November 9th, 2016. Wednesday. 9:21pm. Feeling lost.
What a day. What. A. Day. I think it’s pretty safe to say that there’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you wake up in the morning to find that Donald J. Trump has been elected as the next president of the United States. As a gay girl (gasp!) with plans to move to LA, the fear, my friends, is real. But today I’m not going to talk about that.
Today, I’m going to talk about a woman. Or should I say two women? Yes, I’m referring to the incredible, multi-talented YouTube sensation Miranda Sings, and the mastermind behind the lipstick, Colleen Ballinger.
Before you say anything, yes: I’m late. I get it! Unfortunately, if you hadn’t been able to tell from the distinct scarcity of my blogs in recent weeks, I have had a lot on my plate. Since my post about my alopecia, everything has been going downhill. My anxiety is peaking, my hair is abandoning ship in clumps, and I am always. Freaking. Cold! Even today I was sprung with a spontaneous blood test to confirm my doctor’s suspicions that I have Raynaud Syndrome. Yikes! The most important thing for somebody in my position is to find an anchor, and boy did I find that in Colleen’s Netflix show, “Haters Back Off”!
Now, I’ve been following Colleen’s bilateral career for years; I don’t know if you know this, but Ms Ballinger is a long-time friend of my everything (pun intended), Ariana Grande. The two met when I was still going through a pretty tough time; I found Ariana’s YouTube channel ‘osnapitzari’ back in the late months of 2008, and she was able to pull me up from an abyss of pure darkness. I continued watching her videos, and soon enough Colleen came along. Damn, I fell in love with her! It didn’t take long for me to begin idolizing both women, and I have to admit that I became particularly fixated on Colleen’s ‘Miranda Sings’ videos. I soon developed an analytical eye, which let me appreciate the genius of Miranda Sings even more than before because I knew, or at least I thought I knew, exactly what she stood for.
And then came Haters Back Off.
(Though honestly if you haven’t watched the show yet, why the heck not? As a writer myself, I’m genuinely in awe of what Colleen and her brother Chris have created. So, watch it!)
Where do I begin? I guess, like all good reviews do, I should start with a summary. In short, Haters Back Off is a deep insight into Miranda Sings’ rise to stardom. For the first time ever – much to the relief of us long-term Mirfandas – we get to meet Miranda’s immediate family: her mother Bethany, her Uncle Jim, and her sister Emily.
(Side note: OF COURSE Emily was named after me. Of course…)
When sitting down to watch the show, some people (I’m looking at you, Emily Ashby from Common Sense Media) found Miranda’s leap from YouTube to Netflix “painful at best”. I have only one thing to say to that: critics, back off!
The first few episodes of Haters Back Off were nothing short of a nostalgia-fest for me. The beautiful awkwardness, the painful hilarity and the downright joyous self-absorption that Miranda radiates is something that I have known for oh so many years. That, coupled with the addition of the magnificent (and devastatingly stunning) Francesca Reale… I am living!
But the show is so much more than that. You have to bear in mind that a lot of critics, those who so often awarded it such measly star ratings, merely watched. They did not absorb. They did not think. That is called passive watching, and that is not intelligent. Haters Back Off is intelligent, and it needs an active audience to delve deep between the lines in order to appreciate its true genius.
From start to finish, I see the story of a typically dysfunctional, modern family as it deteriorates under the clutch of contemporary society. We see Miranda, arguably plagued with the effects of social pressure, desperately trying to succeed in a world that she so clearly isn’t suited for. There is a sad, beautiful irony in her motives, one that my generation and many others are only too familiar with: she needs success to be satisfied, but to succeed you have to be satisfied with yourself, and that, Internet, is barely possible in a world full of so-called “haters”. What is so beautiful about Miranda Sings is that she embodies that societal Catch-22. Yes, she is overly confident. Yes, by the end of Episode 1 we have developed a strong hatred towards her due to her absolute crudity towards those around her. But we love her, or at least we feel for her, because she gets it. She gets us. In Episode 3, “Netwerking at the Nursing Home”, Miranda says: “Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, or how badly you think you want something, or how much time you put into it, or how determined you are to make it happen, you’ll never be good enough.” And all I can say is: girl, you’re so right! In writing this monologue, Colleen gives us a shred of respect for Miranda, and in doing so she provides us with a shred of respect for ourselves. Finally, we are being told through the media that it is okay not to excel in absolutely everything we do. Miranda is certainly not a superhuman, and neither are we.
