LOS ANGELES — I was on an airplane flying back from Tulsa when I happened upon the phenomenon of mile-high selfies. Wifi is available up high, so why not take a selfie? Flight attendants are filling the skies with hashtags like #crewlife and #airhostess.
Somewhere in that limited air space, I also happened upon a link announcing a new ABC TV comedy show titled, simply, Selfie, which follows the life of a young woman who becomes Instafamous and then has to figure out what her relationships really mean. This seems to be just the tipping point of TV featuring questions that revolve around selfies; perhaps the execs at ABC took a cue from the web series #Hashtag, where there’s enough Instadrama to drain an iPhone battery in minutes.
While it’s important to remove selfies from their social-networked context to look at their broader cultural relevance, sometimes it’s funnier to just keep ’em on the ’net. Wisconsin House Representative and Republican Sean Duffy made a parody of the Chainsmokers’ video for their song “#SELFIE” as a way to “connect” with millennial voters. “I think Republicans often don’t like to engage in culture because they think it’s left-leaning,” says Duffy. “We can’t do that. We have to lean into this, and talk to people where they’re at.”
In other political selfie news, the Netherlands recently decided that it’s not illegal to take “stemfies” (vote selfies) in the ballot booth. If you do it in South Africa, however, you could end up in jail. South Africans are allowed to take selfies that indicate that they voted. “Voters may take photographs of themselves outside the voting station and of their inked thumbs to show participation,” says Electoral Commission of South Africa spokesperson Kate Bapela.
Similar debates around selfie appropriateness are taking place on college campuses. The University of South Florida in Tampa almost banned selfies at graduation; instead they’ve opted for warning people who take selfies that they could have their degrees withheld. Meanwhile Kent State University in Ohio has created a “selfie zone” with a backdrop, so that selfie shooters can still take pictures without diverting too much attention from the ceremony. We’re still working out when and where it’s culturally acceptable to take a selfie, and when it’s OK to post.
It’s definitely acceptable when you’re setting a Guinness World Record. Indiana-based blogger Mark E. Miller and his partner, Ethan Hethcote, went to South Beach in Miami and shot the most selfies taken in one hour: 355 of them, all with strangers. This is part of a bigger project called #missionsmile, which Miller told the Miami New Times is about “trying to get people to smile more.” It’s common knowledge that smiling helps lift one’s mood by releasing dopamine and serotonin, but is it necessary to take a selfie in that moment?
If you’re sick of the long-arm shot and would rather not hold the camera when taking selfies, but you also don’t want to to shell out for a dronie, just hang with the Selfies Bot. Scott Kildall, an artist-in-residence at Autodesk/Instructables Pier 9 Workshop in San Francisco, has created a portable robot sculpture that takes selfies and then tweets them; the text that accompanies each twit pic comes from scraping tweets hashtagged with #selfie.
Art, politics, and pop culture aside, the most important selfie news of this week is about safety. Courtney Ann Sanford, 32, was driving in North Carolina, listening to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy” and feeling so great that she decided to take a selfie. Moments later, she crashed her car into a truck and died. Her gaze was up and away, looking at her reflection in the smartphone rather than straight ahead at the road in front of her.
Here are this week’s selfie shooters, who look before they aim.
Location: New York City
“I took this selfie because I was told that I am much cuter in person than my photos online. So, I made an effort to see if i could capture my ‘real’ self in a photograph. Which begs the question: is this more real? As an artist, the making of a selfie is different than taking a self-portrait. A selfie is supposed to convey a sense of casualness … the me at rest .. or the me at play … or the me standing against a wall trying to look like the ‘real’ me.
“Selfies represent a way of controlling your visage. At once, one becomes the exhibitionist to their own fantasy. In this selfie, I am the one making myself available to be seen. This selfie wants you to stare. There is no male gaze … only mine, doubled, for your pleasure.”
Judith G. Levy
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
“I picked this one for a number of reasons. It was taken this evening in my office at home, which is a very small room that I call my crazy room. Here I work on my computer, scheme up ideas, and mess up to my heart’s content.
“I have a photo of our dog, Coney (L), and her little pal Tashi (R) taped to a shelf near my desk. Tashi lived next door, and the dogs spent every day for the past six years together, until Tashi died two weeks ago. Coney is experiencing profound grief, and I feel pretty helpless.
“Because life is a hug mix of things, I also wanted to wait to send a selfie today, because I just got a haircut and feel good. I have spent the past few weeks or so holed up in my little room, thinking, researching ideas, trying things out, editing new footage, and working on additions to an ongoing series. I really have been letting myself chase any ideas I have and rejecting things left and right. While my large studio is in downtown Kansas City, I sometimes really need to work in this little space late into the night. And right now, I really can’t leave Coney alone.”
Location: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
“While vacationing with the family over spring break, we walked through a Florida strip mall and came across an old-time photo studio. I was taken by the excitement of playing a character and becoming someone else. While standing outside the shop I caught my reflection in the window and started making connections to selfie culture. I was struck by the notion of the ‘idealized self.’ Many of the portraits on display portraying the characters of the American West (heroes, villains, whores, heroines) and the characters we associate with that place and time — these characters straddle a place between our romanticism of the past and our projections of imagined selves caught in a time capsule.”
Shana Beth Mason
Occupation: Art critic
“This is an image I took inside the foyer of Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, a small commune in Tuscany. The gallery represents some of the world’s most prestigious artists including Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, and Michelangelo Pistoletto (whose Vortex paintings are pictured here). I came to the gallery to review Pistoletto’s latest solo exhibition. I was traveling in Italy for 13 days this past October to attend the Venice Biennale and ARTISSIMA in Torino.
“The ‘why’ is the place itself: San Gimignano isn’t accessible by train (a rarity in Italy), and you can only travel within the commune, itself, on foot. Despite this, the medieval village is home to a powerful collection of contemporary art. Italy’s most revered living artist, Pistoletto, was showing mirror works that he had been making over the course of 20 years.
“I chose this place for a selfie because: 1) my own appearance is double-reflected (once by the camera, once by the mirror), 2) every movement you make is captured by a mirror opposite, changing what’s visible entirely, and 3) I had trudged uphill into the gallery with roughly 60 kg of luggage through the rain … at least I had to prove I’d made it there alive!”
Occupation: Artist and art historian
Location: West Michigan, near Grand Rapids
“I shot this almost as soon as I work up late one cold morning, while still off my feet due to recent surgery. I hate pictures of myself, so selfies are not something I do often (maybe 2 or 3 times a year). Although, the older and dumpier I become, the more I’ve begun thinking of self-portraits as an act of defiance. Anyway, I mentioned that it was cold, because it’s winter, our house is not heated overnight, and I slept in my old University of North Texas hoodie, with hood up all night.”
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Email Hyperallergic your selfie at selfies [at] hyperallergic.com, along with a brief explanation of why you shot it and what it means to you.