PORTLAND, Oregon — The 2014 Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres knows a selfie moment when she sees it. In her second year orchestrating celebrity moments — she first hosted the Oscars in 2007 — the selfie makes its move into Hollywood in a way that’s far more serious than James Franco’s self-involved ponderings or Justin Bieber’s epic adolescence. This does not mark the “end” of the selfie; rather, this is just the beginning of complete corporate-sponsored selfiedom. And Hollywood wants in.
Ellen’s selfie moves at the Oscars were anything but carefree sharing of images with a real friend, family member, or loved one — unless you consider all of America her “loved one” and celebrities Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Meryl Street, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Kevin Spacey and Jared Leto as her total besties in the “best photo ever.” This group selfie broke the record for most retweeted photo ever with 779,295 retweets in half an hour, surpassing a professional photograph that is not a selfie of President Barack Obama hugging Michelle Obama after learning that he would serve a second term.
Ellen is participating in the selfie cultural phenomenon. Celebrity selfies we’ve come to know include some variation on a celebrity being spotted by smartphone-carrying fans, as in this Bragelina celebrity selfie or this Tilda Swinton cooperating-with-the-fans selfie. There are also celebrities like Beyoncé who willingly take their own selfies. And then there are regular people such as Benny Winfield Jr., a customer service rep from the suburbs of Houston who use selfies as a way to become a celebrity on social media. Ellen’s selfie is far less complicated than any of these celebrity selfies, however.
First, her selfies appear to be product placement most likely for Samsung and Twitter. Behold Ellen live tweeting the Oscars with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Here she is giving celebs in attendance an opportunity to be seen with her, yet backstage she is snapping photos with an iPhone — her preferred type of smartphone for which she even launched an app.
Likely Ellen was told to use a Samsung on stage. As evidence, consider that there was a very telling Samsung commercial that ran last night, called “You Need to See This.” Around mark 1:18, we see a celebrity walking the red carpet with a Samsung phone in front of her; rather than being in the experience, she is showing her friend the experience as she has it. Ellen seemingly referenced the commercial during the ceremony when she turned to Jonah Hill and said, “I don’t want to see it.”
Twitter is gunning for Hollywood, and the selfie is a part of that plan. In 2013, Twitter hired Google Executive Jennifer Prince to head ad sales in the movie and television business. Sometimes, Twitter drives TV ratings — but this is nothing compared to careful utilization of the perfectly timed celebrity selfie. Not one shot by a fan, but one shot by a celebrity who isn’t pulling a James Franco or Justin Bieber.
Ellen participated in a corporate culture co-option of selfie culture featuring Samsung. Yet backstage with her iPhone, she was a celebrity acting as her own PR machine in a possibly “authentic” manner, snapping an unplanned photograph. It was only a matter of time until selfies appeared at the Oscars, a celebration of which calculated media images reflect the times we live in.
The selfie is not going anywhere. Consider this a type of networked photograph. In 2009, the word of the year was “unfriend“; that same year, Facebook had just reached the 150 million user mark, and also addressed some privacy concerns as the network was growing rapidly. In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram, the so-called “selfie network” that was around long before Bieber launched his own selfie network, Shots of Me.
In 2013, selfie was named word of the year. Their presence, especially in Hollywood and the film industry, will likely only grow in 2014 — see Kimberly Pierce’s remake of Stephen King’s Carrie, which incorporates adolescent social-media use, and the Sundance film Selfie, which offered a glimpse into how young girls thought about self-image. Selfies are here to stay because they look authentic and they get everyone to look right now.
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