The performing selfie

1028-Carnival-selfiePhoto by Mark Lyndersay

If you went to Carnival and didn’t take a selfie, Instagram it, Facebook it and Tweet it, did it even happen?

There’s a very interesting interview on Global Voices about Trinidad’s 2016 carnival last month from which photographer Sarita Rampersad created a collection of revelers taking selfies. What a great idea! We here in Guyana are definitely living in the age of the selfie and there would be ample opportunity to create a similar collection. We did not have Mash this year so maybe someone can take this up at the 50th? Maybe I’ll do it, who knows?

It used to be argued that taking photos at events and attempting to memorialize experiences detract from being in the present and fully enjoying the moment. Now, we’ve moved to a whole other level where we’d probably be grateful for more photos of what’s happening around us and less photos of duck faces with little to no reference to actual physical context in our photos. It’s enough these days to have a photo of just oneself with a caption explaining why the photograph is significant – “Enjoying Carnival” says the caption while the photo only shows the author in a suitably denuded state. But really, that person could be in his/her bedroom and you wouldn’t even know! (Some day someone is going to do this – pretend to go places and take selfies in their bedroom to document it)

Ms. Rampersad isn’t really complaining about selfie culture per se. In fact, she’s quite diplomatic about it, trying to suggest instead that it may detract from the experience but only depending on what you’re going to Carnival for. She admits that for some, it may actually meet their needs/goals.

What I found most interesting from this interview was the following (bold):

Q: If you were to predict how we play mas in 10 years, what would it be like?

SR: On the flip side […] technology is also dictating the way we play mas, making us more performers for a camera, and less revelers losing ourselves in the experience.

Ms. Rampersad thinks that selfies are a form of performance, and one can see the neat logic behind this idea. After all, it’s not really possible to take a spontaneous selfie. The whole appeal of the selfie is staging – being able to control the image. Most people don’t even like to take selfies with a rear facing camera because they can’t see what’s being caught.

Selfies are all the rage in Guyana. I’m not sure I took any before I moved here. It just… wasn’t something I did. Not because I was that cool but because it was 2011 and the word selfie had yet to join the Oxford Dictionary – it just wasn’t part of my vocabulary. But come 2012 it did make it to the dictionary and into my understanding of Things that are Totally Normal to Do. At first it seemed self obsessive and narcissistic. Then I noticed people I find relateable (you know, normal people) doing it and it seemed more… tempting. Everyone had all these fabulous looking photos of themselves floating around. Why couldn’t I have that too? I only resisted it so long in part because intuition told me no matter who was doing it, it was pretty contrived and not just a little self involved. But mostly because life has taught me that everything tempting and delicious is ultimately bad for you and everything that’s good for you is boring and probably corilla. Who wants corilla when you can have cake? But corilla doesn’t make you fat and is very good for your blood sugar levels. See?

In any case, I couldn’t hold out against the normals although I’m happy to report I’ve managed to avoid the selfie with completely unrelated “inspirational” quote caption. But the selfies are here. And probably here to stay.

So, I admit: selfies are performances. But what part of Carnival is not a performance? The costumes? The liquor induced merriment? The giant party in the streets? Is a giant party in the street really a spontaneous thing that just naturally occurs? If it is, why doesn’t it happen at other times of the year and where is my flash mob? Aren’t all national holiday observances performances in some respect? Aren’t all personal milestone celebrations (birthdays, weddings, baby showers)?

Aren’t these all necessary performances to communicate to the world at large some meaning or the other? Last month we observed Republic Day in Guyana. There was an event held to “celebrate” it. Some people didn’t go. Apparently, according to some persons who did go, a lot of the people who didn’t go were Indo-Guyanese. What followed was a discussion lamenting the lack of patriotism of Indo-Guyanese, inferred from their apparent absence at the event. I’m not going to argue that this is a rather low bar for measuring a person’s patriotism because I trust you, smart reader, to already know this. I just wanted to point out that some clearly understand that the point of the Republic Day celebration performance is to communicate patriotism to the world at large.

What percentage of a self aware human’s life isn’t a performance? Who isn’t performing at the office? Who really likes being fully clothed in the tropics? I’m pretty sure most people strip down as soon as they get through the door – in which case, I’m quite happy most of us manage to keep our clothes on outdoors.

I think that we have many roles to play and many performances to give in our lifetime and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But maybe being aware of our performances might help us re-evaluate which ones truly add meaning to our lives and the lives of others and which might assume the appearance of meaningfulness but really lack substance and value at the end of the day.

Now, excuse me while I fetch my selfie stick.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s