On Selfies and Neo-narcissism

Man is a social animal. The many layers of this peculiarly clairvoyant insight continues to amaze me even to this day. We have often heard and used this phrase before, especially while writing essays for a 20 marker in school. What then seemed like a profound aphorism may actually be an extremely powerful observation on human behavior.

Being a social animal, man has two different categories of responsibilities. Not only does he stay connected to the networking behemoth now popularly referred to as the ‘internet’, occasionally he ventures into the chimerical world of beheading, raping, radicalizing and racism. Thus, he vindicates his claim as a ‘social animal’ by constantly being a nightmare, online and offline. While these phenomena have been subject to a considerable amount of debate, there is very little agreement that the former is actually classic nut-case hedonism.

Hedonism theorizes that the relentless pursuit of pleasure is the sole purpose of our existence. As such, it gives a booming approval to our indulgences, the most common among them being sex, gluttony, drugs and may be even shopping. However, there is a new aspect of hedonism unraveling. This aspect of hedonism is based upon the ephemeral nature of our online culture and the over-bearing collective impatience of our generation. There is a considerable amount of pleasure seeking involved. The most popular drug in this particular circuit is a ‘Selfie’, potent and devastating.

‘Selfie’ is a constantly and democratically evolving organism, and it has acquired a widespread popularity as such. You can see people making a considerable amount of effort to pose for a selfie. Men, who would be most vehement in their arguments against homosexuality, would gladly wear yellow lens goggles and look ridiculously self-absorbed in their effort to be photogenic for a selfie. People who would frown at the idea of a fairness cream would gladly look like a nincompoop for a ‘selfie’. A reductionist idea, the greatest conception of our ego-centrism, a selfie deems it okay to be ugly and stupid as long as u can take a good selfie.

Selfie was declared as the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2013, thus adding to its popularity. A selfie has its own bunch of offshoots- welfie, belfie, helfie, threefie etc. It also has it own evolving product line. Beginning with the front camera on cell phones, it has now evolved to special selfie applications and a collapsible stick to support the phone (for a better and more convenient selfie) popularly and mockingly referred to as the ‘Narcissistick’. As this saga develops and unravels further, perhaps the day is not far when we see a selfie ‘DSLR’ developed. Only yesterday I saw a guy trying to click a selfie in front of Humayun’s tomb with a ‘point and shoot’. A selfie is not just ‘good’ or ‘great’; it almost always is ‘awesome’!

Reflecting on the reasons for the popularity of ‘selfie’, one will be amazed to find out that once upon a time, great scholars and philosophers were actually apologetic over such self-obsessed behavior. Those who were unapologetic about egoism like Nietzsche, Charvak and Ayn Rand, did not put a great price on looking ‘awesome’. However, I believe that selfie is a product of neo-narcissism. Neo-narcissism refers to the metro-sexual male and self-absorbed female’s obsession with their own outward persona, usually through an online medium. They go the gym everyday and become shopaholics to vent their continuous desire for public adoration. They are tacky and attention-seeking not because there is some Freudian malfunction with their personality, but because it’s ‘cool’. They make annoying status updates and enunciate when they talk (esp. in a foreign tongue). But most of all they click a ‘selfie’, because there is no better expression of narcissism. Selfie has taken neo-narcissism to greater heights. People turn their backs on magnificent landscapes and jaw-dropping phenomena to capture it as a background for their selfie. Neo-narcissism is not merely a theory or thesis, it has become a cause. A cause worth dying for. Only a few months back, a man valiantly laid down his life while trying to click a selfie with a gun to his temple.

I don’t strive to be pedantic but you have to admit, every time you throw a fit when your broadband stops responding or your data connection conks off, you are a little ashamed of yourself and your nagging need to stay connected. Connecting to the social network is great and all, but overdoing it to the point of committing collective suicides online, not so much. While a selfie is not so violent and disturbing, it is indeed pointlessly temporal. Why would we choose to stare at the camera and not at the world unfolding around us is beyond me. I do occasionally indulge in a selfie myself, but the attraction is too weak to last. Almost always, it evokes the desire to utilize one’s time a little better in the future.

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