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Swarm 2023 | Review

From a blood-splattered satire on stan culture to a commentary on isolation

By Susanna Lehtonen

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Content warning: This article mentions violence

‘This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional.’ The on-screen text begins each of the episodes on Amazon Prime’s latest horror satire series, Swarm. Co-created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, the series follows Dre and her obsession with the fictional pop-star Ni’Jah. Iconic music videos, a relationship with a famous rapper, and the bee emojis on Twitter stan accounts establish Ni’Jah’s not-so-subtle similarity to Beyoncé and her own fan base, the ‘BeyHive’. Dre herself is part of the Swarm, a group of Ni’Jah’s most devoted fans. However, Dre’s obsession quickly takes a sinister turn as the tragic loss of her sister triggers a rapid spiral, and sends her on a serial murder spree across the States. Though she justifies each of the murders with the victims’ apparent dislike (which includes even throwaway Tweets) of Ni’Jah, the show is so much more than just a blood-splattered satire about the extremes stan culture.

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Dominique Fishback beautifully portrays Dre, a young woman who was never really given space in this world. From her unnatural shuffle of a walk, to the way she intensely stares, or doesn’t make eye contact at all, everything about Dre is unsettling to those around her. And they make sure she knows it. She is called weird to her face multiple times over the course of the show. When Dre asks to be invited to a party, her sister’s friend refuses because she ‘doesn’t drink and just sits there and watches’. And it’s not just the show’s characters who continuously point out Dre’s quirks: every time Dre says or does something unconventional, or brings up her intense feelings for Ni’Jah, a short frog-like sound in the background of the show accentuates her unhinged character. In the first episode, it seems the show wants us to see just a weird girl with no friends of her own, and only an unhealthy obsession with a pop-star to keep her busy. I mean, what is it about Ni’Jah that has Dre so captivated anyway?

Dre’s serial killings are spurred on only after the loss of her sister Marissa, the only person to genuinely care for Dre. And Dre felt the same, though the only way she was able to show it was by buying overpriced concert tickets to (you guessed it) Ni’Jah’s tour for Marissa’s birthday. So when the only person you care about is gone, what is there to lose? For Dre, there is nothing to lose, other than Ni’Jah. She builds a parasocial relationship with her to make up for what she was never given. The show progressively fades the obsession over Ni’Jah to the background and characterises Dre as a person whose actions are fuelled by grief, trauma, and a deep, deep loneliness. Her actions can be easily explained, inviting the viewer to even sympathise with her. Parasocial relationships are often formed to make up for the lack of real connections to stimulate us, exactly demonstrated by Dre and her obsession which turns violent upon the loss of the last connection is her life. All these things may explain why Dre does what she does, but it doesn’t invoke too much sympathy, either.

But maybe there is a way to help Dre, to pull her out of this miserable murdering spree. But the way Swarm builds the final episode and ultimately ends the show suggests Dre cannot, or will not, change. Dre’s character is static—no events, no matter how tragic or wonderful, change who she is and how she feels. Yet she is never pathetic. We are merely reminded that these people exist in our society, and calling them ‘deranged’ or ‘crazy’ fails to consider that stan culture isn’t disappearing anytime soon, and it perhaps masks a darker trend of growing loneliness amongst a generation thought to be more connected than ever.


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