Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Visual Culture of the Selfie

Tracing the selfie to its cultural roots, rather than its technological roots, is a complex exercise. I do not think there is a single point in time which can be regarded as the birth of the selfie considering that we are talking about an emerging discourse that can be divergent, paradoxical or contradictory. Yet one major driving force in the popularity of the selfie appears to be the popularity (or the famousness) of the subject producing the selfie. Here I return to the ‘heroisation’ of the Renaissance artist through self-portraiture. In the 21st century, it is the celebrity who conducts this form of ‘heroisation’ through the visual language of the selfie.

The rise of the selfie is inextricably linked to the rise of a very particular type of celebrity culture epitomized by Kim Kardashian – a celebrity who is famous because of her image as celebrity. This type of celebrity has appropriated the selfie most cunningly to not just document the self in various styles and poses, but also, as a way to reinforce and promote the self to a global audience. The selfie is not just simply a photograph innocently shared with a few million followers, it is a cunning PR exercise that actively advertises the celebrity as a brand. The success of the brand partially hinges on followers buying into the ‘reality’ promoted through the selfie.

One aspect of the selfie that is rarely discussed is the fact that it often focuses on the body. These bodily selfies appear to promote an intimate relationship between celebrity and her followers, yet it also promotes a hyper awareness of the body as potential commodity. In this type of image economy, a body that is not photographed, uploaded or shared has no worth. In order to remain current, therefore, the celebrity engages with this economy by sharing images of her body via the selfie. In this globalized and interconnected world, the selfie has become the universal language of a culture increasingly obsessed with fragmenting and sharing the body via the photographic image. Here, the selfie has gained the status of a quasi-currency, rising in value the more an image is shared and disseminated via the Internet. [...]

[T]he selfie is not simply a form of self-representation, but it is actually a visual response to an ideal beauty largely promoted through the media, advertising and the cult of the celebrity. And this is the irony of selfies: inasmuch the word ‘selfie’ suggests that this type of image is about the self, on closer inspection, it actually is about a form of beauty that is largely outside of the self.


Source: Admin [Marcus Bohr], "Deconstructing the Selfie," Visual Culture Blog, March 30, 2014, accessed April 1, 2014, http://visualcultureblog.com/2014/03/deconstructing-the-selfie/.

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