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.
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…