The word ‘Selfie’ first appeared in 2002 and is defined by the OED as, ‘a photographic self-portrait; esp. one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.’ It’s been a stifling eleven years since ‘The Selfie’ first invaded our vernacular: fast forward to 2015 and it is as pertinent as ever. The Selfie Stick then followed, appearing in Time Magazine’s ‘The Best Inventions of 2014’. The metal stick finds itself neatly tucked in-between a ‘Filter that Fights Ebola’ (the Hemopurifier) that attracts Ebola viruses and sucks them out from the bloodstream as they pass through, and an Air Conditioning unit that lowers household energy use by nearly 10% thereby saving the planet from evil carbon dioxide. You can’t even call it a robotic arm it’s so bloody simple an extendable metal rod sure seems impressive now. To be fair, The Selfie Stick has reduced the number of photos on my Facebook Newsfeed in which people look like the human thumb guy. It does seem a little disheartening that The Selfie (yes, it shall be capitalised) has become the cultural marker of our woeful generation.
Have human beings always been this vain? Or is it just we Milennials who have steered the course of humanity towards blandly staring at ourselves in an IPhone screen that made everything so dull? I blame our parents. Now let’s take a walk back in time… the common myth goes that one day this Greek hunter guy called Narcissus was just chilling by a river, doing his thing when he glanced down and saw just how totally fit he was. Now Narcissus just couldn’t take his eyes away from his fine reflection and fell madly in love with it. So here we have Narcissus struck dumb by his vanity and in love with an image… you see where I’m going with this? It all ends with our hero drowning in the pool of water. Yeah, yeah I know it’s just a myth but a few thousand years have passed and we still haven’t learned. Believe it or not, there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to a ‘List of selfie-related injuries or deaths’ (mostly involving electrocution via Selfie-Stick from overhead wires and toppling down flights of stairs). Just to give you a taster, in July 2015 a man from San Diego was hospitalized for five days following an attempt to take a Selfie with a rattlesnake. Now our man Narcissus doesn’t seem so silly now, eh?
My main qualm with the Selfie is what we’re doing to Art. Its just soooo boring — can everyone stop shitting on photography now please? What kind of image are we perpetuating to social-historians of the future? A generation that allowed Kim Kardashian to release a collection of selfies under the guise of a photography book and furthermore, actually went on to make a success of it! Frankly, I’d be rather embarrassed if ‘Selfish’ were to appear on my coffee table. In the words of William Shakespeare, the purpose of art is ‘to hold as ‘twere, the mirror up ||to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age’. Basically, the purpose of Art is to present reality, vice and virtue, not to post a photo of your face on Instagram in ‘X-PRO II’. Whether you agree with The Bard or not, just mull that over a little bit and think about how we’re going to be remembered.