A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr. They are often casual, and are typically taken either with a camera held at arm’s length or in a mirror (Selfie). Monday mornings or Saturday nights, on every continent, 24/7, people are looking into their own lens and capturing just what they want. Sober or drunk, celebratory or melancholy, across religious or societal divides, beyond age or racial groups it matters not, the #selfie is taken through the appropriate filter and posted on a splattering of social media sites. It’s estimated that over 17 million selfies are posted every week: 35 million on Instagram alone. Are selfies evidence of a new wave of narcissistic behavior? Proof we have become a ME ME ME world?
Dare I remind you of the photo booth? How many of us spent our well-guarded allowance inside those finicky and fun booths, capturing a series of our own funny faces? I, and this will not come as a surprise to any Nine Cent Girl fans, am thrilled with the #selfie phenomenon, to a point, and am ready to tell you why.
According to just about the whole wide world narcissism means “excessive self-love.” “Freud, who considered narcissism primarily a female matter, used it as part of his question about what women want: a penis” (Acocella,”selfie”). [Um, nope. Only a man would imagine women to be fixated on penis envy... but I am straying a bit.] According to the extensive research in the May 12th New Yorker article “Selfie” by Ms. Acocella, narcissism has, historically, been considered a personality disorder thanks to Freud. There is no start or end, no cause or incident, the disorder simply came with the individual. This is differentiated from a neuroses which appeared after one long sweaty night when an individual was overcome with dread, over just about anything or nothing at all: regardless the reason, by morning a paralyzing dread ensued.
But, self-love, narcissism, a condition where one might not be capable of thinking of another, was originally considered to be innate and hardwired when looked at through the lens of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM). I’m not a fan of the selfish, but I’m pretty sure that self-driven grit, willingness to work, and self-love, will get you somewhere awesome. And I’m a fan of capturing our own little moments of that awesome.
Is the #selfie really anymore narcissistic than Reality TV? Aren’t hours watching Honey Boo Boo, the Housewives of Orange County or Duck Dynasty far more disconcerting than a few too many drunken selfies posted on New Year’s Eve? We are, admittedly or not, culture junkies. In the current Poets & Writers, normally an essay collection for the highbrow, Roxanne Gay admitted this very notion: “Whether it’s high culture, low culture, or pop culture, it’s still culture,” (Nance). Who is to judge what art is anymore? Can we not see the #selfie as artistic expression?
Seriously, I’m not sure that our preoccupation with photos of ourselves has grown into anything more than a technical simplicity. Remember having to ask someone to take your photo? Remember asking when you were in a sketchy part of Rome? Exactly where all the tour books warned you of thieves? Thanks to reverse photography we no longer have to ask strangers. In fact, now we can orchestrate single or group shots, all that is needed is a long arm and some carefully orchestrated positioning.
Of course there are haters: “The selfie is reprehensible because it’s two levels of narcissism. First of all, you’re on a social media site. This, by itself, is a narcissistic thing to do. But for the selfie sender, this isn’t enough. No, they have to take their egos and lack of self esteem to another level and post pictures of themselves on these sites. The worst selfie site is definitely Instagram. Take a look at the Most Popular pics sometime. Count how many are selfies. Then go ahead and worry about our society” (O’Shae). Sure countless #selfies will annoy your friends, as can too many cat photos, or negative comments, or just about any compulsion that gets overdone.
Let us step back and ask, is everything about narcissism awry? “Kohut tries to change the definition of narcissism, though not altogether. He acknowledged that there was such a thing as “bad narcissism,” akin to the DSM definition: arrogant, demanding, and so forth. But from this bad narcissism he split off a new “good narcissism,” the feeling that brings color to your cheeks, boosts your self-esteem, makes you vivacious and creative. It also makes you loving, he claimed. ” And then he argued, “The problem with selfish people, he said, was not that they were narcissistic, but that they were “not narcissistic enough” (selfie). He goes on to argue for more self-love. Let’s just imagine that world.
We, the 99%, are in desperate need of more self-love. Economies are crumbling, job loss is almost a natural state, foreclosures and bankruptcy a common occurrence, stress-driven divorce-rate hitting a record high, and food-swamp-created obesity an epidemic. Who can’t use a filtered view of one’s world? Who can’t use a prettier view of themselves? What was only for the rich and fabulous, the 1%, is now available for anyone with access to a PhotoShop app.
Without pretending to fully understand the mystery of analysis, I will just end by stating the #selfie is meant to elicit fun. To seize the day. To capture that solo moment. You on the beach. You on the Ferris wheel. You living large on an ordinary yet spectacular day. Maybe you drunk in the bathroom on New Year’s Eve, and that quite possibly represents something else but, even that is sort of fun, especially if you are trying to get your eyeliner straight, after you popped the cork and the dance music is already pounding a steady beat under foot… well you get the picture. Capture your life. Every last magnificent bit of it. Fuck the #haters.
**** Photo Credit: 100% #selfies