This week I came across a video entitled Should You Post A Selfie? It was made by the site College Humor, which gave me an idea of the balanced view of issues it was going to be taking. But it really was remarkable how many aspects of selfie discipline this video managed to cram into less than three minutes.
A young woman stands in a bathroom, and is confronted by two reflections of herself – one pro-selfie (R1), the other anti- (R2). During this back-and-forth conversation, the cliches about selfies are reiterated, as if to provide a summary of where we are now in terms of selfie discourse.
The selfie is first suggested in the video as if it were an illicit activity, when the reflection (R1) urges her to “do it… take a selfie” to the sound of eerie background music. “Isn’t that a little narcissistic?” (cliche 1 – selfies are narcissistic) chimes in the second reflection (R2). R1 states that “selfies help young girls redefine the standards of beauty” (cliche 2 – selfies need to be resistant to be valid), which is immediately contradicted by her instruction to “stick out your tits and take a picture” (cliche 3 – selfies are inseparable from sexualised body display).
R2 expresses concern that “this is going to come across as some kind of pathetic plea for attention” (cliche 4 – selfies are attention-seeking). R1 counters this by likening the selfie to a self-portrait, created by artists, “like Van Gogh” (cliche 5 – selfies exist in relation to Proper Art). Furthermore, she adds, astronauts take selfies, to which R2 responds that this is justified because they’re in outer space, and this achievement therefore makes their selfies acceptable (cliche 6 – selfies are valid if taken by special people). R1 continues by reassuring the heroine that “no first draft ever made it to Instagram” (cliche 7 – selfies connote inauthenticity). R1’s advice to “let your body just fall the way it naturally does” results in a contorted pose (cliche 8 – selfies feature forced and bizarre presentations of self):
Again, R2 expresses concern about the image, suggesting it makes her look like “a raging narcissist” (just one image, really?). R1 angrily retorts that everyone does this, and that tagging it #nomakeup and sending money to a cancer charity would protect her from accusations of narcissism (cliche 9 – selfie-takers seek to validate themselves and escape criticism, making even donation a cynical act). R2 questions this practice of “paying money to be relieved of guilt” (cliche 10 – selfie-takers are guilty of doing something that requires forgiveness). Both R1 and R2 then state they “don’t give a fuck what other people think” and use their selfie-taking / non-selfie-taking as evidence of that (cliche 4 again – selfies are taken to generate positive peer attention).
R1 suggests that the heroine take a silly photo to connote not-giving-a-fuck, but proceeds to stage manage the process, suggesting “cute weird”, with “beautiful eyes” (cliche 11 – selfies are contrived and lack anything approaching spontaneity). This should involve looking as if she is unaware of having the photo taken (cliche 7 again). Lastly, she states “now hold up a sign about feminism, but still with great cleavage” (cliche 12 – even political statements are compromised by the selfie’s principle of sexual display. Selfie-takers are therefore excluded from feminist practice).
The heroine takes her picture and uploads it, captioning it by stating that she doesn’t “normally take selfies, but I’m just being goofy and living life, LOL, #cancerresearch” (cliche 12 again – the contrast between LOL and #cancerresearch implies that selfie-takers are unable to approach serious issues in an appropriate manner).
Cut to the photograph’s reception by two of her friends:
“She is such an attention whore” one states, adding “stop shoving your face in my feed”, before they both click ‘like’ and add positive comments (cliche 13 – selfies are part of an online culture of deception, where no-one says what they mean, but engage in activities which maintain their social position).
So there we have it – selfie-discipline approached from both the individual and social perspective, in which both the sub-conscious and the peer group combine forces to urge young women to stop taking selfies.