Meryl Streep and Hilary Clinton take a group selfie. (Many people don’t know this, but I was on the receiving end.)
“Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of US lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a near-Lewinskian level?”
David Foster Wallace asked this question at the opening of his 1999 essay, Authority and American Usage. While he was reviewing a dictionary and ultimately goes on to describe the two distinct genres of those who write our wordlists, the question remains a good one when considering the most recent additions to The Oxford English Dictionary. First, there is ‘twerk,’ which no doubt comes in the wake of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs last Sunday night. Or maybe I’m not giving Jay Z enough credit. No matter how you slice it, though, Cyrus stands firmly in the thick of the now-legitimized word.
Second, there is selfie, which seems far more interesting than the former for no reason other than what comes just after the actual definition, (“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”), which is a sample sentence that chases the formal inflection. “Occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary.”
Well, that seems a bit rude.
Did Oxford Dictionary just tell me my entire social presence is effectively not necessary? What do I make of this? Doesn’t it seem strange that a presumably objective glossary, one meant to hold no biased opinion, would pass a tinge of judgement for those of us who qualify as chronic selfie-takers? In the scope of fashion, we are many. Outside of fashion, we are even more. Just take a look at the catalogued hashtag in your Instagram search tab. For heaven’s sake, Oxford, some of us may just want to share with the world how astutely we resemble 80-year old men in New Balance sneakers! What to you seems “unnecessary” about that?
An even more important question to canvass appears when considering how selfies earned themselves such a bad rap. According to the bearer of all accurate news, Wikipedia, selfies began permeating our conversations as early as 2005. They weren’t popularized, however, until late into 2010. This means — as friend and sometimes contributor to Man Repeller, Sophie Milrom, put it — that Steve Jobs’ implementation of a selfie-taking photobooth in our iMacs, and then the reversible camera into our iPhones, predated the craze. This, of course, therefore positions the man as one who holstered a fairly divine prophecy.
Early popularity for the term may be credited to MySpace while the meteoric rise to extensive fandom in the last several years is mostly in part due to Facebook, more recently, Instagram and perhaps most freshly, Snapchat.
During an interview with Stephen Colbert, one founder explains that they wanted to ”Change the notion of what a photograph is and use it as a means of conversation.” Would it be too dramatic to declare that Snapchat may become a way for selfies to replace words and become their own vernacular?
When push comes to shove, the flack selfies have received is more than likely a response to what every media outlet in the history of publication has been saying since we’ve been old enough to start leaving a mark: that our generation, Generation Y (or as we like to call it, Generation ‘I’), is the most narcissistic one to plague planet earth. The manifestation of the selfie essentially just drowns us deeper into The Puddle but only while discussing the most stereotypical, body manipulating, sexual-activity eliciting self portraits. But there are merits to be considered, too. On the one hand, selfies may very well function as our nod to the importance of face to face communication in a highly digitized world.
On the other, and perhaps pertaining specifically to those of us who associate ourselves more directly with fashion, selfie-taking may very well become the “future” of street style photography only no one is dictating who gets air time and who doesn’t because we are all invited to participate at our respective behests. Ultimately, this is not a cronut, indulging everyday will not hurt you and so if you want to, then do it! We’re talking about a modern form of expression here. One that we, as Millenials, created — so why not own it?
Now, if you’d told me that daily twerking is unnecessary, maybe this could have gone in a different direction.