When we talk about selfies, what we are really talking about is teenage girls. “Teenage girls” here is more of a concept than a biological necessity; the age is primarily arbitrary and the girl-ness is semiotic at best. But the disgust at the moral failures of kids today, with their iPhones and their Instagrams is a gendered disgust — it is disgust for bodies whose worth is determined not by those who inhabit them, but by those who look at them. It is disgust for bodies that run in emulation, whose primary labour is dedicated to looking a particular way rather than making a particular thing.
Tiqqun, in Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl
, takes the body of the Young-Girl (who, they make clear in the introduction, is not necessarily an actual young girl) as the central unit of late capitalism. As a caveat, many readers of Tiqqun put Theory of the Young-Girl
down because it comes off as gross and sexist. If you read the new translation for Semiotext(e) by the excellent Ariana Reines, she says as much in her introduction (excerpts here at Triple Canopy
). What Theory of the Young-Girl
requires, in order to be useful, is an understanding that the body or idea of the teenage girl is sometimes separate from the actuality of teenage girl-dom. This conceptual separation is not just tangential to the work — it is in fact what allows it to hold together at all.
The Young-Girl, according to Tiqqun, is “the model citizen of commodity society”, an identity colonized by capital. The Young-Girl is the citizen as consumer, not just of material products, but of ideology iteself. This identity is not ahistorical — not all young girls throughout time have been Young-Girls — nor is it a biological necessity. Rather, it is an historical invention, one that works to make the bodies of young girls useful to capital. If Young-Girlism is about capital’s attempt to colonize the sphere outside of industrial production, who has beem less outside that sphere than the teenage girl? The flapper, the flaneuse, the hysteric — prior to the advent of consumer capitalism, the bodies of young women can be read as the bodies most useless to capitalism.
The identity of the Young-Girl is about taking these previously useless bodies and making them useful. If they are not useful for making things, then they will be made useful for buying things, and this consumer identity is performed on and through her body. What characterizes the Young-Girl is that her body is a commodity, one which belongs to her and is her responsibility to maintain the value of. The concept of the teenage girl — a concept that actual teenage girls can inhabit more or less successfully — is a collaboration between industry and girls themselves. It exists in the liminal space where consumption and emancipation begin to overlap: if I represent my individuality through the consumption of particular items (lipstick, science-fiction novels, cupcakes, leather jackets with studs) is this emancipation because I made a choice? Capital says yes, that emancipation comes from participation in consumption, rather than it’s rejection. Tiqqun says no — that we must think not of liberating the Young-Girl, but liberation relative to the Young-Girl. I tend to fall in with the latter; that consumption is offered as an alternative to liberation, rather than its realization.