BBC Four aired a 70 minute film by the multimedia artist Rachel Maclean last night, a satire on social media, plastic surgery and how society treats women. The palette was a nauseating cacophony of patriarchy pinks and Instagram lilacs; the soundtrack a re-purposed use of Kenneth Clark’s narration of his 1969 series Civilization and cutesy phone bleeps and squeaks. Maclean herself plays the ringmaster of a disturbing arena where her subjects compete against each other for survival. She lip syncs to Clark’s voice with facial expressions straight out of RuPaul’s Drag Race Cattywalk. The film successfully lampoons the ostensibly cute imagery our society is drenched in that conveys a message that is anything but. The women’s voices are controlled by Maclean’s ringmaster; their behaviour overseen by a malevolent, extravagantly lashed eye that prevents them from eating and insists on subservience and conformity. One of the women just says forlornly, “hungry.”
Siri, a make up blogger unhappy with her face, is drawn into the nightmarish world by the insecurities that her constant, tech enabled self scrutinising has exacerbated. She is then trapped in this brutalist Barbie house, competing with others like herself who have been “transformed”. “You may be born imperfect but you can die gorgeous.” The sights of the satire are obvious but no less worth it for that.
The imagery is disturbing and powerful, and the film will doubtless linger in the mind long after watching. It could even be viewed as a call to arms, with Clark’s voice over at one point saying that “although civilization looks complicated, it is fragile and can be destroyed.” The satisfaction when the ringmaster is destroyed and the brutalist Barbie house is torn down is energising.