While wandering around the internet in search of something to divert our gaze from that gruesome presidential race, we happened upon a story about the rising toll of deaths resulting from “selfies.” We like to think ourselves the compassionate and nonjudgmental type, but we’re not so stone-hearted that we didn’t have to suppress a slight chuckle about it.
If you’re not au courant on the latest hep cat lingo, “selfie” is the neologism that probably best sums up our sorry zeitgeist. It’s broadly defined as a cell phone camera self-portrait, taken from arm’s length or a slightly wider angle with help of a “selfie stick” that some people apparently carry around, which is then shared with the self-portraitist’s friends on Facebook and Instagram and other social media, another newfangled nuisance we still like to call “social media,” with the quote marks there to express our hope it will soon go away. In some cases they depict the self-portraitist enjoying a satisfying meal at a nondescript chain restaurant or running into an old classmate or becoming so pleasantly drunk they felt compelled to share some documentation of the moment with their friends, in others they document that the self-portraitist was in camera range of some famous landmark or minor celebrity or ongoing natural disaster, and in some cases they depict the self-portraitist engaging in some sort of derring-do.
That lattermost genre has recently led to the deaths of two tourists standing astride the dangerous cliffs overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru, and the Conde Nast travel company is reporting that around the globe “selfies” have lately claimed more tourists’ lives than sharks. There’s already one of those newfangled Wikipedia pages devoted to the phenomenon, and it reports that other “selfie”-induced deaths involved a fellow who was electrocuted standing atop an electric train, another falling down the stairs of the Taj Mahal, and yet another posing with a walrus. Cliff-falling and drowning seem to be the most common sorts of fatal “selfies,” but sooner or later someone is bound to perish by posing for a “selfie” with a shark, and we guess the Conde Nast people will have to score that as a tie.
We lament these tragic deaths, being such compassionate and nonjudgmental types, despite having to suppress that slight chuckle, but we also lament the whole idea of the “selfie.” To get all Ecclesiastical on you, the whole “selfie” thing always brings to mind that fine Old Testament wisdom about “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” That ugly “selfie” coinage somehow signifies to us all the self-regard and self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement that makes for such an ugly zeitgeist, and we can’t wait for the fad to pass.
Most of the “selfie” fatalities so far seem to have been foreigners, but we’ve long been embarrassed that the current President of the United States is also an avid cell phone self-portraitist. He’s embarrassed himself and the country by posing for a smiling “selfie” with that hot Denmark Prime Minister at former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and he’s one of those people who carry around a “selfie stick” for some reason, and if he does somehow manage to make the sea levels lower in his lame duck months in office we’re sure he’ll be there to document the occasion at an arm’s length or longer. His likely successor’s only redeeming qualities are that they’re such old geezers neither claims to be au courant on the latest hep cat lingo.
The presumptive Republican Presidential nominee is a force on “Twitter” but always allows himself to be photographed from more than an arm’s or “selfie stick” distance, and the presumptive Democratic nominee is offering her geezer Luddite tendencies as an excuse for her should-have-been-indicted e-mail practices, and although both are by now probably right up there with the the bald spot in self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ head and the various Kardashians in the number of “selfies” taken with them neither is guilty of the practice. Still, they both seem so typically-of-the-zeitgeist self-regarding and self-centered and self-aggrandizing that there’s no respite anywhere on the internet.
— Bud Norman