When the new Netflix original series Girlboss debuted this month, it launched debates about its unique portrayal of feminism. But it takes on another topic in an unconventional way: online communication.
Girlboss follows the true story of Sophia Amoruso, founder of the online fashion retailer, Nasty Gal. Set in the mid-2000s when MySpace was still all the rage, the business began as a vintage clothes sale on eBay. Instant messaging and chatrooms also played a sizable role — so much that there’s an entire episode surrounding discussions that happen solely online.
But rather than showing internet forum members typing at their computers, which would require viewers to either read along or listen to the conversation through voiceovers, the creators took a different approach.
The 10th episode, appropriately titled “Vintage Fashion Forum,” begins at what looks like a futuristic conference room table. The scene is dramatically lit but simple, with 10 people sitting around a sleek, black table in front of an entirely black background that seems to be a void of nothingness. Name placards, instead of actual names, read “ItTakesAVintage,” “GoodTwillHunting” and other vintage fashion puns.
Of course, the show doesn’t actually take a strange leap into the future. The conference room setting is a creative placeholder for communicating online — one that gives depth and a certain respect for the conversations we have on the internet. Though each person communicating online is physically alone during the conversation, they’re still having genuine human interactions.
The conference room setting also powerfully sets up one of the more dramatic moments in the series. Later on in the episode, lead Sophia is instant messaging her best friend, Annie, and the conversation quickly becomes a fight that seriously threatens their friendship. Like the conference room, the two women are sitting in chairs opposite of each other in front of a pure white background, stone-faced as they spout instant messages back and forth.
But at a pivotal moment, when Annie proclaims that she “quits” their friendship, it suddenly cuts away from the pristine internet embodiment to real-life Sophia sitting alone in her room, tears streaming while the glow of the computer screen reflects on her face. For all the power that the internet has to connect the world — to bring like-minded people together to have thought-provoking conversations — it also has a staggering ability in times of conflict to make individuals feel overwhelmingly alone.
Not only do the creators of Girlboss prove in this episode that they take social media seriously, they expertly and uniquely comment on the byproducts of an increasingly internet-driven society. Constant, unrestricted communication has amazing implications, but if utilized improperly, it has a perhaps greater potential to divide the world than it does to unite it.