Celebrity 4 Selfie

UK Girl Group The Saturdays posing selfie-style for Fabulous magazine (Source: The Saturdays.co.uk)

UK girl group The Saturdays posing selfie-style for Fabulous magazine (Source: The Saturdays.co.uk)

Last weekend, international pop star Katy Perry sent out a cautionary tweet to her 52 million followers:

What she is referring to is the selfie, defined as self-portrait photograph, taken with a digital camera or cell phone. These photos are often posted on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. To find a selfie, perhaps we need to place it in one of the categories Victor Burgin discusses in “Looking at Photographs” as the four types of look in a photograph, the one being “the look the actor directs to the camera.”

However, as Angela Kelly discusses in “Self Image: Personal is Political”, at that time, self-portraits haven’t “been seriously analyzed.” As she writes, “with most photography, assumptions are made and essential questions rarely asked.” However, I think that statement no longer rings true when we see studies done that links ‘selfies’ to narcissism, addiction and low-self-esteem and hear sad news reports such as the 19-year old man (who took up to 200 selfies a day) attempting suicide because he wasn’t “satisfied with the quality of his selfies.”

Perhaps our focus has shifted onto what the act of selfies does/mean and less on, like Kelly mentions “who [these self-photographs] are communicating to and why, and in what context.” Are self-portraits (now selfies) still that unique cultural experience that she was trying to capture through her feminist approach in “Self Image”, or are they focused more on how we can learn to become socially accepted in a social networking world?

I am much more interested how celebrities use selfies, and how their photos are almost on a different tier, perhaps because they are approaching it in a way that is less about “inner-character” (self-awareness) and more about the way they can connect with their followers and ways to gain even more popularity (“self-expressive, doing it without the self”). As Doris Lessing writes, “writing about oneself is writing about others,” perhaps these celebrities are looking to reach out their fans and become again, more “socially accepted” (the whole stars are just like us rhetoric).

I look to two recent infamous ‘selfie’ incidents: March 2, Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres takes a live ‘selfie’ with a slew of Academy Award nominees (Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper to name a few) and uploads it onto her Twitter account. Within hours, the “best selfie ever” is retweeted 900,000 times (now 2 million and counting) by nearly everyone with a Twitter account. Flash forward to April 1: The World Series Champion Boston Red Sox visit President Obama at the White House, slugger David Ortiz snaps a self-pic with POTUS himself using his Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone—within minutes the photo is retweeted by the cell phone company, and it is revealed that Ortiz has an active sponsorship with Samsung. The White House later slams the incident when realizing they caught themselves in a promotional/commercial stunt.

David Ortiz snapping a selfie with his all promotions paid Samsung phone. (Source: The Washington Post)

David Ortiz snapping a selfie with his all promotions paid Samsung phone. (Source: The Washington Post)

The question becomes, where is the self in these selfies? Could they be any more different than an average person snapping? Perhaps the end goal is the same: attention and influence. I think for the celebrity, the more exposure, the better.

So should we heed Perry’s advice about selfies? Or should we investigate a little further and think perhaps maybe, there was no cell phone carrier paying the ‘Dark Horse’ singer to snap a couple of photogs at Coachella last weekend? After all, selfing is a disease…

Katy Perry's selfie: perhaps a cautionary tale? (Source: Shefinds.com)

Katy Perry’s selfie: perhaps a cautionary tale after all? (Source: Shefinds.com)

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About Christina Maxwell

I’m a young professional journalist with a dual B.A. degree in Radio-TV-Film and Journalism and I am currently working on my M.A. in Writing, specializing in Journalism and New Media Studies (both at Rowan University). Although my advanced degree allows me to have options in the future, for now, my main goal is finding a job in journalism. I am a journalist at heart. First hand knowledge, original reporting and precisive answers are what I strive for when I'm working. For the past two years, I have done freelance reporting with the Gloucester Township Patch, but my goal is to have a sustainable, consistent job in journalism.

5 comments

  1. This post makes me think back to us referring to selfies in class last week. A few of us suggested that Angela Kelly would be happy to see the age of the selfie wherein women (and other oppressed groups) could escape the gaze of men or other oppressors. However, your question kind of turns that assumption on its head: “…where is the self in these selfies?” Most selfies probably aren’t made as an exercise in self-definition–at least not intentionally. However, one could probably even say many (I wouldn’t try to guess a number or percentage) serve the purposes of another, not one’s self. It seems that as our identities expand into the limitless space of the internet, we keep finding more of ourselves to sell.

    Kelly, as I am beginning to think, would love the idea of the selfie, but not necessarily the way many people take them.

    1. Phil, thanks for replying!

      I almost feel like the average (perhaps attention starved lol..that’s mean) person who takes and posts an endless amount of selfies is trying to create a self (identity) through the image, and when we put celebrities in the mix, we are looking at an endless amount of agendas coming through. I think maybe the ‘selfie’ craze may die down like all photo/Internet trends, but it is something that needs to be discussed right now.

  2. Phil, I’m going to have to disagree that most selfies aren’t a form of explicitly a form of self-definition. The funny thing about the narcissism argument with selfie culture is the way we as a culture treat photos differently from text. Ten years ago, in the age of LiveJournal and MySpace, many detractors of these open platforms scoffed at them thinking “What makes people think they’re so special that they believe others actually care about what they have to say? What hubris!” Now, we’re constantly tweeting about social issues, sharing our frustrations with others on Facebook and even sharing our location and activities on Foursquare, and no one seems to judge as harshly because so many of us have adopted these forms of expression.

    But when it comes to the discussion of selfies, I’m reminded of this quote from Morris: “Isn’t there something perverse about giving the written word primacy over the photographic image?” Because the selfie craze is still relatively new (officially entering the dictionary last year), I think we’re still struggling to define what its purpose is because nothing like this has come before it and been so widespread. Though you do have a point: Though there are plenty of arguments for and against selfies out there, we as people only post text and images online because we want others to look at them. I could go on and on, but my feelings on the matter are there’s nothing destructive about presenting oneself this way and if someone doesn’t want to engage in viewing selfies, they can just hide selfie-takers’ posts on facebook or unsubscribe from their instagram account. It’s not that hard!

  3. I like where Wayne is going with this. Although it certainly can be annoying when one’s instagram feed is full of self portraits (I normally unfollow of gloss over). Selfies have the same amount of power as text. Often a selfie is taken for a specific reason, sometimes something in the background is what promptes the selfie. The individual may not be the center of the purpose of the photo but instead only a small part of it. Without the selfie some event, relative or not, would not have been documented. While these causes or events may not be leaning towards social action like Trachtenberg works for or Wayne implies, the photographer deemed it important to their life and that alone is significant.

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