Victor Ng, a designer working for Hillary Clinton's campaign, posted this photo on Twitter along with the caption, "2016, ya'll."
The photo shows a crowd of people with their backs turned to the candidate. A sign of protest? Just the opposite. Camera phones held high, the Hillary fans are attempting to take selfies to capture the moment, creating proof that they were in the room with Clinton.
The image is indeed striking. All these people taking selfies. All at the same time. (Turns out, this is because Clinton had just said something like 'If anybody wants a selfie, turn around right now.')
It's certainly a strange-looking way for a supportive crowd to behave.
The Twitter reactions make clear that some read the image as depicting narcissism, ignorance, and disrespect, as if these ostensible "supporters" were mindlessly taking pictures of themselves instead of paying attention to their next president.
The image became a kind of "news story" (2016, ya'll), and was "reported" in articles like CNET's, "Astonishing pic of Hillary Clinton shows what we've become."
Yes, the image is astonishing. And it does capture something of our cultural/technological moment, as Ng's caption suggests. And it does show what appears to be a new mode of crowd comportment.
But is the smug "this is what we've become" tone really necessary?
Sure, people do odd things around celebrities. Always have. And yep, people take selfies. And ok, it still looks a little weird to see them doing it, especially if you catch a roomful of people doing it all at once.
But our critical scrutiny could just as easily be directed at knee-jerk dismissal of the practice on the part of the "journalist." Frankly, if something absurd is happening here, it's not that people are trying to take pictures of themselves with Clinton, rather, it's that a journalist writing about new media on a new media platform thinks it makes sense to dismiss out of hand another new media practice.
Plenty has been written about the way people are using selfies as a tool for communication, self expression, and identity play. It's not inherently more narcissistic than any other social media practice. For awhile I was trying to keep tabs on some of the more thoughtful commentary here, but eventually there was just too much of it, and anyway, The Selfies Research Network has emerged and is doing a much better job of collecting and sharing readings than I could possibly do on my own.
I find it much more interesting to try to understand selfie-taking as a phenomenon than to just smirk it all away. When I was teaching an intro-level cultural studies courses, I'd spend a day or two exploring the selfie phenomenon with my students. If this image from the campaign trail had appeared while I was teaching that course, I can easily imagine incorporating it into the discussion. We'd talk about selfies as a practice. We'd discuss this particular photograph as a text in itself. And then we'd get into the meta discussion of the way the image is being framed by a paranoid headline like CNET's. We'd talk a lot about gender, because I think it's impossible to talk in any meaningful way about selfies in general, or about this image in particular, or about Hillary Clinton, or about this derisive headline, without it.
Selfies happen. It's ok. Really. If anything about this election is a sign of the end of civilization, this is not it.
Dear Friends & Family—
I’m starting something new. I don’t know what it’ll look like. But I’m excited. And I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
I’ve just started my year as a fellow with the Experience Institute, a cool new program pushing the boundaries of higher education. As a Leap Year Fellow, my job is to design a year of education for myself built around experience. I’ll be looking to connect with organizations doing interesting and meaningful work that I can contribute to and learn from — piecing together a full year of apprenticeships, internships, consulting gigs, and residencies.
Why am I doing this? When my faculty job ended due to budget cuts, I decided it was time for a break from traditional academic institutions. There’s no question that I want to continue to write, research, think about culture and communication, talk about big ideas, fuss about tiny details, help others improve their creative work, and maybe even do some teaching. Trouble is, I’ve only ever done those things in one kind of way, in one kind of institution. It’s time for some exploration.
My year is off to a great start. I spent last week on the 12th floor of a fancypants office building in downtown Chicago, surrounded by the awesome members of my cohort and a zillion Post-It notes. We did a series of intensive workshops in things like storytelling, design thinking, and community building. We got to know each other and started preparing for our year. Now we’re all heading out to wherever our first experiences take us, staying connected with weekly calls and quarterly confabs.
I feel well supported by this group and by the program’s truly remarkable staff, coaches, and network of partner organizations. But it’s going to be a challenging year of new people, new roles, new cities — a year of “personal and professional transformation,” as they say — so I’m asking for your support, too.
I’m looking for a group of encouraging and inspiring people (like you) who can follow along with what I’m doing. Keep me accountable for providing regular updates. Bounce around ideas with me. Collaborate. Celebrate. Commiserate. Challenge. Cringe. Nod silently. Send good vibes. Share wisdom. Give feedback. Grab coffee. Tell me about your projects, and about that friend of yours who I’ve just got to meet, working on that thing I’ve just got to see.
