The Sins Of Selfies

Picture this. A woman touring the Louvre comes to the Mona Lisa. Her view of the painting, however, is blocked by numerous heads. All she can see is La Gioconda’s forehead and parted hair. She waits her turn to step forward for a closer look.

Suddenly, a young woman, more a girl than woman, darts between her and the blocking heads, faces her, raises her cellphone, and snaps a selfie. The photograph, the woman is certain, will show no more of the classic painting than she could see. The young snip dashes away, a smug look of accomplishment brushing across her face.

I can just hear her telling her friends, “Here’s me at the Mona Lisa,” the woman thinks. And her friends, all more interested in selfies than classic art, will respond with “You look so cute,” “I love your earrings,” or “Where’d you get that darling top?”

A man, surrounded by Swiss Alps, stares in wonder at the glorious sight. Jagged, snow-covered crags jut into the blue sky around him. A man and woman in their thirties step between him and the majestic Eiger mountain and carefully pose for a selfie. Flashing smiles, their heads obstruct much of the mountain and its surroundings. Eiger’s challenging sheer north face and other Alps huddle in the background like extras in The Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood’s 1975 film.

Minutes later, the man finds the couple posing again, this time another section of alpine splendor hidden by blockheaded egos. The couple repeats the same pose, he on the right with his arm around the woman’s shoulder, beaming the same frozen smiles exhibited in front of the Eiger.

An hour later, he spots the pair again, now in the valley below standing in front of a traditional, charming chalet. Once more, they are standing, he on the right with his arm around her shoulder, smiling identical smiles, as his right hand raises his cellphone to snap another selfie.

Just how many photographs of yourselves, he wonders, do you need? He watches them take another picture of themselves. You don’t look any different than you did in front of the Eiger. OK. Maybe two hours older. But you aren’t the stars here. The scenery is.

Certainly, having photographs of ourselves is important. They chronicle our lives, capturing people, places, events, and moments for posterity. They remind us of our evolving hairstyles, questionable clothing choices, and gradual loss of youth. But when one’s priority is to amass more selfies than there are Alps or classic paintings in the Louvre, questions must be asked about the photographer’s insecurities and pleas for attention and approval.

A gray-haired woman plops in her aisle seat on an airline. She shifts a bit, sits more erect. She takes her cellphone from her bag, the Michael Kors one, and poses for a pre-take-off selfie, because it is, apparently, an important moment. Without typing a message, it appears, she quickly clicks “Send.” Only then does she buckle her seat belt.

A mother, touring a picturesque European town, nears a quaint courtyard. She asks her perhaps-seven-year-old daughter to step into it for a quick pic. The child, her hair styled with precision care, eagerly bounds forward. The mother aims her camera, trying to include both the child and the stately old buildings, with their colorful flower baskets hanging from the windows, surrounding the square.

The girl snaps from one pose to another as if she were Beyoncé on a photo shoot. She pouts her lips, peeks over her shoulder, and tosses her hair like a supermodel, skills she learned from music videos and social media posts made by people considerably older than her but, perhaps, not any wiser or deeper. Mom takes six, maybe eight pictures and announces, “OK, honey, that’s enough. Time to go.”

“No, Mommy. More. Please, Mommy. More.”

The mother gives in to the child’s plea. Several more seductive pics are taken. The girl dashes to her mother’s side and peers at the string of pictures taken. She beams with pride. “They’re gonna get a whole bunch of ‘likes,’” she says.

We live in a time—and have for several decades—when every elementary school-age child receives an award for being on a team, not just the deserving Best Player or Most Inspirational, but the member with the Best Attendance or Cleanest Uniform. “We do it,” team organizers explain with good intentions, “so everyone feels valued and important.”

High school students ask to perform presentations rather than simply present them. “May I do my presentation on Florence Nightingale as a rap, Mr. Doltman?” lanky, strawberry-blond Mattthew (with three t’s, to make him special, according to his mother) asks. “I’d like to do my report on DNA as an interpretive dance, Ms. Putschova. Can I?” begs Emma, Emily or Ebony. Both teachers reluctantly agree, turning the educational moment into an attention-grabbing bit of showbiz. “We have to,” the teachers rationalize. “If we don’t, we lose them. And worse, they lose their self-esteem.”

No wonder we live in a world of Karens and Kevins today, acting as if they are entitled and the only important entities in the world. They’ve been raised to believe that. Because of misguided good intentions, the world is no longer about community and consideration of others. It’s about me, my selfies, and all my likes.

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Tom Nussbaum
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