
visage of Alice, the digital doppelganger, is, in a twisted sort of way, the version
he actually prefers. This is the case even though he’s cognizant
that this version of Alice isn’t real. For big pappa fuckstick here, the illusion
of some kind of amicable relationship is totally shattered when he and Alice meet in person. The second that Alice exhibits some autonomy
and stops fulfilling with his every request, he becomes violent and basically attempts to
kidnap her. In both cases, what these guys really want
is the version of Alice presented to them via the platform, a compliant servant who
will do anything they ask of her. I do believe that the film is exploring the
intrinsic contradictions of some forms of sex work in late capitalism; this is a depiction of sex work, namely the profession of the camgirl,
under a neoliberal framework in which workers are atomized and, ultimately, pitted against
one another, as evidenced by the elaborate ranking system, as well as Alice’s antagonistic
relationship with one particular colleague. It’s interesting to note that when Alice attempts
to get assistance from the platform, she is routinely ignored and dismissed. You know, as long as this platform keeps making
money, the whole thing gets perpetuated over and over again. The police aren’t any help either. Due to the stigma around sex work, they dismiss
her concerns. It almost seems as though all the forces of
society are colluding with one another to, you know, ruin Alice’s life. And while of course this is exaggerated to
elicit horror, the film does a good job of conveying that, beyond a certain point, Alice
is really on her own. Her social relationships are so totally atomized
that there’s no possibility of understanding her situation. Of course, I should point out that the commodification
of the human body is not something unique to sex work. It is a common trait of all wage labor in
a capitalist framework. And, really, the true horror of Cam, as you
may have inferred from the title of this video, is that in the epoch of technocratic neoliberalism,
insofar as we increasingly tend to use large, highly centralized platforms and services
such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, YouTube and Twitter, each of us have what essentially
constitutes an uncanny doppelganger in the visage of our digital own representations. That wraps it up for this installment of Nightmare
Masterclass. In you enjoy my videos and have a few bucks
to spare, please consider supporting me on www.ko-fi.com/NightmareMasterclass. Please know that any amount, large or small,
is highly appreciated. Thank you for watching, and good night.

37 comments

  1. I actually love seeing your videos queued to premiere. It gives me something to look forward to as I find your reviews/analysis fascinating. Even when you cover something I don't think I'll enjoy as much, I watch it and am almost always impressed and captivated. Thank you for your work.
    – a fan

  2. Unfortunately we don't need a supernatural digital entity to hijack our lives. We make our own doppelgangers and wear their digital faces online on our volition, and it's already so bad people, a large portion of us, don't even go outside to meet others.

  3. Ok but seriously cover the Neo Yokio Pink Christmas Special b4 years end! (Sorry this is the last time I'll bring it up but after actually seeing the special and the ending I'm falling for the series all over again XD)

  4. Worried about people being exploited for labor? Don't be! As we speak, technocrats are moving as quickly as possible to make those concerns entirely irrelevant. No one will pay for overpriced human labor ever again.

    I, for one, welcome our new AI overlords. They can hardly govern us any worse than actual humans.

  5. These "I have a proper political opinion" asides are bothersome. They cut into your time and tempo. I dig you want it, but just put it in the doobleedoo, man. Don't sacrifice your art for something that people will only point out if they were looking for it.

  6. Nice work! Finally got around to seeing Cam, so I could watch your analysis.

    A few stray SPOILERY observations:

    1) The Alice in Wonderland allusions was a nice touch without it being too “on the nose”, 2) I was reminded of the creepy YouTube video (that later turned out to be viral marketing) of a woman who unexpectedly slammed her face on her desk, 3) I wondered if someone was using “deep fake” technology to steal her identity…? I like your explanation better though.

    Keep up the great work!

  7. You know… I think there should be a horror movie about the tax man… He runs you down, and pounds you over the head with taxes!

  8. Thank you so much for your videos dude, you've introduced me to some really interesting stuff. Not to mention your actual analysis. Keep up the good work 🙂

  9. So torn. Good analysis of the movie, but I just can't put a like on a video with those political views. Sorry. Sex work is a very negative influence on humanity, and legalizing it would be a terrible failure for civilization.

  10. It's meta and really awkward to have a big ole content consumer parasocial crush on you right now. I definitely don't want to be anything like Papa Fuckstick lol. Enjoyed the analysis and the heads up that this film exists!

  11. I work with a guy who was so addicted to cam girls his family had to take away his internet because he spent all of his money on them

  12. Have you seen the film Hereditary? I feel like you would have so much to say about that film in terms of it's themes, it's symbolism and all the psychology it explores, particularly pertaining to abuse and trauma.

