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Click click, bang bang: ‘Selfie’ is our word of the year

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King - The Philippine Star

In a time when Filipino teenagers can accidentally shoot themselves in the head while attempting a Clint Eastwood-esque selfie; when our local bishops organization can promote papal selfies with a cardboard cut-out of Pope Francis; and when lawmakers can debate the merits of a bill that could possibly intrude on our right to take selfies—it makes perfect sense that “selfie” has been declared our word of the year in the recently concluded Sawikaan 2014.

Be that as it may, we’ve come pretty late to the party.

Almost one year ago, Oxford Dictionaries solemnly declared “selfie” as the 2013 word of the year, an honor bestowed on what might arguably be the most embarrassing trend of the digital age. Earlier this year, as if to recognize all our country’s hard work in promoting this brand of self-portraiture, TIME magazine ranked us as the selfie capital of the world; directing travelers to the busy streets of Makati for an obligatory duckface photo.

All things considered, the recent proclamation of the guys behind Sawikaan (made up of linguistics professors, national artists, and cultural experts in general) is simply icing on top of the cake. Apparently, we’ve been “officially” owning the selfie since the start of 2014.

Which is not to say everyone approves of it. Unsurprisingly, much talk about the selfie phenomenon has zeroed in on the narcissism that it breeds, along with vanity, self-aggrandizement, shallowness, egotistical self-love…the ship just sails on and on.

It can’t be helped; a picture paints a thousand words, after all. Even more so if that picture is your self. By uploading your picture on social media—using any variation of selfie spawns from Selfie Olympics to transformation selfies, to sexy selfies and funeral selfies, to legsies (your legs), drelfies (you drunk), helfies (your hair)—you open yourself to a world of judgment and criticism.

In my opinion though, there’s an entire continent one has to cross before he or she can even enter narcissistic territory. Haters gonna hate, but surely there has to be a difference between the casual selfie taker (At a concert! On a mountain! With a new haircut!) and the attention-mongering kind (you know, the type who’d pose with all the goods about to spill out, and then post some vapid caption like, “These glasses make me look fat L”).

To be sure, while it’s impossible to talk about selfies without looking at the individual, that picture is far from complete. In fact, you could argue that among the components which go into the making of a selfie, it’s actually the self that comes last.

First, the selfie rose out of the changing social conditions of people’s lives. In other words, welcome to the deeper 21st century. There’s the wide availability of cheap, mass-produced units we can get straight out of China. Then there’s the fact that these small, easy-to-use cellphones are generally equipped with cameras, complete with a system that allows you to upload and post in an instant.

Second, selfies are a form of impression management, a way of projecting how we want to be perceived. It’s a very social, people-oriented sentiment. Otherwise, what would be the point of posting it online in the first place? Oxford Dictionary actually includes “uploading to a social media website” as part of its definition of “selfie.”

Thus, the selfie is a process of gift-wrapping yourself for others, whether you realize it or not. Selfies allow us to stage everything involved in the making of the photo, after all. In such a controlled setting, it follows that others’ perception and judgment of us is what we aim to control, too.

Ultimately, selfies are a social act intended to garner the appropriate social response. And there’s nothing wrong with it, not really.

Personally, I’d be too embarrassed to take a serious, career-changing selfie of myself, complete with side angle pose and all the various nuances of a ‘postable’ selfie. I would, however, take selfies if other people would share the shutter space with me, or if my selfie had a point other than myself i.e. the majestic view of some beach behind me, for one thing. That way, I get to deflect attention from myself while still claiming the spotlight.

In the grand scheme of things, I think the selfie is legitimate cultural output. It’s a sign of the times. The question of whether this is good or bad for us is irrelevant and tediously relative. The better question, I think, would be—is it humanizing or alienating? Considering the trend in this day and age, where people would rather record and capture then simply live in the moment, I’m inclined to go with the former. Because for all its artificiality, you have to admit that posting takes a certain amount of courage, too (or shamelessness, if you like). Either way, if you don’t like what you see, you can always just scroll down.

 

 

 

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MAKATI OXFORD DICTIONARIES OXFORD DICTIONARY POPE FRANCIS SAWIKAAN SELF SELFIE SELFIE OLYMPICS SELFIES SOCIAL
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