In return? You get warm fuzzy feelings. But also: I’ll be sharing stories, ideas, photos, links, and other goodies along the way that I hope you’ll find interesting and useful, or at the very least entertaining. Maybe you’re interested in what this whole thing can tell us about new models of education. Or scrappy startups. Maybe you’re just curious about what I’m doing.
The best way to follow along is to sign up for the email newsletter I’ll be sending out. Of course I’ll also be posting little updates in the usual spots as well— images on Instagram, words on Medium, posts on Facebook, maybe even a tweet or two on Twitter. There’s even a good-old-fashioned website. But the newsletter is really where it’s at. Subscribe today; cancel at any time. Until then….
Thank you for your support. Here we go!
Week 7.24.2016 & 7.31.2016
Two weeks worth of little delights.
- Looking: The Movie. As was the case with Looking: The Recently Terminated HBO Series, very little happens and everything transforms. Or fails to transform, but in inventive, monumental ways. The shifting of plates. Andrew Haigh is doing some magical things — Looking, The Weekend, 45 Years. More please.
- Red Cabbage Slaw: The Recipe. Yum.
- The Never-ending Quest For Crispy Tofu. Continues.
- Sarah Silverman’s incredible DNC Moment. You’re being ridiculous.
- Khizr Khan’s incredible post-DNC week. Listen to this interview.
- The Moth. I finally made it to a live show. I’m not sure stories need scores, but ok.
- Yucca Tots. On the patio.
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich at the Farmer’s Market. Our Carb of the Week.
- Lounging on a Brand New Chunk of the Chicago Lakefront. And learning the word ‘revetment.’
- Ten TED Tips on Better Conversation. From Celeste Headlee.
- Movies in the Park are the best thing about summer in the city. BYOBlankets. BYOBeer. BYOBuddies.
- West Side Story was the specific movie in the park this week. I always go into West Side Story expecting camp and schlock and cheese — because, you know, dance fighting and synchronized gangsnapping. But there is some Real Live American Art going on here. Wrenching and serious and sharp. (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: Bernstein, Sondheim, Robbins. And Shakespearian source material.) Dated, sure, and so imperfect as far as ‘commentary’ goes, but it endures to a degree that you wouldn’t expect. And yes, some of the more awkward moments elicited chuckles during the screening-in-the-park, but people were full-on in its thrall by the end. And while we’re at it: Zizek on the ideology of Officer Krupke.
- The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. I am very much enjoying Olivia Laing’s meditation on loneliness — her language, her observations, her weaving together of art criticism and personal memoir.
- Cold Brew Iced Coffee at a Hip Coffee Shop. This glass stood out because it was brewed with hops. Hops! Yes, like beer. It was tasty, though not so tasty that I’d order it again. The delight in this moment came from realizing that sometimes I live in a Portlandia sketch — which is a great relief after a few weeks of feeling like we’re living in the movie Idiocracy.
- The Olympics on TV. I love the absurdity. I love what everyone calls "the pageantry” of the opening ceremony. I love that that’s what they call it. “Such pageantry,” they say, meaning nothing at all in particular. I love the formulaic, melodramatic backstory narratives — delivered without hint of irony, each one the same as all the others but presented nevertheless as absolutely singular. (Oh! You’re telling me that this athlete worked hard? And that she wanted it? And that she had support?) There’s an obsession with backstory, perhaps a desperate attempt to compensate for the obliteration of the event’s actual context. I love seeing obscure sports that otherwise can’t get a minute of airtime suddenly on display as though they are self-evident sites of national pride. I love the terrifically hyperbolic language of the commentators, sharing thoughts on technical minutiae, tenths of seconds — and balancing these with sweeping claims about the nature of human struggle, human motivation, human capacity. I love the advertisements, the aggressive biennial re-wholesomification of iconic brands. I love the celebration of extraordinary physical feats, framed by the tv prattle as truly exceptional but also, simultaneously, as emblematic of universal, even banal, human striving. One greatest athletic achievement in the history of the world, followed by another, and another, and never disconnected from your own choice of breakfast cereal, your choice of airline. I love our puritanical tiptoeing around the fact that the whole endeavor has an awful lot to do with the scopophilic consumption of bodies on display. I love the terrifying, Trumpian chant of "USA USA USA" applied to something as relatively harmless as a swim meet.