What does Bo Burnham’s special INSIDE really mean?
Bo Burnham’s Inside is a masterpiece in the arts — It is an intimate closeup to the thoughts of the current age: Social media, global warming, the internet, loneliness, fear of growing up, and labor exploitation. All favorite topics of our generation. It beautifully encapsulates the raw and pure experience of the sparkling joy that is an existential crisis.
Let’s discuss the nuance and the beauty of this content, especially from our collective worries in 2021, which are incredibly peculiar, and explore the naked portrayal of our thoughts as the young generation living in a too fast-changing to follow, lonely, yet connected, world.
Bo worded a lot of the pain we feel and gave us a “snap” that we craved as an anxious youth being part of the fake-happy digital world, this is why it is so relatable. Let’s start putting Bo Burnham’s relatable sadness into words we can explicitly think about.
There’s a huge lifestyle generational gap between parents and GenZ. Your parents or old therapist may not “get” the effects of social media and your understanding of global warming. There is a painful alienation when one thinks that they experience 21st-century-peculiar existential pains alone, we alienate each other on social media because we are ashamed to be reminded that we feel the same way: We are being passive-aggressive to each other, and Bo Burnham was a first active talker in the conversation.
Rarely do I look back and notice that our lifestyle and the pains we experience from it are direct products of a peculiar world we live in, left by generations that didn’t know any better, and we are abandoned to be flexible through it: We grew up with the internet, social media, increased levels of anxiety and mental illnesses, popular lack of social skills, etc.
Understandably, many of us are in quiet pain, Bo yelled it out! (Or sang it, really.)
Bo Burnham chose his last frames to be him looking naked, exposed, and weakly holding himself: It is symbolic of the vulnerability and out-of-the-boxness feeling when one talks about their anxiety and induced shame. He ended his final song with:
“I promise to never go outside again.” — from Goodbye by Bo Burnham.
“I wanna hear you tell a joke, when no one’s laughing in the background.” from Goodbye by Bo Burnham. Symbolic to mean that I want to hear you talk about the anxiety too.
1. The joy of the internet ^o^
“The more we crave attention, the less we pay attention” is the main theme of the special.
In Bo Burnham’s Goodbye song (probably the most obviously existentialist song in the album), Bo reminds us about the main theme of his special: The Internet. He talks about how it is the reason he came up to be himself, and is worried and anxious. He says: “I swear to god, all I ever wanted was: A little bit of everything, all of the time.” — The reference to Welcome to The Internet, the popular song from the special, hitting 10 million views in 2 weeks.
Throughout his songs, especially in Problematic, he talks about how the internet ate him alive and even made him. In most segments, he talks about the anxieties of having to perform 24/7 on social media, a gracious hug for people born into the digital world who feel the pain of doom scrolling and the addiction to attention, both on social media and in real life thanks to selfish individualism and the anxiety pandemic.
“Share every thought you ever have.” — Monologue.
“The world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door,” — That Funny Feeling.
“The real world is a stage for the even more real world, the digital world.” — Monologue.
I’m sure everyone born after 1990 and 2000 can relate to the now-overrun discourse about the toxic effects of social media. Social media is consuming, anxiety-driven, and it kills self-esteem.
Suicide rates skyrocket for GenZ. (And anxiety and depression)
But still, the scrolling never ends.
As a Gen Z consumed by social media, my anxiety became so strong that many times I felt lightweight. Many months in a row, I had out-of-body experiences. I didn’t feel real, but I kept scrolling.
When I post, my anxiety gates flood open, and demons welcoming me with spikes say hi and walk me to This Evening is Pretty Ruined pit. At that point, it's hard to get my rotting flesh out of it.
The second I post, the more I want to post, and “the emptier I feel.” — The Social Dilemma, Netflix 2020.
It’s exhausting, and it strips us away from our creativity. As Batman actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt says in a great Ted Talk about the economy of attention: “The more we want attention, the less we pay attention.”
Bo Burnham speaks about it in all these songs and segments:
Content, Problematic (about cancel culture), 30 (about zoomers getting dissociative disorder from their phones), Unpaid Intern (about endless reaction videos), Twitch streaming, and Standup (about if we can shut the f*ck up about every thought we ever have.)
The toxicity of the digital world is so specific to people born after 1990, yet we ignore its peculiarities and navigate around them like they’re natural. Most problematically, we feel bad for feeling bad.
It’s a common experience to many of us in a generation who found comfort in the internet growing up and now it’s hurting them, yet they don’t know why.
No one talks about the loneliness and anxiety of being born in a digital world, it’s taboo. And Bo Burnham’s nakedness and vulnerability come from sharing that. While watching the special, I could feel what he talks about: myself in my body scrolling myself dead, and I (we) can finally criticize this world we are so blindly engaging with. That’s great art.
2. Global Warming
The existential crisis fuel: The earth will die anyways, why try to save it?
“All Eyes on Me” is the ultimate existential crisis song. It encapsulates all legitimate worries of a generation.
“Global warming is going to kill us, there’s an inevitable ending, and we are helpless. So join us in our cult-like nursery rhyme: We’re going to go where everybody knows everybody. Knows everybody.
