Truth Within the Selfie

December 18, 2013 · Print This Article

Miley Cyrus is growing up in a fishbowl, where every awkward moment and undeveloped thought is on display for the world to see, react to and comment on, endlessly. As a country, we construct the cult of Miley sometimes even more than she, her publicist or record label does. Miley Cyrus has become an avatar, just as Hannah Montana was, as customizable as a Scion and as real as an American Girl doll. As we have a hand in creating her personae, her personae is a reflection of us, or our fantasies. Therefore, no matter how much she rebels against the mainstream, she can only help define it. The more she destroys her past image as teenage Miley, the more she canonizes it. The more she rebels, the more rebellion we want, even as it looks a lot like Low Sodium Rebellion in a can. We act shocked though we really aren’t, because we too are playing a role, just as she.

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We love celebrities who represent the idyllic American: Beautiful, powerful, strong, intelligent, talented, with the same moral standards as us. We shower them in wealth in order to see how they use it, and so we can have it vicariously. We want these celebrities to act out roles in their real lives, not just in films. They appear on late night interviews promoting their films, on the Red Carpet and charity events as they pose for us. This isn’t enough, so thankfully, we also see them walking their dogs, eating out, drunk at clubs, entering and exiting Hollywood parties. We see them grocery shopping without makeup, with their kids, with other celebrity lovers, in court, hungover, and having sex in grainy cell phone videos. We have so much footage of their lives “off the screen” that they don’t need to exist otherwise.

When we actually come face to face with a celebrity, it is a collision of our lived world and our media world. It is a revelation of mutual existence: that they exist in our space, they can see us as we can them, and so we exist as well. Needing proof for ourself and our friends, that they exist, and that we exist too, a cell phone photo of them is imperative. This must get uploaded to the internet immediately, and now we have returned them to their natural habitat: the media world. Just as they primarily exist in the media world, we only exist in their world as long as we tweet, post, like, share and comment. By uploading a selfie to our facebook feed, we are attempting to insert our lived reality into the media world, used as a mirror to prove our existence, to define our character and how it fits within the pantheon of American myth. It is pedestrian cosplay and hipster role playing.

Its human nature to internalize our faults and dwell on them until they manifest into something larger and looming overhead. The past decade has seen serious changes to our country’s image: warmongering, weakened, bankrupt, obese, fragile, homeless; as well as a growing rift between the working class and the capitalist class, almost completely obliterating the middle class, which is far smaller than any politician will ever admit. While these perceptions have been there since the 80’s and 90’s, it took until 9/11 for us to see them. Global media, 24/7 coverage of war and a need to understand why anyone would want to “attack our freedom”, has led to a breathtaking reflection and reassessment of who we are as a culture, through the Biggest Loser, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Extreme Couponing, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Lost, Breaking Bad, Weeds, etc., etc. We don’t even consciously understand it, but we have seen ourselves as the underdogs, the unabashed scum, those who can break free of their past, those who can overcome and those who will crumble. Ordinary people who set out with good intentions but became greedy and selfish monsters. Yet as we assess ourselves through the entertainment we consume, we lose a true basis for assessment. It is calculated recycling of American myths, regurgitation of roles and tropes, filtering of current events that are replayed as fiction in order for us to learn how we feel about them. As we gravitate towards the fiction to teach us, and blur the lines of what is real and entertainment, it all starts to become real, in some way.




Re-post: The Young-Girl and The Selfie

July 2, 2013 · Print This Article

I came across Sarah Gram’s  article “The Young-Girl and the Selfie and thought I’d repost an excerpt here as something that ties in both with Juliana Driever’s interview with Andrea Washko, and, more generally, the way self-portraits function today. 

In reality, the Young-Girl is only the model citizen such as commodity society has defined it since WWI, as an explicit response to the revolutionary threats against it — Tiqqun,Preliminary Materials for a Theory of The Young-Girl

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself — John Berger, Ways of Seeing

 …
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-Girlrequires, 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.