As part of my study of selfie discourse (i.e. the discourse about selfies, rather than whatever people choose to express through selfies), I’ve seen an awful lot of commentary on how selfies should be stopped / regulated and so on. As a counter to this, it’s interesting to note occasions when selfies are discussed without this pressure to impose some sort of limit.
Whereas there are many commentators who are presenting a positive view of the selfie – promoting its use in building self-esteem and in addressing questions of visibility – in some ways the most open support of the practice comes from companies wishing to engage with their customers on social media.
The ability of the selfie to suggest affinity, usually between two or more people, is here used by customers to demonstrate approval of a certain product, be it make-up or a burger. The Body Shop’s #NoReTouch campaign on Twitter is particularly interesting, as it makes specific reference to the products’ use in preparing the face for selfie-taking:
On a less positive note, French Connection is both urging customers to take selfies, and yet implying that doing so is problematic, by using the hashtag #canthelpmyselfie
This conflicting message – do something, yet understand that you will be devalued for doing so – is typical of the discourses directed at young women’s behaviour. This ad reiterates the prevailing assumptions regarding the selfie as a product of compulsive and narcissistic behaviour, compounded by the model’s duckfacing expression.
Similarly, the advert below for travel assistance company Medicus also displays a degree of contempt for its own customers, by referencing the narcissistic selfie-taker that obscures the landmark in the background. Again, taking photographs in a way that is seen as aesthetically bad is used to denote an almost comic sense of self-centredness – confirmed by the caption “when you travel there’s nothing more important than yourself”. This text, although implying that their medical cover puts the customer first, also suggests a kind of pointlessness to travel for certain people – people who take bad selfies, who seem to be unaware of anything besides themselves, and who are therefore not doing travel ‘right’.
The band The Chainsmokers have similar objective, using the idea of the selfie to market products. But whereas The Body Shop, and even MacDonalds, were asking customers to share their approval of something via the selfie, here, the product being sold is selfie hatred itself. The T-shirt worn below features in the band’s music video (a confused and hypocritical mess which I’ve written about previously) and their online store also features a range of other designs.
National Geographic similarly uses the selfie, and the understanding of the selfie as bad, to advertise its magazine. The caption “there are lots of terrible animal pictures out there” disdains the image we are seeing – an animal selfie – and asserts that purchasing National Geographic is part of rejecting the “terrible” selfie.
These ads reflect the selfie’s status as a ‘cultural moment’, capable of either denoting allegiance, or of evoking a strongly conditioned response in the viewer. And it’s this response which is particularly important, as it naturalises the connection between selfie-takers and a certain sets of qualities and values.