Last September, I moderated a discussion at PLU on selfies – an interesting discussion with my colleagues and students about what this phenomenon portended for our culture. The discussion followed much the same lines as others in the popular culture focusing on ego, how self-centered we are, the desire to document and curate our activities and identities in ways that we have control over and how others view this phenomenon.
One issue that did not come up, and that I have been thinking about is the issue of agency. For much of human history, there has been art and that art where it involved portraying human subjects also involved the portrayal of the subject from the perspective of the artist. Feminists decry the phenomenon of the ‘male gaze’ whereby women see themselves – not as themselves – but through the eyes of men; the idea of a ‘double consciousness’ in race discussion (see W.E.B. DuBois) also reflects this idea of seeing oneself as the Other sees.
If this is right, then I want to defend selfies as an expression of autonomy and authenticity. It sounds nuts, but hear me out:
When I take a selfie, I choose the angle, light, filters and settings of the picture. I chose the version I like best, and post it where I chose, tagging who I choose in the picture and also the accompanying text to provide context. I am framing the interpretation of what you see and I am setting the conditions for you to see me as I see myself (or as I would like or chose to see myself.) Instead of a lingerie or bikini picture that see through the ‘male gaze’ or the interpretation/vision of the photographers/editors/writers, you are seeing my vision of myself as a sexual being. With this picture, I make my argument and give testimony to my vision of beauty, sex or whatever I am conveying. I determine the grounds of the seeing. I possess the power and control the interaction.
Of course, once posted the power shifts to the judge to like or not like, to repost or comment. But the content that the judge is responding to has been framed, executed and delivered to you, the judge, through my vision of myself. It is Pauline, as Pauline sees her.
What is more authentic? Its all me. Just how I decide I am. Existential Freedom if you will.