Early 21st century: from “SELF” + “IE,” says the Oxford Dictionary Online, and since my generation still remembers Internet Explorer (I.E., see), I want to smile. Then I want to paint, whiten, and Willow-filter my smile on Instagram, except I can’t without making a statement: The selfie is self-exploration. It’s self-ex_ploit_ation. It is harmless, fun. It’s narcissism gone wild. No, it’s female narcissism, which didn’t you know is redundant, unless it’s “feminist narcissism” by which we mean self-love so please go fuck yourself. Or it is neither feminist nor female but rather the male gaze internalized and viral, in which case it is nothing but harm, and also is making us stupid. But what if it’s self-portraiture? Then who’s stupid? You, who cannot draw a simple line from the nose of Picasso to Miley’s tongue.
My problem with this last, ultimate defense of the selfie is the assumption it needs defending at all. We have been depicting cool animals since the #LOLMAMMOTHS of the Chauvet Caves, yet pseudo-historians are not lining up around Greenpoint to place the cats of Instagram in a lustrous tradition of art. Likewise, I have not read twenty-eight minor essays defending Thanksgiving dinner pics as new Dutch-masterly still lifes. The face alone has launched a thousand think pieces. So now the question is not one of basic selfie-justification, but rather, why must a photo of my face be justified when a photo of my bookshelf is not?