“You say the whole world’s ending, honey, it already did. You’re not going to slow it, heaven knows you’ve tried,”
The same message is in “That Funny Feeling” when Bo talks about the fuckedupness of the world we live in. The weirdness of the world and the pain of it is very 21st century, unlike anything we’ve seen before, where we destroy our planet and we collectively realize the world works by inequality as our friend Socko! explains :)
That “funny feeling” is when you understand the meaninglessness of it all. With a feeling similar to The Stranger novel by Albert Camus, the lyrics tell you about everyday hypocrisy.
“The whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door,” “going for a drive,” “obeying all the traffic laws in Grand Theft Auto V,” getting a self-help book “delivered by a drone,” and when you feel “the quiet comprehending of the ending of it all.”
— Moments when you feel cold, helpless, weirdly depressed. Mellow and existential.
“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” — Albert Camus, The Stranger — an Existential fiction .
Unlike in Albert Camus’ times though, the inevitable ending of the world is not Avant-Garde and limited to atheists at the time. It is inescapable in pop culture.
Now, unlike 40 years ago, we have ever-connected information systems. We see exploitation and climate change.
We know that we are lonely, and cops do not necessarily protect us. We know that women are oppressed.
That we must venture for the stars for the survival of our species, and social media is igniting civil wars.
We know that working people are mindlessly enslaved, and other fun things to remember at once.
3. Wealth exploitation and inequality
People under 30 are at the bottom of the social ladder.
Your country probably decided that if you are born after 1990, you cannot own the roof on your head. Real estate is a parent’s thing, you cannot afford it anymore. On the bright side, you get to pay off your student debt.
Competition for basic human needs for people under 30 is overwhelming.
Your parents did not need a college degree to work in most jobs, but now it’s mandatory while a lot of people can’t afford it anymore, like many other basic needs.
What’s the point of rising standards of living, if so few people can make use of them? And if others have to endure inequality and exploitation? Well, that’s the point of Bo Burnham’s Socko :)
Sure, you don’t have smartphones in the 70s, but would you use one if you knew it included Las Vegas addiction algorithms that will sometimes kill your mental health for days and make being productive a real challenge? Millennials are paying a cost for a “rising” standard of living, but they can’t benefit off them. Who does? The rich.
A generation is growing up realizing: “Wait a minute, I’ve been scammed out of a deal I did not even consent to.”
We can sympathize with people who share the Cottage-core pictures that became so popular on Pinterest and Instagram these last months, or even the people that want to abandon human civilization and move to the woods. (Although they probably won’t, my generation loves to fantasize about it for good reasons!!)
People feel inadequate and lonely by school statuses and social media companies, who make it difficult for a generation of GenZs to focus on their homework.
But hey, you get to experience environmentally induced ADHD and anxiety, that’s one thing that’s definitely new. And it’s true by the way, people call it VAST, Variable Attention Stimulus Trait.
Listen to how Dr. Hallowewll and Ratey describe it in their book ADHD 2.0 released in 2021:
“In our efforts to adapt to the speeding up of life and the projectile spewing of data splattering onto our brains all the time, we’ve had to develop new, often rather antisocial habits in order to cope. These habits have come together to create something we now call VAST: the variable attention stimulus trait.”
But you can take bathroom breaks to cry at work, that’s on the house.
Rising standards of living mean 9 to 5 is blurred out, so you take your work home and during the weekends. Hustle culture is not that stuff GaryVee talks about on Tiktok, you are already neck-deep in one.
It sucks for our generation :) truly, but at least we can talk about it now, at least we have this special going on to help alleviate that loneliness that comes with experiencing these pains (in this social media fake-fairy dust world.)
We had a collective breakdown in this last pandemic, much like Bo. We started questioning how we are numbed down.
Many reviews say that Bo Burnham’s special is the “defining work of the pandemic.” But it’s deeper than that, this is a category of people, and a generation, who were traumatized by the toxic side of engaging with the internet and who were squeezed dry of a positive self-image.
It’s time we talk about it because our mothers and fathers throughout generations who helped create the goodness of the world we live in now do not accept we live like this, just like we wouldn’t for our own children.
It’s time we ask ourselves how we are feeling and do we like this imposed lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be this way, at least if we start talking to each other about the peculiar pains of our generations without taboos and feeling vulnerable and naked, we can start to feel better.
In our social media world and alienation from institutions that tell us we are not good enough, we feel “nude in a world of see-through dresses.” (source from “rap” writings below.)
How are you feeling?
Do you like the show?
Are you tired of it?
N̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶m̶i̶n̶d̶,̶ ̶I̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶n̶n̶a̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶
Are you finding it boring?
Too fast? Too slow?
I̶’̶m̶ ̶a̶s̶k̶i̶n̶g̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶a̶n̶s̶w̶e̶r̶
‘̶C̶a̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶I̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶n̶n̶a̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶
Is there anyone out there?
Or am I all alone?
I̶t̶ ̶w̶o̶u̶l̶d̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶a̶ ̶d̶i̶f̶f̶e̶r̶e̶n̶c̶e̶
S̶t̶i̶l̶l̶,̶ ̶I̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶n̶n̶a̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶
I thought it’d be over by now
But I got a while to go
— Bo Burnham’s “Don’t wanna know,” a cry for help and change to our generation and the anxious people in it, if you take away the parts that are self-conscious. Can we stop being self-conscious to change it, or are we doomed?