Why do artists have to suffer? (a.k.a: why the legitimacy of Bo’s tears shouldn’t matter to you)
The first time I watched Inside I felt emotionally exhausted. I’d seen the hype over Bo Burnham’s long awaited Netflix special and been warned by various friends not to watch it alone. If you haven’t seen it, Inside is 87 minutes of pure unadulterated genius. I am not just stating this purely on the basis that he shot and edited the whole thing himself, but the fact that the special is a deep dive into Bo’s mental health and also views of the world. He looks at the hypocrisies, violence and corruption of humanity all while giving a knowing stare to the camera (Fleabag style).
However, it’s not all that nail bitingly serious. He sings about nights spent facetiming his mum, “My mother’s covering her camera with her thumb/ I’ll waste my time facetiming with my mom.” A song from the perspective of the internet, or naming tropes found on a white woman’s Instagram account *promptly bins salt lamp*.
It’s all fun and games in the first half of Inside, but there’s an apparent switch as we witness a man in crisis. Bo sings about his departure from live comedy due to severe panic attacks and his mental health plummets as the days go past and he continues to work on the special alone in his room. After watching the special, I was worried about Bo Burnham, I kind of wanted to send him a care package or a card with bears on it. As someone who struggles with her mental health, I felt so much kinship with Bo and I admired the bravery to create something so desperately vulnerable.
So it came to a surprise that the set up of Inside isn’t actually real. In reality, Bo was isolating with his long term partner, Lorene Scafaria, and his dog, Bruce. The legitimacy of his storyline has been scrutinised online, as viewers are split between a sense of betrayal or an understanding of the fact that art doesn’t always have to mirror reality. For me, I felt a tad betrayed. Suddenly the special felt as if it held a kind of falseness, that all the vulnerability was staged and acted out by a genius.
It is a common trope that the artist has to suffer for their art, we see it in poetry, music, theatre. There’s something about Bo breaking down in a fit of tears whilst his camera is rolling that we enjoy. I don’t doubt for a minute that Bo has dealt with anxiety and depression. As someone who went viral back in the golden age of YouTube, he has faced incredible pressure and criticism; whether we like to admit it or not, global recognition is a parasite who feeds on contentment. Bo’s mental health struggles are legitimate (he doesn’t need me to say that), but perhaps Inside is more of a retelling than a live taping.
Regardless, that fact has made some people angry on the internet. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, there often is a instinct in us to want to see our idols suffer. Not just in the case of Bo Burnham, but on a larger scale. Every year, millions of us tune into Love island- a glorified game of sims where producers and the public get to play with people’s emotions all whilst dangling that shiny promise of fame and money in front of their eyes. We like to hear about celebrities struggling in article interviews or on social media. This might be a desire to humanise the famous, or possibly something darker.
Maybe Inside is not just a retelling of Bo’s trauma, perhaps he is doing what he does best and showing us back to ourselves.