Sexy Social Change: Don’t Shun the Vapid Selfies and Videos; They Can Be A Source of Brilliance



My buddy John alerted me to this fascinating story from the Telegraph, Is this the first Instagram masterpiece? A well-regarded young artist, Amalia Ulman, spoofs the Instagram’s selfie phenomenon to not only make a point, but to create her art recent exhibition: “Excellences & Perfections.”

This story captivated me for so many reasons.  Ulman never revealed the motive behind her selfie project.  Instead she shared pic after pic of herself in images typical of so many young, female-selfie-addicts (think the Kardashians).  As the article says:  “In some of them she posed in lingerie on rumpled bed sheets in boutique hotel rooms. In others she offered cutesy close-ups of kittens, rose petals, and strawberries and pancakes captioned “brunch”…. She was mindlessly bragging about her supposedly enviable lifestyle in LA, as she attended pole-dancing classes and underwent breast-enlargement surgery.”  She admits that people started hating her as a result of these images, even warning her that her cutesy, sexy and showy attitude was going to damage her career.

But all of this was a ruse.  After a year and a half of this photo diary, she collected all of her selfies and is now exhibiting them at the Tate and Whitechapel Gallery.  Her point? As she tells the Telegraph:

“I wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman … The joke was admitting how much work goes into being a woman and how being a woman is not a natural thing. It’s something you learn.”

Clearly this mastermind fooled us all.

But the other reason I love this story is that she proves a phenomenon that I’ve been witnessing and writing about for a while.  We don’t speak in words, paint, or photo paper as we used to.  We are visual thinkers. and we speak through the medium of a digital cloud using digital pictures, videos and memes.

Instead of using the traditional art mediums of the past, Ulman recognizes the lingua franca of today’s younger generation.   As Ulman says:

“The idea was to experiment with fiction online using the language of the internet,” she explains, “rather than trying to adapt old media to the internet, as has been done with mini-series on YouTube. The cadence and rhythm were totally different.”

While our new language may seem frivolous or self-absorbing at times, it can be quite profound.  It can be THE way to send a powerful and provocative message for social change.  We have to dismiss our preconceptions (e.g., selfies are for ditzes) and look a little deeper.  Actually check out the selfies below taken at Davos, the least ditzy place on earth right now!  And when we start looking deeper, it’s amazing what we can learn about the world and ourselves.


Weekend Observations: Another Shout Out For Selfies

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I hate my selfies.  I haven’t quite figured out how to take a good pic of myself.  But I’m gonna keep trying to learn.  I think selfies are awesome!
A few weeks back I shared a powerful example of selfies as a tool for survival (Selfies Are Self-indulgent?  BS They Can Save Your Life).  And I recently came across a highly intellectually stimulating article by Jerry Saltz comparing selfies with the portraits of the past — think Van Gogh’s own or Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1523–24 (Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie).
I always love to hear analyses of technology that don’t depict us, users, as self-indulgent, brain-less idiots.  Oh, how the media likes to bemoan the end of morality, intellectualism and community because of technology.  It drives me nuts!
I won’t do justice to his whole analyses but, in a nutshell, Saltz’s article digs into the various roles of the selfie — to express our true feelings in the moment, showing a raw, real world or sharing the shock and awe of the shooter.
I want to take the positive side of the selfie in another direction too.  I think the self-indulgence we attribute to selfies may be a GOOD thing.  Let’s be honest, how many of us totally love ourselves fully?  How many of us berate ourselves for small mistakes or criticize our tiniest flaws.  By putting ourselves out there, we’re taking a risk.  We’re actually saying, I’m OK and I SHOULD love myself.
Even Dove, with its latest “pulling-the-heart-strings-video,” shows the positive power of selfies. Dove launched an experiment going inside a public high school and enlisting girls to not only take selfies, but then blow them up for the whole school to see on big poster boards.  Other kids put post it notes on the posters declaring their admiration for these girls and how beautiful they  think they are.  As you can imagine, the selfi subjects were surprised, warmed and encouraged.  See video.
My selfies always suck but I’m going to try to get the hang of them and promise to post more.   Because, in the end, they’re more for me than for you!