As my previous post touched on the way in which selfies are naturalised as narcissistic (one need only look at the regularity with which studies claim to ‘prove’ the connection) I thought I’d collate some of the pictorial examples I’ve been finding of this.
The selfie is presented in a medicalised context, as either a catalyst for illness, or as a laughable solution to it (and thereby implying that selfie-takers are insecure etc):
The selfie-taking woman is emblematic of the “Me Me Me Generation”, and illustrates a “unit to accurately measure narcissism”.
And as if the point was not clear enough, there is also Nero, with fiddle, taking a selfie as Rome burns in the background. Truly, the selfie is for self-obsessed, ludicrous loons, yes?
This link has been perpetuated so extensively in popular discourse that the ‘truth’ of the narcissistic selfie-taker has been naturalised, and made self-evident. I argue that this connection is due to a number of factors. Firstly, the word itself permits a variety of puns, all of which perpetuate a theme of egotism: selfie-obsessed, selfie-ish, selfie-interest, no selfie-respect. Secondly, women are discursively associated with selfies, and with narcissism, forming a link between the two. Thirdly, without the conventions and connotations of formal portraiture, the selfie lacks the relatively stable cultural value of its precedent, and can therefore be used to evidence whatever prejudices the critic might have.
The popular diagnosis of narcissism reflects a poor understanding of the complexities of the psychological disorder itself, but rather is used as shorthand to chastise those whose self-interest is perceived as crass. The following infographic, below, claims to demonstrate how social media is making us more narcissistic. But it does not make a connection of any kind between the symptoms it suggests, and social media practice such as the selfie.
How, for instance, can the selfie be assumed to evidence being ‘quick to anger’, a ‘refusal to take responsibility’, or being ‘above the rules’?
But the ‘actual’ link between photographic habits and psychological conditions are largely irrelevant once the norm has been established – we must instead question why the selfie is repeatedly framed in this way, what uses it serves, and who benefits from this.