Monday, May 19, 2014

Why I'm So Over "Selfies" (The Word and the Photos!)

A mirror and a little distance might be a selfie's best friends.
My worst enemy: the close-up selfie!
Please, no more.

I'm not talking about food pics on Instagram, which has apparently hastened their decline on Facebook -- at least in my News Feed. But since I'm on the subject, let me continue for a few paragraphs: Going from Facebook staple to Instagram staple is just the relocation of an annoying trend to a new house with cool special effects. Yesterday, I had to "unfollow" someone on Instagram because I was tired of scrolling past pictures of everything he was about to eat.

I know my distaste for food pics puts me firmly in yet another minority. As I've said before and will probably continue to say until I choke on it, I'm just not a foodie. Cooking shows bore me, and if presentation is everything, for me, it's not when it comes to food. Unless it's weather-related, fleeting beauty doesn't interest me. No matter how elegantly a dish is presented, we all know what the food -- and the plate from which it is eaten -- will look after it goes down. Furthermore, I'm generally completely indifferent to what the person sitting across from me in a restaurant is eating, so why would I care what an online acquaintance (and barely that) on another continent had for dinner last night?

(If anyone knows how to hide people from your Instagram "timeline" the way you can on Facebook, please fill me in. "Unfollowing" makes me feel like such a bastard.)

Today, though, I'm raging against another social-media annoyance: the dreaded, dreadful selfie. To be honest, I'm not sure what I object to most about them: the extreme narcissism involved in constantly taking photos of yourself, or the word "selfie."

How silly does "selfie" sound? It reminds me of those cutesy Aussie-isms -- "brekkie" for breakfast, "matey" instead of mate -- that might be the only thing I hate about the land down under. What are we, 7? Can't we just say the whole word? "Self-portrait" sounds so much more elegant and flattering. But then, when I think of self-portraiture, I think of Vincent Van Gogh or the most sublime example of it from Pablo Picasso's "Blue Period" (right). A framed print, which I purchased at the Musée Picasso in Paris (along with the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin and crepes, one of the few things I loved about my three holidays in that greatly overrated city), used to hang in my New York City apartment. I suppose we wouldn't want to associate "selfies" with genuine works of art!

I can remember when there wasn't even a word for them. That was a few years ago in Buenos Aires when my friend Luciano and I used to make fun of twentysomething Argentines for constantly taking photos of themselves and their entourage with the digital cameras that they all seemed to carry everywhere. (This was before smart phones with camera apps made them virtually obsolete, the same fate that befell CDs, land lines and probably those photo booths that produced the precursors to selfies.)

Back then, I just chalked it up to Argentine self-absorption. I still do. But now I have to grudgingly give them credit for being ahead of the curve. As if inventing tango didn't contribute enough to their already oversized egos.

I'm not sure when these snapshots became known as "selfies." For months, I saw the word everywhere but I never gave any thought to what it was referring to until Oscar night 2014, when it started trending on Twitter, en route to becoming a permanent part of our lexicon. (I suppose we also have The Chainsmokers and their 2014 Top 20 hit "#SELFIE" to thank for that.) It was a cute running gag in the hands of Ellen Degeneres, but the one that became the talk of the Oscars just confirmed what I suspected well before I knew what a "selfie" was: They're unflattering to almost everyone, even Hollywood stars. (Is it me or did Lupita Nyong'o's brother come out looking the best in that one?)

I guess it's less that people in group selfies look technically bad than that they look too desperate to be a part of them. (And that would include Lupita's brother most of all.) Anything that has the power to make Channing Tatum look like a chump who's trying to squeeze his way into a celeb photo -- I didn't even know who that head between Jennifer Lawrence's and Julia Roberts' belonged to until one of my blog readers pointed it out to me -- can't be good.

But alas, that appears to be just the unfortunate selfie fate of Channing Tatum and me and most people. There does exist, however, a select few who can actually rock a selfie as effectively as any professional photo shoot. They might be the biggest reason why I dislike them as much as I do.

By looking so good in primitive self-portraits, they just remind me of all the physical flaws that make me look like an alien in my extreme close-ups. I admit it: That's another reason why I had to delete that food-pic offender from my Instagram feed. His meals weren't the only thing he was obsessed with documenting. What kind of person is constantly taking photos of himself, or herself? (Though in my social media circle, the selfie seems to be a largely male obsession.) And what kind of person has the nerve to look so great in them?

If his food pics made me hungry, his selfies made me insecure. In mine, my jaw area appears to become twice its already-unfortunate size. Aren't there enough ego crushers on Facebook, plenty of proof that everyone else has it so much better than we do. Must social media also have to make us look bad, literally? Haven't I -- um, we -- suffered enough?

I guess I could always continue being my regular bastard self and just revel in the fact that he's the exception, and I'm the rule. Years from now we'll look back at selfies and reconsider the retro pics from the '70s and '80s that we now mock as being the height of our poser days. Until then, I'll have to learn to just cringe and bear selfies and remember, better an unflattering (or too flattering) self-pic than yet another sweet treat or perfectly arranged salad.
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