The Curse of the Selfie from The Curmudgeon by Ron Steinman

“Photo-Op 2016: Of the People, By the People.” A July 5, 2015 headline in The New York Times about taking selfies on the campaign trail.

Self-effacing. Self-esteem. Self-expression. Self-gratification. Self-image. Self-important. Self-indulgence. Self-interest. Selfish. Selfie.

Those are only a few words, singular and compounded, connected to the selfie. I admit I edited only what I want to apply to my theory about the selfie. The selfie is an overused prop in what is probably the most egregious use of how one perceives the self. The use of the selfie has the most unaware generation ever to have graced the world glowing with happiness and self-gratification because they can and do take their own picture. Often. Not much imagination there. And that is what makes the selfie so dangerous. This is my look at the selfie with my usual jaded eyes.

When I think of the selfie I think about Rembrandt, his self-portraits, and other artists through history who painted self-portraits. I think of their art as a look into their soul as they age, not their self-indulgence.

It seems everyone thinks the selfie is great fun. And it may be the case. I beg to differ. It is not. It is a malady.

As soon as a person sees only him or herself in whatever mirror he or she holds before his or her face, it means any sense of an inner self, the real person within, is dead. The imagination is not at work when taking a selfie. The selfie exists as a fleeting mirror. It is worth repeating that a selfie projects nothing of the inner self. The idea of the selfie is about what takes place immediately, the now, with no depth or history. The meaningless fun of the self-indulgent photo is a roadblock that prevents any possibility of an interior self. The myth of Narcissus applies here as nothing else does.

We know from mythology that Narcissus fell in love when he looked into a clear pool of water and saw his reflection. He did not comprehend that the beautiful image he saw was his own. Falling in love with that image, he became fixated, perhaps even hypnotized by hidden desire. Something inside him sent a signal that he could never fulfill the love he had for what he saw in the pool; that the object of his desire would forever be unrealized. In what had to be his despair over the hopelessness of his situation, he committed suicide.

Does this mean that everyone, and it seems almost everyone and not just a few, who take selfies, are doomed to die as Narcissus did? We can’t be that lucky.

Consider, too, is there ever a sad selfie? Most selfies are happy. Everyone is smiling or making a face that is funny, dumb or crude. Try to reconcile those expressions, and more, with real life. It leaves me cold for its vanity and immaturity.

Despite criticism and constant jokes, the selfie continues to thrive as part of popular culture. Advertisements proliferate with selfies as part of the sales pitch used by every product imaginable. I know that the selfie is not going away. People’s lives must be so wanting in meaning and so fruitless that they obviously need the reinforcement that comes with the selfie. I am not crusading for the end of the selfie. I intend never to take a picture of myself. I know who I am. I can look myself in the mirror and not flinch. I see changes. I see age creeping up on me and I know I can do nothing to stop it. I have no problem with what I see. I do not have to take a photo of myself to know that I exist.


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