Strictly speaking, the modern-day selfie is a digital affair, but it’s a novel iteration of an old form: the self-portrait (a friend on Twitter joked, “was Lascaux the first selfie?”). As Kate Losse points out in her excellent primer, a notable point of inflection in the selfie’s recent meteoric rise was the addition of a front-facing camera to the iPhone 4. A selfie doesn’t even have to be of one’s face; my colleague Emily Greenhouse described Anthony Weiner as “a distributor of below-the-waist selfies.” Jack Dorsey, arguably the pioneer of the mass-distributed selfie, also introduced us to selfie Vines, six-second videos shareable on Twitter. Indeed, the selfie is nothing if not a visual shorthand for Dorsey’s initial vision for Twitter as a status updater—“here’s where I am, here’s what I’m doing.”
That selfie with Dr Ruth was taken last night in the green room of AC360 Later. Good times. OUPblog rounds up various scholarly reactions to the concept of the selfie. From José van Dijck, author of The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media:
Are all selfies the same? I don’t think so. There is quite a difference in taste and message between selfies on various social media platforms. Facebook selfies tend to be the most ordinary self-portraitures; they are pictures posted by people who want to look normal, happy, nice. Instagram is for ‘stylish’ selfies or ‘stylies’. On Instagram, you don’t portray yourself; you paint a desirable persona.
The apex of good taste may not be a self-portrait but an artistic picture of your most coveted object, such as an expensive bracelet on your wrist or four pairs of shoes representing you, your trendy husband, and your two adorable kids. Snapchat selfies are more like funny postcards: look at me, see how waggish I am, how abrasive I look, you’re not going to catch me in a snapshot. Snapchat selfies are meant to fade away like a dream as they vanish in less than ten seconds. So each selfie peculiarly reflects the flair and function of the platform through which it is posted, perhaps even more so than its sender’s taste. The medium is a big part of the message.
Poulos suggests that selfies “beam our conscious self-regard back at ourselves”:
[W]hat is it we see when we look back at ourselves again and again? Have you tried staring in the mirror for five minutes? (I have.) Try it. It’s like staring into a stranger’s eyes … much in the way that staring into a stranger’s eyes, nose to nose, quickly becomes strangely similar to staring into … your own.
Yep, it’s true. The deeper you look at anyone, including yourself, the more you see just another human. It might take a while, but selfies are on track to restore for us some of Narcissus’s innocent love for humanity. He was so gorgeous he couldn’t get on with his life. But that’s not true of any of us. And the longer we stare that fact in the face, the more our selfies will come to reflect what they so often already contain: the simple joy of being alive.
Or the eternal urge to get laid. Just keeping it real here. Update from a reader:
Ah, your “selfie” with Doctor Ruth brought back some funny memories. Before she became famous, Dr Ruth had a live call-in sex advice radio show in NYC, on Sunday night at 10 pm. I remember listening to her show with the volume turned way low so my mother wouldn’t catch me listening. Dr Ruth took her role as an educator so seriously, and knew how important it was in a suppressed society such as ours. And she would handle the people who called in as a goof with such grace. I recall a teenage girl who called in saying her boyfriend was pressuring her to perform oral sex, but she was afraid because she thought that boys ejaculated a gallon and she would choke. Dr Ruth calmly assured her that it would only be a teaspoon or so. The caller sounded so relieved, I’m guessing the boyfriend got his blowjob soon after.