Saturday

#Pics or it didn't happen - Dark Thoughts 1

I'm a little bit of a curmudgeon lately. It might be the seasons changing, the days getting shorter, waking up to darkness and going home in the dark. It might be the person I'm becoming, someone who tells the truth without caring who it might hurt, without wondering whether it is useful or necessary, without a second or third or fiftieth thought. But it's there. A bad temper that only lifts when I'm asleep and returns as soon as my eyes betray me by fluttering open on a dark new day. Right now these eyes are focused on "selfie" culture.

I don't mean the selfie itself — self-portraiture has been a valid art form since the first caveman drew stick figures on the wall. Just look at Dürer, Kahlo, Cindy Sherman. How compelling! No, I mean the modern culture that surrounds "selfies."

As a teenager my parents sent me on a church trip to World Youth Day, an event organized to bring young Catholics together from all over the world. I got to meet Pope John Paul II. But I didn't take a selfie with him. No, I took the disposable camera my parents had given me (we still developed film in those days) and I took pictures of buildings, monuments, and paintings. When I got the photos back, my mother chided me for wasting the film.

You can paint still-life but photographs should capture things that are alive. You should have taken pictures of yourself and your friends. Now you will never remember what you looked like or what you were wearing or how much fun you had. 

Okay, she didn't say all of that. My mother is not a woman of many words. Basically she looked over my shoulder as I flipped through the stack of photos and said, "Boring." I filled in the rest.

In my twenties I heeded her wise "word" and took pictures of people and parties. At that age, at the peak of my beauty, and at my lowest dress size, I wanted to broadcast my popularity. The pictures implored, "Hey, look at me! Like me! Love me! Me! Me! Me!" like there was never enough attention to convince me that I was a real person and not just a trick of the light. Like Tinkerbell, I needed people to clap for me to go on pretending.

At some point in my thirties it was like a circuit shorted and I didn't care anymore. I didn't have the energy to exist here on this plane and curate another life online. In a way, I've always been like this; I've always been lazy or anxious or a Möbius strip of one feeble characteristic feeding the other. While my cohort played with three-way calling to expose two-faced frenemies, I sought more low-anxiety entertainments like binge-eating Cheetos or binge-eating Doritos or writing poems involving Cheetos or Doritos (but never ever Fritos).

All this to say: I stopped taking selfies and I stopped posting online, probably because I'm neurotic and I prefer snacking to pretty much everything. Now I'm just a lurker who clicks "like" like I'm a rapper making it rain.

There are several reasons why people like me don't actively participate in social media, reasons ranging from anti-capitalist to antisocial. Let's not forget to mention the vainglorious "I'm too busy/happy/in love/alive/Zen/old-fashioned/'insert humble brag' to waste my precious time on Facegram." Conscious non-conformity and abstaining from the Zeitgeist might be brave and it might be protesting too much.

Vanity isn't just the purview of the snap-happy Kardashians of the world. I freely admit that my own brand of narcissism sets its teeth on edge when an unflattering photo of me appears online. Why?

1. Because it doesn't match the flattering image I have of myself.
2. Because that facsimile of me will persist in perpetuity and can be monetized and/or manipulated against my will, like a kind of virtual rape.
3. Because if I could choose to leave something of myself to echo through space-time I would rather it be an act of kindness than a picture of me with a visible booger hanging out of my nose.

Some people are masters of the form; it is their art and I would not assail it. Nor would I condemn people who are cataloging their lives and sharing love across long distances. I benefit so much from the pictures my sister-in-law and cousins send me of their kids. The focus of this meandering and hopelessly jumbled essay are those who are living on the other side of the Gorilla glass.

Maybe this whole rant is just the old man in me (not literally, I'm not a gerontophiliac) shaking his cane and telling the future to get off his lawn. Maybe I should just unclench my ass cheeks so that my anus can let its hair down. (Okay, now I understand why mixing metaphors isn't such a good thing.) Maybe I should just chill out and stop being so anal retentive about this. After all, technology is the engine of human evolution. Where would we be without the invention of the wheel?

Nevertheless, I struggle. The easy way out is to say, "I assign no morality to selfie culture, it is just a thing that gets framed through use and intention" but but but ... I doth protest! What kind of society is slowly taking shape? Is it one in which we are the indentured servants to our own fantasies of ourselves? "Death by selfie" is already a category in the Darwin Awards. And that makes me sad, but it also makes me want to laugh, and having laughed, I feel like I did something bad. Like that time when Farrah Fawcett died of a funny-sounding cancer. Funny if you're puerile. And heartless.

Shit. If karma is real, I'm going to be reborn as a dung beetle.

#sadselfie