A video made by the PBS Idea Channel on You Tube addresses the question “Why do we hate selfies?”
The title of the video itself is interesting, in that it starts from a point at which hating selfies appears to be an accepted part of life, a fact. Rather than actually question the hatred, the video is normalising it. Even the description of the video calls selfie-taking “the lowest common denominator of the art of photography”. So this stance is hardly going to be neutral.
The explanation for selfie hatred follows a familiar enough path, arguing that the main problem relates to the low status of the selfie as a ‘bad photo’. These ‘bad photos’ are taken too easily by too many people, meaning that photography has “devolved into a skillless visual art…blergh”. But there is no critique about what this perception of selfies reflects, about why this kind of criticism suggests that photography (and by extension public participation) be reserved for those who are ‘good’ at it, and who are approved.
The presenter suggests that “a selfie isn’t exactly a photo and maybe that’s why so many people hate them”, before asserting that “the selfie isn’t a photo, but a block of text communicated in photographic form”, and should instead be viewed as a speech act. Firstly, the selfie does not have the monopoly on communicating meaning visually, so it can hardly be separated off for that reason. Secondly, these divisions between what is and isn’t A Photograph use exclusion as a means for preserving the value of other types of photography (and I would argue, other categories of photographer), in contrast. By maintaining that the selfie isn’t a photograph, this video contributes to the accepted marginalisation of selfies, and selfie-takers. This is compounded by the video’s final point: “don’t hate the selfie, hate the…selfie-taker”.
Actually, that’s so important I’m going to repeat it on its very own line:
“don’t hate the selfie, hate the…selfie-taker”
That this video, purporting to be defending selfies, makes such a statement is unbelievable, primarily because it doesn’t follow up on it. For me, this is the crux of the ‘problem’ of selfies – that they are a very thinly-veiled means for criticising other people – particularly young women. So I was disappointed that a video claiming to address this very issue misses the point entirely.
Conversely, for me, selfie-hate rests on making a connection between the devalued image, and a maligned subject, whereby a cultural norm of ridiculing selfies enables the free and open expression of hatred that extends well beyond photography. Therefore, the answer to “why do we hate selfies?” is another set of questions, concerning “why do we hate selfie-takers?” and “why do we hate young people, or women, or anyone that isn’t doing something which I specifically find interesting…?