I turned 24 recently. No, this isn’t me fishing for belated birthday wishes (24 is the Shasta Cola of existence). For my 24th birthday, I went to Disneyland, since I have the mind of a child but the stamina of a 90-year-old chain-smoker. Because of this, I was sitting on a bench when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught two teenage girls on Main St., taking selfies together. The girls had vibrant smiles with the phone in front of them, but as soon as the photo was taken and the phone was lowered, those smiles disappeared quicker than your life savings at this theme park.
There’s no winner in this competition. No medals. Only a certain amount of likes and the occasional comment from the weird guy you met at Subway.
Then, you go back to your fairly dull life, which is almost everyone’s reality. Most people live a dull, anxiety-filled life where they feel unfulfilled. Even if you’re a famous celebrity, whose day is filled with interviews, red-carpet premieres and parties, you’re still probably human. And because of that, you still probably feel what most humans feel: insecurity, anxiety, loneliness, feeling disconnected from others, worried of the world's consensus of you. Social media is our new way of escaping those feelings, but at the same time, it magnifies them tenfold.
The only difference is, we see how this lifestyle is affecting Kayla. We see (and feel) her anxiety that's amplified by social media. How it’s the thing that gives her the most comfort, while being the thing that’s holding her prisoner—like Cerebral Stockholm Syndrome. We see Kayla making YouTube videos about “being yourself,” then see her painstakingly crafting the perfect photo to post to Snapchat with the caption, “Just woke up like this.” We see her make a video about putting yourself out there, then see her almost having a panic attack attending a fellow classmates pool party. And because we’re being shown these very intimate, raw, emotional moments, we relate to her. Because we’ve all lived her adolescent anxieties, and because of social media, I’d argue we never really grow out of them.
It's not by some 50-year-old screenwriter who knows zero about modern teenagers, but for some reason is in charge of having them spew illegitimate bile out of their mouths.
No, Kayla is who she is because Burnham knows who she is, because she’s all of us. He’s smart enough to understand that what Kayla feels is what we all feel—and that no matter how “grown up” we claim we are, we all still feel self-conscious at a pool party. We all still feel awkward trying to make conversation with someone we just met. We all still want validation, to be loved by someone, or everyone. Eighth Grade shows us that we’re all like Kayla, in one way or another. It holds a mirror to its audience, exposing a raw nerve and showing the social media-driven behavior we don’t wanna admit that we enact behind the scenes. That we’re all alone, together, and that’s OK.