Above: the photo that got the right wing blogosphere all atwitter: US President Barack Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a selfie picture with Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt (C)
next to US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) during the memorial service of South African former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013.
(Photo via Wiki Commons)
According to the Dictionary (with a capital “D”), selfie is officially a word now. Whether or not you think it deserves the designation or if you just don’t give a damn about what is or isn’t a word, selfies are becoming an entrenched part of this culture. I was standing in line at the weird Shia LaBeouf art exhibit (field trip for work – not because I love Even Stevens or something) and I heard a girl say when she got in the room with Shia, she’d take a selfie with him.
The immediate response from the people around her: “Seriously? A selfie? Gross.” The President has been caught snapping selfies and so has every person under the age of 15. So what’s the big deal? Why the hate? Does everyone just see selfies as another product of me-obsessed millennials?
Most people have taken at least one, yet there remains a stigma. It’s narcissistic. Self-centered. Egoistic. Immature. Vain. All these adjectives have been thrown at the selfie. I’ll throw another one out there: Liberating.
Before selfies, if we wanted a picture taken of ourselves, we’d have to beg someone to be the photographer for the evening, or harangue a stranger into taking a picture or own a tripod. Picture this: you’re hiking a Yosemite trail with your friend and the two of you finally reach an awe-inspiring vista — too beautiful for words. To capture that moment forever with you and your friend both in it would be perfect. So you just take out your cam — TOO BAD. It’s 1991 and all you have is an analog point-and-shoot. You’re toast. No magnificent photograph of you and your friend with that sunset backdrop.
The selfie nixes that problem. Will it be the most stunning shot you’ve ever seen? No. Selfies aren’t known for their framing, but they aren’t about art. Real photographers aren’t taking selfies to report on the war in Afghanistan or snapping a pic of themselves in front of Half-Dome and passing it off as Ansel Adams.
Selfies are personal. They’re less about aesthetics and more about sharing in moments that regular cameras can’t capture. Otherwise, you take lots of pictures of scenery, which is all well and good and beautiful, and absolutely will not do it justice.
A photograph of the Eiffel Tower is neat. It’s also been done 1,000,000,000 times (not an approximation; exact figure). A photograph of the Eiffel Tower with your friend bowing down and worshipping it is different. Even if your friend just stood in front and smiled, you’re more likely to check it out and appreciate it because it’s singular; unique because a specific person is in it. Any professional photographer can shoot the Eiffel Tower, but a photo of your friend there is a real moment in time, made eternal by the click of a camera or the silent press of an iPhone button.
On a trip I took across the country to move to L.A., I took a lot of photos; more than I’d taken in the past three years combined, I think. Most of these were of the incredible mountains in Colorado and the history-laden mesas in Utah. People enjoyed looking at these, but the photos where my stupid face was also in the frame were the ones folks loved most. It’s just human nature (to look at faces, not mine particularly…or you know, whatever. I’m not fishing).
I still have my reservations with selfies. They’re certainly convenient in many situations and take the burden off of others to get a picture of you if you needed to seize a fleeting opportunity. A level of egoism definitely goes along with it, though. When you think about it, it’s not more egoistic and self-centered than stating your opinion for others to hear. I mean, the words I’m writing right now are just as narcissistic as a selfie. Who cares what I think about selfies? I didn’t invent them and I’m not a licensed medical practitioner!
If we’re going to get on people about selfies, let’s yell at people about autobiographies and tweets. Let’s berate folks who show people the photos they took in Mykonos that aren’t even selfies. Let’s put people in prison who talk about their children or pets!!! LET’S GO INSANE.
As long as you’re sharing something and at least one person gives a damn, the medium doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a selfie or a novel, it’s about connecting with another person.
So snap a selfie and show it to somebody who cares about you. If it’s interesting to them in any way, or if you have a funny comment to make, it’s not any more vain than writing an op-ed piece.
Said the man writing the op-ed piece.
Bennett Rea is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. A survivalist with various primitive skills and a distrust of Snapchat, he’s just trying to be a human in an increasingly technological world. He also works at an art gallery on one of the country’s trendiest retail blocks and constantly battles the urge to flee for a cabin in the mountains filled with books and bourbon.