Outsideleft Television Event of the Year: Bo Burnham - Inside
It seems that, since its release earlier this year, Bo Burnham's Inside has been the topic of many forms of discussion in pseudo-intellectual articles and essays (the best of which is 'Bo Burnham vs Jeff Bezos' on YouTube).
But it seems likely that, in the desire to pontificate about the show, some have lost sight of the raw power that 'Inside' truly holds.
Burnham was one of the first people to transition from YouTube fame to mainstream success, so watching him grow disillusioned with the being that gave him the tools to create the art he does throughout 'Inside' - it is depressing to its core. Watching him stare at an old YouTube video of himself with a deep look of fear and regret plastered on his face is painful to see but it may also be reflective. As more people grow up surrounded by social media, more and more will find themselves in Burnham's position. But what happens if patient zero despises the system?
The system that Burnham has been churned through is the topic of several elements of his Special. Whilst most of his work has centered on the Internet and the culture it creates, (namely his directorial debut 'Eighth Grade' and his last special 'Make Happy'), 'Inside' is where he truly rails against it in a way that he has not done before. The Internet has impacted all of our interactions, including the political which he shows through the song 'How the World Works' which presents a dichotomy between an upbeat Burnham and the sock puppet 'Socko'- both of whom are entrenched in their political perspectives and seem to condense to each other yet both upkeep the oppressive system they inhabit as they never move beyond platitudes as Socko asks '...why do you rich fucking white people insist on seeing every socio-political conflict through the myopic lens of your own self-actualisation?' and suggests Burnham '...reads a book or something', rather than have either party take direct action. The song 'White Woman's Instagram' looks at the social impact of the Internet as it critiques the tendency of many to present every facet of their lives in an overly aestheticized medium, to the point where the woman the song contorts her own mothers' death into a series of platitudes for her audience alongside the mundanities of inspirational quotes, aesthetic selfies and '...a quote from Lord of Rings incorrectly attributed to Martin Luther King'. But Burnham does not only turn this critique of Internet culture into an attack on those who use it but its creators. The songs 'Bezos I' and 'Bezos II' work as ominous mantras of the Amazon CEO and the world he has created followed by Burnham being huddled under a blanket questioning the morality of '...allowing giant digital media corporations to exploit the neurochemical drama of our children for profit'.
'Inside' also deconstructs the audience-creator dynamic as a means of furthering this critique. Framing the show through the lens of quarantine and having direct addresses shows the isolation in the creation of the comedy. Outside of the audience and the artificially generated sounds of applause and nature, there is no one present bar Burnham - he can fully create his special free of the audiences that caused him to initially retreat from comedy, those that made him more isolated and caused his mental health to deteriorate further.
Whilst the show is a critique of capitalism it is also a shield for Burnham, the witty analyses are often alongside moments of personal honesty. The comments about the impact of social media on the song '30' is preceded by Burnham staring at a clock as he watches his 20s literally tick by. Being able to be creative in such an isolated environment has stripped him of any interaction and isolated him further. The jokes do not have the weight they once did in his earlier specials and that is why, throughout the show, they are slowly stripped away until Burnham comes to the realisation he is trapped in this spectacle as following the attempts to exit the room Inside is focused on is ongoing and has no real escape. He knows he is not well and that creating the special will not generate any positive emotions for him But it has become the thing that he is dependent on and thus cannot escape. Watching this unfold is incredibly raw but also quite hard to watch. When your comedy special ends with a link to a suicide hotline, it is likely that there is an awareness of what this piece will cause.
Whilst each element of this has been annoyingly analyzed to death (yes I know the number 69 is displayed on the fan during the song 'Sexting' and the game during the livestream segment is from 'SSRI Interactive Games', I've seen about 10 other TikTok's point out the same thing.
'Inside' is a remarkable piece, with genuinely well-written music and insightful commentary that has longevity and poignance far outstretching the pandemic it was created within.