‘Assassination Nation’ Digs Up the Roots of America’s Second Civil War
Social media connects us -- social media tears us apart
Teenage girls catch a lot of shit today. Turn on YouTube, go see a hacky comedian, or read any number of blogs and you’ll turn up a bunch of bad opinions about how teenage girls are the patient zero of modern society’s perceived narcissism epidemic. Men with fedoras swirl a tumbler full of whiskey and pontificate about how social media is bullshit, nothing is real anymore and teen girls are snapchatting society to death.
This is, and always has been, bullshit. But the cultural myth persists. The truth is teen girls don’t have a lot of power in our society and we love to lay our problems at their feet. They can’t fight back, after all. Assassination Nation is a movie where they fight back. More than that, they channel their rage and fury into a righteous murder spree that lays bare the soul of an affluent bedroom community in Anywhere, USA.
Assassination Nation actually takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, of course, and tells the story of best friends Lily, Bex, Em and Sarah. Their normal life is disrupted when a hacker busts into the mayor’s phone and computer and releases all his dirty secrets on the community. The staunchly anti-gay candidate had a hidden life and when it all airs to the public, he Budd Dwyer’s himself in front of cameras and becomes an instant fail-meme.
The hacker works through some other high-profile targets before pulling his biggest prank of all—releasing the complete archives of roughly half the town. Overnight, Salem becomes a war zone. Dirty laundry exposed to the world, families break apart, friends turn against each other and people wear masks as they go about their day. No one wants to be identified, scrutinized or recognized.
In the middle of all this is Lily, an 18-year-old high-school senior. She was sending dirty pictures to a married man she was babysitting for. She never slept with him and she never showed her face, but it doesn’t matter. The hacker didn’t expose Lily’s secrets, but they did expose those of the married man. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t show her face. Her boyfriend figures it out and tells the whole town that all the dirty pictures they’re ogling are Lily.
Things escalate and Lily becomes the focus of the town’s building rage at being exposed. “Who sees a naked photo of a girl and their first thought is, ‘Yo, I got to kill this bitch?’’’ Lily asks in a voice over. “Way more people than you think.” It’s the kind of thing I’d have a hard time buying, even in fiction, just a few years ago.
But I know better now. I’ve seen women I respect chased off of digital platforms ahead of coordinated mobs of harassers. It’s not too hard for me to imagine the same groups of people would take their bullshit to the streets with the right kinds of pressures. Doxxing half a town feels like the right kinds of pressures.
Assassination Nation is an exploitation flick, but it doesn’t exploit Lily and her friends. No, these girls have agency and they’re not going to stand for this bullshit. Faced by an entire town that’s decided to kill them for imagined transgressions, they arm themselves — and fight back.
I loved this movie. It’s big and dumb and not subtle at all, but it’s an absolute blast. It’s like a big, stupid, American Black Mirror. Technology drives the conflict, but only insofar as its able to expose Salem’s innermost nastiness. Man was the monster all along, our smartphones and laptops just pleasant masks and teenage girls easy scapegoats.
The teenage girls of Assassination Nation don’t put up with that shit.