Monday, January 6, 2014

James Franco's selfie cogitations

Aren't we all exhibitionists?

Find here Mr. James Franco's musings on the topic of the selfie:
Selfies are something new to me, but as I have become increasingly addicted to Instagram, I have been accused of posting too many of them. I was called out on the “Today” show, and have even been called the selfie king. Maybe this is so, but only because I’ve learned that the selfie is one of the most popular ways to post — and garner the most likes from followers.
I find diverting Mr. Franco's admission of his addiction to Instagram, but his is a half-assed reason, particularly if coming from a Ph.D. candidate @ Yale for, what is it? English Lit.?

Franco is not alone.

But that wouldn't be fair without a bit of background. Selfies are not new. In art we have this genre known as "self-portrait."

Rembrandt had close to 100 selfies to document his entire life.

Modern photographers indulged in selfies: 

The theatrical selfie: Gertrud Arndt (1930's)
A favorite of mine: Lee Friedlander (1997)

The metaphysical selfie: Francesa Woodman (late 1970's?)

They created portrait documents that negotiated self-image with stylistic concerns.  

What's new now is the empty narcissism and the endless cacophony.

In 1967, way before the selfie fever, Guy Debord proposed: Reified man advertises the proof of his intimacy with the commodity.

How does "reification" happen? 
Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society ... at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from. (III, 59).
(A propos, Franco belongs in a luminous cluster of Hollywood entities held together by film industry/market energy. It's called a *star*).

Debord addresses Franco almost by name:
The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. (...)  They embody the inaccessible result of social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. (III, 60).
 Indeed, we crave this "projection" of inaccessibility. Here is the magic part:
(...) the spectacle (...) takes up all that existed in human activity in a fluid state so as to possess it in a congealed state ... (II, 35).
Let's contrast the former with some of Franco's cogitations:
 I can see which posts don’t get attention or make me lose followers: those with photos of art projects; videos telling the haters to go away (in not so many words); and photos with poems. (Warning: Post your own, and you’ll see how fast people become poetry specialists and offer critiques like “I hate you, you should die.”)
How does one know someone pays attention? How many people could check out Franco's Instagram posts (and like them, hate them --or neither) without leaving a trace? Attention (even from haters) could mean circulation!

Franco is right, but does he care WHY poetry & art posts automatically become a distant second to a vapid selfie?

Here the actor has a difficult time explaining himself:
But a well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention. And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking. In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed. It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible.
"Most privileged perspective possible?"

Undoubtedly privileged.

Since when is media spectacle truth-preserving? 

Besides, Franco's attention = power formula is too simplistic. Not all attention matters the same, and not all attention is by far a proof of power because quantity alone doesn't cut it.

Here's Debord again addressing "quantitative triviality":
(...) spectacular abundance (...) develops into a struggle of vaporous qualities meant to stimulate loyalty to quantitative triviality. This resurrects false archaic oppositions (...)  which serve to raise the vulgar hierarchic ranks of consumption to a preposterous ontological superiority. Wherever there is abundant consumption, a major spectacular opposition (...) comes to the fore among the false roles (...) things rule and are young; things confront and replace one another. (III, 62)
As Debord would have it the magic of reification happens not because of some cluelessness on behalf of Franco's Instagram visitors. It is the overall spectacle (of which Franco is merely an infinitesimal fighting for attention) which stupefies people into conformism, isolation, petty surveillance, boredom and repetitive malicious gossip.

Is this sort of power worth it?

You are ≈ horizontal & you feel... tired? bored? stoned? 

The saddest part is that Franco doesn't seem completely clueless.
Of course, the self-portrait is an easy target for charges of self-involvement, but, in a visual culture, the selfie quickly and easily shows, not tells, how you’re feeling, where you are, what you’re doing. 
 Really?

3 comments:

Feminista said...

Triff, you're back and am so happy.

Mert Eskicioglu said...

http://trippyjae.blogspot.com/

optimisticeyes said...

ohhhh, the selfie. don't we love them..