There is, however, a glaringly dark undertone to Haters Back Off, a thorn in a viewer’s side which slowly infects us with hard-hitting reality. Looking back, I can’t help but sit here shell-shocked by the sheer volume of social issues weaved into the fabric of the synopsis. Gender, sexuality, religion… The list goes on. Initially, as previously mentioned, we see nothing short of a dysfunctional family. We have Miranda, whose outright malevolence towards her family is merely shrugged off by her parental figures. Those guardians, her biological mother and her Uncle Jim, are questionable in themselves. As a viewer, I couldn’t help but pick up a trace of paedophilia and incest in Jim, played by Steve Little. Bethany, played by Angela Kinsey, even picks up on it in Episode 1, when Miranda and Jim are exchanging an innuendo-filled conversation about cinnamon buns. When Miranda says: “That’s alright, it landed on my buns! I like ‘em extra sticky.”, followed by Jim’s response of “Oh, if you squeeze harder more will come out!”, Bethany cautions their behaviour suggesting that “people could get the wrong idea.” This incestuous undercurrent has always been present in Miranda’s videos, with repeated talk of a so-called “Daddy Saddle”; through the use of such a controversial subject matter, Colleen is effectively showing a severe amount of courage whilst also targeting the disturbing concept of sexual abuse within families. By producing such “painful”, difficult-to-digest dialogue, Colleen and Chris Ballinger have in fact shown the audience just how serious the matter is, for which I admire them greatly.
Bethany herself is also surrounded by controversy. We know that she despises her ex-husband, made clear through her evident heartbreak when Emily decides to move in with him. In fact, we never even meet this mystery man! This ambiguity attacks the audience with an influx of questions: Who is he? What did he do? Was it enough to compel Bethany to fake a medical condition in desperation for just an ounce of attention? For me, Bethany is a sad yet typical embodiment of a stereotypical, middle-aged divorced woman. Her ex-husband, whoever he might be, has clearly neglected her, leaving her isolated and desperate. With a family who doesn’t seem to care much for her, she has become dangerously obsessed with religion and the love of God. God, however, is a busy man, and so she has turned to faking an illness in order to attract His attention. This, arguably, would make Keith the physical embodiment of Bethany’s twisted idea of God. His “fetish” for disability matches perfectly with Bethany’s craving for affection, and for a moment she is finally content. However, when she releases this façade Keith becomes uninterested, and in seeing him with another lady Bethany seems to lose all faith: faith in family; faith in religion; faith in herself. This loss of faith is incredibly powerful, creating unspeakable amounts of emotion which the entire audience can relate to. We all know how it feels to lose faith, and Bethany’s example is simply escalated. This loss of faith is heavily present particularly in the final episode, not only in Bethany but in everyone else. It is, therefore, sickeningly ironic that Colleen has chosen to title Episode 8 “i’m famous”. The juxtaposition between the glorified fame and a devastatingly crushing loss of faith is clear: in the words of the late Professor Severus Snape, “fame isn’t everything, Mr Potter”.
So, that brings me nicely to the star of the show, Miranda Sings herself. Gosh, where do I start? If you will, I’d like to start at the very end of the last episode. Um, excuse me, but WTF was that ending??? It was, in actual fact, pure genius. Sat in the dark in an empty house, an image which so perfectly depicted an isolated oblivion (Hell, so to speak), Miranda stares at her computer and repeatedly refreshes the page as she watches her stats rise, and rise, and rise… Oh, how the symbolism makes my nerdy little heart flutter! This scene – shot so beautifully I must add – is so effective in representing the perilous, obsessive clasp that the media, as well as the idea of fame and fortune, has on so many individuals. Miranda as a character represents so much more than that. From the very start of my fangirl-esque following of Miranda, I couldn’t help but see an eeriness to her which, at first, I likened to the cripplingly mental clutch of Schizophrenia and even possession. Now, my ideas are more broad. When I think of Miranda Sings and Colleen Ballinger, I think of a success built off of the idea of two-facedness. Nowadays, nothing is more profound in entertainment than the sad reality of dishonesty. In short, nobody is exactly how they portray themselves. Colleen and Miranda are hyperbolised examples of that, and through this Colleen poses the question: is it right?
The answer is simple. Yes, I think it is.