Kieran Davey investigates the popularity of the photo craze that is dominating social media in ‘Picture This!’
It was the photo that ‘broke Twitter’. The Oscars, the most star-studded of events, had provided the most star-studded of photos which within minutes became a viral internet sensation. Inspired by show host Ellen DeGeneres, Twitter’s most retweeted image- or ‘selfie’- was born as Hollywood greats such as Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep joined DeGeneres to create their own piece of history, photographed by a beaming Bradley Cooper.
We are now living in the age of the selfie. For those of you still scratching your heads in confusion, selfies are a type of self-portrait typically taken using a camera phone, with either with the camera held at arms-length, or taken directly into a mirror. A survey last year found that Brits take 35 million selfies every month, and the term itself was even named by the Oxford Dictionary as their ‘Word of the Year’ for 2013.
Unsurprisingly, the rise of the selfie culture is closely linked to the social media revolution. Whether it’s sharing your best photos on Facebook, linking them on Twitter, or editing for Instagram, selfies have become a key part of communicating with friends and family during our daily lives. Of course these photo opportunities aren’t just for the teenage media addict either. The Oscars photo was retweeted 1.7 million times in the hour after it was shared, shattering the previous record, Barack Obama’s victory photo from his 2012 presidential election victory.
Step into the world of celebrity selfies and there’s a vast array of reality television stars, actors and even politicians jumping on the bandwagon. Last December, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins snapped himself while performing repairs on the International Space Station, and even Pope Francis surprised worshippers by posing with tourists at the Vatican last year. Some celebrity selfies are more controversial though. Prime Minister David Cameron was widely condemned recently for photographing himself on the phone to Barack Obama for talks on the political situation in Ukraine, tweeting his followers to show his ‘direct line to the White House’. In short, it seems the whole world has gone selfie-mad.
Not even the Oscars photo escaped the criticism that taking selfies can bring. Cynics pointed out that DeGeneres’ Samsung phone was used for the photo, the same mobile network rumored to have paid a reported $20 million (£12m) to sponsor the event. Similarly, DeGeneres was also heard talking before the show about how to produce the break the retweet record, ruining the apparent spontaneity that selfies are supposed to create. Nevertheless it was a cracking selfie- it’s hardly your average photo when its participants share 8 Oscars between them, with a combined gross earnings of £7.35 billion.
So what is the great lure of selfie-taking? Whether it’s your typical awards ceremony, or you’re simply out for a casual night out, selfies have allowed their takers to record where they are, and what they’re doing. Group selfies have become especially popular, if only for the exciting challenge of how many people can be fitted into one camera frame. Critics have argued they are simply epitomizing a society obsessed with their mobile phones and new technology, and also reflect just how vain young people in particular have become. Forget filling your camera with endless streams of film, new mobile technologies have allowed us to take near unlimited snaps and trawl through them in search of that ‘perfect’ image of yourself. Concerned that you’re squinting too much for that selfie? Pressing the delete button it is. Not quite capturing your best side? Luckily Facebook and Twitter will never have to know.
Of course these are problems that the likes of Pitt and Lawrence will rarely face. While many will resent the world’s biggest film awards being overshadowed by a simple photograph, there is little question that selfies have become a significant part of popular culture today. It remains to be seen whether selfies are here to stay, or like the Harlem Shake and ‘Neknominate’, will soon become just another fad consigned to history.