By Anthony L Hall
A selfie is not just about adoring one’s own reflection like Narcissus; it’s also about taking a picture of that reflection to publish for all the world to see. But am I the only one who rues the cognitive dissonance that has turned self-obsessed showoffs from laughingstocks into the standard bearers of what is now not just acceptable but required public behavior?
You’d never know, for example, that just years ago any self-respecting man would be mortified if he were caught checking himself out in the mirror. Now the Internet is littered with as many selfies of preening men as women. But nothing irritates me in this context quite like the way people convey every private sentiment -- from condolences to birthday greetings and romantic love -- only by tweeting or facebooking it for everyone to read.
(“Introduction,” The iPINIONS Journal, Vol. IX, p. xxi, 2014)
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
As it happened, a couple of my selfie-posting, real
friends could not wait to see me in person to give me a piece their mind about my anti-selfie screed. Their opportunity came last weekend -- fueled no less by drinking alcohol and watching their teams flame out of the NCAA Basketball tournament. We’re still friends.
Suffice it to know that I do not believe any apology is warranted for anything I’ve ever written about the craze of social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ironically, my friends only reinforced this belief when they conceded that selfies probably jumped the shark last week.
It was marked, you may recall, by students at the University of Arizona seeing nothing wrong with posting selfies showing the police in the background struggling to quell the riots that erupted after their team’s surprising loss in the tournament; followed just days later by Baseball player “Big Papi” -- of the reigning World Series Champion Boston Red Sox -- seeing nothing wrong with corralling the president of the United States, during a team visit to the White House, into a two-man selfie to promote his sponsor’s brand.
Even so, I feel obliged to clarify that I do not think social media are utterly without any redeeming value.
• There’s no denying, for example, that social media played a galvanizing role in the Arab Spring; or, specifically, that Twitter not only breaks news faster than the mainstream media, but also gets that news to many more people (including those in remote areas of the world where mainstream media never reach).
Incidentally, I trust it’s self-evident that the biggest problem with mainstream media these days is the way they assault and insult our intelligence by reporting so much on what ordinary people are doing on social media … like posting attention-seeking selfies, tweets, and videos.
• I see nothing wrong with celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Kim Kardashian posting selfies to promote their personal or sponsor’s brand. After being exploited by Big Papi, however, Obama probably won’t allow himself to be corralled into mugging for any more selfies. Indeed, his press secretary voiced official objection because such presidential selfies risk degrading the esteem of the presidency lower than Bill Clinton did when he dignified a wholly inappropriate town-hall question about his underwear with a reply.
• I think it’s perfectly sensible for real friends to use social media to share private details about their lives or to arrange outings among themselves. I just find it odd, if not inconsiderate and stupid, that people post such details and arrangements for virtual friends they’ve never met, and might never meet, to see. Why not use e-mail or WhatsApp for Christ’s sake? And these oversharing idiots wonder why they’re being trolled, bullied, or even burgled?
• I suppose there’s even some value in one of my loyal readers setting up a Facebook page to share my commentaries with her “friends”. Never mind my thinking that it would’ve been easier for her to e-mail the link to all of her contacts, inviting them to bookmark my weblog instead of having her spoon-feed them. But I digress….
I’m sure there are other things that attest to the redeeming value of social media. It’s just that, all combined, they probably account for less than 10 percent of what is posted daily. Whereas the other 90 percent seems borne of a pathetic neediness or insecurity that causes people to make fools of themselves by posting selfies for no other reason than the vain hope of eliciting idle flattery.
Remember when there was no greater social nuisance than the Dad who showed off pictures of his newborn child (even to complete strangers) as if it were the most beautiful thing God ever created? Well that Dad is social wallflower compared to the twit who posts selfies as if she were the most beautiful thing God ever created.
Indeed, social media seem littered with selfie-posing women who make Lady Gaga and Mile Cyrus, two notorious attention whores, look shy. Not to mention that it’s now trendy for a mother to live tweet the birth of her child as if it were the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is surpassed in its TMI cringe-worthiness only by no less a person than renowned NPR journalist Scott Simon live tweeting his mother’s dying moments as if she were, well, the mother of all mankind.
It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic that millions use social media literally to beg for attention and life-affirming compliments based on images that give the impression they’re living a gilded life or looking a lot prettier than they really are. Of course these images are also contrived/photoshopped/airbrushed to make their “friends” green with envy.
Frankly, this culture of unbridled narcissism and oversharing has become like a metastasizing cancer that is eroding all traditional notions of personal discretion and public decency. This cannot be a good thing; especially for the self-esteem of young girls who were already suffering untenable body dysmorphic triggers from images of models in glossy magazines before social media made it seem like even ordinary girls are setting unattainable standards of beauty … and fame.
Alas, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are too socially correct to tell you what an embarrassing bore your selfies (to say nothing of your banal thoughts, snarky comments, and hackneyed aphorisms) have become. And I gather “unfriending” and “unfollowing” are tricky propositions.
Therefore, take it from me, they would really appreciate it if you’d spare them the annoying social obligation of having to tell you how witty you are or how beautiful you look – especially when you insist on posting selfies looking like a Russian babushka selling borscht who thinks she’s a VS model selling lingerie. Really, get over yourself!
For the record, I’m convinced that my life is actually richer for having avoided all social media like the plague. It has never even occurred to me to take a selfie and, despite many attempts by family and friends, I’ve avoided being corralled to mug for one. Apropos of keeping your selfie to yourself, I’m all too mindful that the only reason people take selfies with their real friends is to share them with all of their virtual friends.
Nothing’s personal anymore. Hell, you can’t even expect Tinder-like chats to arrange booty calls to remain private -- as actor James Franco found out to his global embarrassment recently.
At long last, can someone explain why this orgy of oversharing does not vindicate my dismissing celebrated leaker Edward Snowden as just a Silicon Valley version of the Nebraska farm boy sounding the alarm after the horse had already left the barn…?
Facebook buys WhatsApp…
NPR host tweets mother’s dying moments…