  13. thanks for linking politics to ur analysis. its hard to swallow for a few certain people but it really has to do with the subject and sex workers clearly have the short end of the stick. its refreshing to see people do this, i really appreciate your vids! im glad you shut down the people who are against it 👍 looking forward to more of your vids in the future.
    recently, I've watched a fascinating horror movie from the 1970s named "Suspiria." they made a remake of it recently and I think it'd be cool to see your thoughts on it!! Its a very mysterious film and seems right up your alley

  14. You know people talk a lot about toxic masculinity but hardly every is there a conversation about the idea of toxic femininity. The dichotomy between Alice and Lola could be a manifestation to this idea, Lola being a dark reflection of Alice.

  15. Legalizing sex work doesn't solve the problem of Neoliberal Capitalism itself. If, instead, we empowered workers and people in a democratic way, such as through regular people owning the means of production, then fewer women would feel the need to do sex work and fewer men would be ground down into hiring sex workers.

    Solving the systemic economic problems would be the most beneficial, and would greatly ease the debate over whether sex work is "moral", once people have the financial and material conditions in which to make actual choices in their lives.

  16. I think the film is about depersonalisation&derealization. I remember such feelings when I myself was a camgirl. "It's not me, can't be me. Who am I anymore? Is this girl me? It's not me. I'm not me anymore."
    It all started after she did what she didn't want to do. It can trigger those things.
    But when she won in the fight for her personality, she became another person (changed her name and her appearance)

  17. although the premisse sounded interesting i think they missed the mark. it was an okay movie in my opinion, but not a good horror movie. the people in the movie didn't act like people. no one was really that surprised that alice was both with them in person and live on the site at the same time. even when she interacted with the chat, the other girls are very casual about it simply saying "weird". that's not a very human response to something like this. i get the useless police in horror movie trope, but in this case it just put me off. could have been a better written scene. again anyone who might not be taking her seriously at first would most likely be intrigued about someone looking exactly like her assuming her identity after seeing it in person. why was her brother upset with her half way through the movie? because his friends saw her getting naked? he knew about what she did and supported it, and suddenly he's not okay with it? and how was that her fault anyway? that was an unexplained 180 on that character that didn't make much sense. the other girl being copied was dead for years and no one realized she was streaming live throught all that time? i find this a bit hard to believe. this is the internet, where people found where shia's flag stunt was located even though it was pointed at the sky in under 24h simply by looking at the star formations, wind direction, the occasional plane flying above and the background sound of frogs and took it down. they could have introduced the idea while alice was researching and have her stumble into some obscure reddit conspiracy post about the event and have her and us wonder what it could be. but we never get much of a hint, it's just there. period. and alice herself has no growth as a character. she ends just the same as she started. logging in and streaming despite everything, and the cycle repeats. even having been rid of that nightmare i would think anyone would want to know what happened and how this happened, and what took her identity. it would be a nice arc closure if she started investigating this further and finding out many other girls were being copied for example. i liked the idea that this thing was oblivious that it looked like her and was just replicating what she did, made me wonder if it was even self aware. it gave off a sense of unease and uncanny valley. but the movie makers decided not to persue that. why?

  18. I'm generally not a fan of horror films but watched this on your recommendation and really enjoyed it! Thanks for introducing me!

  19. Hi thanks for the video I also loved cam as it was a horror movie that made really good use of modern technology as an horrific item with that doppelganger idea and the isolation the web can cause. I loved that her line of work was mostly represented with dignity and that she manage to maintain good relationship with her family at the beginning of the movie when she's in control, her excitement about her carreer soons like any up and coming entertainer and it's definitely refreshing. While watching it my friend and I wondered if it was really the same actress playing the doppelganger 'cause given the context of the movie they could've used another actress for the doppelganger and… I'm not sure I wouldn't have been able to tell before late enough in the movie for it to be even more jarring. I was very pleasantly surprised and the basic framework is very reminiscent of Perfect Blue!
    As for your comment on slasher at the beginning of the video I'm not on board with the conservative interpretation of slasher movies you brought up. Given the time the genra got popular I always felt like the serial killer was more about how society is censoring sexually active teen and the way those movies were showing both young attractive people hitting on each other and the murders themselves were definitely not in line with conservative thinking.
    Anyway thanks for the video! Stay fresh!

  20. This is one of those rare times where I gotta say I don't think it's that deep
    from what I've heard, sex workers don't have a great opinion of this movie
    and I never thought I'd recommend in this direction, but if you check out Mista GG's review of this, it's pretty easy to spot moments where the writing was pretty lazy

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