Love it or hate it, #selfies are here to stay.
A term for photographs that people take of themselves (arms outstretched, phones angled and faces cropped just so), the ‘selfie’ was officially accepted into the Oxford dictionary in 2012. And today, selfies get uploaded with such voracity daily, if we were to be observed by some alien life form, I bet it would be mistaken as a form of communication as ubiquitous as calling or texting.
But when did this essentially narcissistic act become the normal way for us to connect with the world? It’s clear that the habit emerged from the smartphone/social media generation, along with its very own type of MLM – not Multi Level Marketing but Mass Lowering of Modesty. Originally considered embarassing, it’s now the norm and socially acceptable. Case in point: Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies, titled Selfish. Who needs humility when we have irony?
As an answer to human limitation, the selfie stick was born. When it started becoming hugely popular, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I was rather pleased. Between the idea of taking multiple selfies or using a selfie stick, I’m more for the stick. Main reason being, the selfie stick implies that you’ve at least thought of someone else first: You usually use it for bigger group pictures so that no one has to be cropped out. You also don’t have to bother a stranger to take your group shot since, inevitably, there will always be someone blinking, talking, looking away, or just plain hidden; forcing the random passerby to take many, many shots to get it right.
“Excuse me, now with flash please.”
So it was with some surprise to see the selfie stick getting so much, well… stick. In the last few months the king of selfie-aids has been banned from a growing number of events and institutions, from Coachella to MOMA NYC, to this year’s Cannes Film Festival and now Disney World. (Apparently many revellers thought it was completely safe to take their long protrusions for a spin on a roller coaster…) So what used to be an awkward geeky apparatus is now a safety concern to public and property, a potential weapon and an inconsiderate view-destroyer. How quickly things change in this digital age.
As ambivalent as I feel about selfies, I thought this year’s Cannes Film Festival selfie ban was a little extreme. Citing timing restrictions, and stars being held up on the red carpet, festival director Theirry Fremaux had this to say: “It’s a practice that’s often extremely ridiculous and grotesque.” Don’t hold back Theirry.
He’s not all together wrong, but with so many run-of-the-mill red carpet images shot on a mundane step-and-repeat backdrop, the occasional selfie did help break up the monotony. Everyone still remembers Ellen’s group selfie at last year’s Oscars right? It showed us another side of the event and of our screen idols; that they’re human too and just as eager to capture an exciting moment for posterity.
But it looks like the selfie stick backlash won’t be dying down anytime soon. More venues around the world are posing restrictions and even more are reviewing their selfie stick policies. Take home point: Best to check ahead before whipping one out. However, at the same time, maybe this is also an opportunity to remind ourselves that it’s the experience that counts more than the souvenir. And if we’re going to get a souvenir, aren’t there better ones than our own reflection?
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