There’s been a lot of press in the last couple of years dedicated to “selfie” scholarship. It’s partly the fault of the Oxford dictionary who declared it a real word in 2013 and therefore somehow more worthy of critical attention. There is the pro-camp, who says it’s empowering and should be encouraged. There are the detractors,who say they reek of low self-esteem and encourage plastic surgery.
I am ambivalent personally. I am by no means immune to the practice. It’s too big a temptation with the camera right there in my hand at most times, the smartphone being practically an extension of the limb these days. But while I take them semi-regularly, I am generally loathe to post them on social media. For fear of being one of “those girls.”
We all have that friend, the one who feels the need, daily, to post a “selfie” to their social media page. The hashtag may read #nyc or #lacma but the background is secondary. The focus and the majority of the space is dedicated to the face, often wearing a strikingly familiar expression. What is the need the “selfie” fulfills?
I agree with James Franco when he said “Selfies are tools of communication more than marks of vanity (but yes, they can be a little vain).We all have different reasons for posting them, but, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.” I think that one of the people we are communicating with though is ourselves.
The “selfie” is about seeing ourselves from the outside.It is a self-portrait, true, one we create with the intention to affect how we are seen but it is more than that. It is difficult to imagine how you are perceived. A logical mind will fixate on the diversity of possible perspectives and the changing nature of the self. It matters who’s looking at us and how we happen to be at any given occasion. We are not the same today as we were yesterday. The “selfie,” a visual check-in, serves to capture “objectively” the mutating reality of the self.
Now most people would admit that photography has from it’s birth been subject to manipulation and tampering with, but it is also the best tool we’ve got for capturing some of life’s most precious truths. Birth, Death, what your friends looked like out at the club last Friday…
Human vanity, sin or not, is natural, timeless and virtually inescapable. We love to gaze at our own reflections, in mirrors, in photos, and in “selfies.” It is the narcissitic hallmark of our times. Much has been written about whether the “selfie” version empowers or demeans, objectifies or elevates. I posit that it serves like a GPS- this is where you are now. It reassures.It confirms. It realizes. I am here. I exist.
I was watching television. Nothing special, whatever was on when the power button got pressed. In this case it was an episode of Law and Order:SVU- the one with Ice-T in it. The episode was about a cop who’d shown up dead- and in the twists and turns of the show it turns out despite having dated Mariska Hargitay’s character, he was gay and HIV positive. His end came in relation to a circle of black men who were on “the down low.” When he fell in love with and threatened to “out” one of them, he got killed in response. Ice-T got the dubious honor of explaining the concept of “the down low” to the TV audience.He framed it like being out and gay in the black community was neigh impossible and so gay black men are undercover as a result. Then when he confronted one of them he threatened to “out” them blackmail style in order to get his cooperation and in the process, says something like- “you have sex with other dudes- that makes you gay- period.” And at home in the comfort of my living room, I thought well- that’s not entirely true though. I mean, I’m sure there are black men living a lie due to cultural pressure and all, but some of those brothers are Bi too, and that complex possibility wasn’t mentioned.
Hence perpetuating the misassumption that any man who has sex with men is gay and that bisexual men don’t exist. LAME.
I actually saw a headline on Nerve.com that claimed, “Bisexuality exists,” and was attached to some new scientific study. You don’t say….So I was a little sad to realize that something so obvious could be still up for debate but then again in some places we’re still arguing over evolution, when we share 98% of our DNA with a chimpanzee, so I don’t know why I’m surprised at all on another level.
Anyhow, my day was saved by the commercial that came on afterwards.
It was a Tide commercial, featuring a mother who’s got a child she can’t seem to keep clean. The outstanding part comes in that the child is a “tomboy” and the mom comments as to her acceptance of her child’s lack of gender normativity. It was something like, “She’s never going to be the kind of girl who plays with dolls and keeps her clothes clean and I love her the way she is.” That was the message if not the exact wording. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being brought to tears by a detergent commercial. I might even forgive myself and switch from my hippie version back to Tide and finally have laundry soap that works. The point is- when did TV get so Gay?
Long time no see, you say? Well, balderdash say I! Anyhow, I’ve been sent two very interesting articles that sit at the intersection of my quadrants of interest- the junction of babies and queers-
The first is about a boy who likes pink-it’s an article written by his mother defending her support of her son’s non-normative gender expression. She very eloquently and humorously describes how people try and tell her how to parent and exposes the contradictory stance Dr. Phil takes on the issue- he says being gay isn’t a choice and then encourages parents to enforce gender norms to prevent being gay later? Huh? I remember when my brother was little, he had some very feminine( think putting on make-up with mommy in the mornings) moments and some very masculine ones ( I will never forget his instinctual interest in guns as a toddler in ToysR’Us). At one point his favorite color was pink (until it changed to Orange), so I am aware from personal experience that gender expression in children, without imposition from adults in their lives is very fluid, changes day by day a lot of the time. My brother ended up as a Rugby-playing Frat Boy despite having tried wearing a skirt to kindergarten. So Dr. Phil can chill out- but you should read this article, right?
The second article, also about children and gender, concerns a controversial single sex pre-school, opened near Santa Cruz recently, called the Pink Academy. “It’s pink, it’s girly,and it’s all about them”- was their tagline. Purposefully all-girl, it was advertised as a place that would emphasize math and science as well as all things pink, and create an environment where girls excel. Well, bless that poor misguided mother who came up with that idea- likely bolstered by studies of older children that say single sex education benefits girls- because most have not taken kindly to the subject. It seems, and I don’t disagree, that the pre-school years are not where fully formed expressions of gender occur and that most experts encourage more co-ed interaction during these years not less. The last thing we want to do with pre-schoolers in general is try and limit their expression to appropriately gendered displays (you hear that Dr Phil?). That being said- I know that I, who used to collect paper dolls, porcelain dolls and fairy figurines ( show me a doll I don’t like) would have felt quite at home at the Pink Academy. So if those uptight people would let their boys embrace pink, I say open the doors to all and let the Pink party begin!
Check out the Slate article in the subject here.
On Yahoo news is an article about a South African runner who is undergoing gender testing after easily winning at the world championships. I thought it was interesting that it is considered possible for gender to be determined through testing and outside sources as my understanding is that gender, as opposed to sexuality is self-identified and largely socially constructed. It is another example of science claiming to be objective when in fact science is as culturally driven as any other discipline. I had the fortune recently to hear the wonderful song “You won’t succeed on Broadway,” from the musical Spamalot. It affirms the lynchpin status of Jews in the arts. I would like to share it with you, so hopefully my philistine level of tech understanding will allow you to hear it too.
The photo above is from my recent attempt at a “professional” headshot that would better represent me for shows like “CSI” or the more local “In Plain Sight”. This was one pose I had to try despite knowing that it wouldn’t fly.