The Self

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are –Anais Nin

The fear of the unknown is a very real aspect of society. We see it in racism, it’s always present during political elections and rally’s, we even see it through the coverage of weather patterns. My bone to pick here, is that we have a tendency to move on. To throw an assumption over it, cover it up, make it easy to understand, and then move on. I don’t claim to be perfect and not take part in this, I’m sure there has been situations that I have created a nice blanket of assumption.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we see things how we want them to appear, which is thoroughly based on our context.

Our context is our upbringing, our culture, our learning, our eagerness to indulge in other cultures, and our fear of them, our political environment, our friends, the media, our research etc.

Someone may post a selfie, whether it be unaltered or heavily filtered, and feel empowered. Another person may view this same selfie, and see it as a narcissistic grab for attention. It completely depends on each ones context.

“cultural literacy is not just a nice idea; it’s an ethical prerequisite”– (Senft & Baym, 2015)

This quote really sung out to me when I was reading up on this topic. Our keyboard warriors have this immense ability to hack away at someones self-esteem, or bolster it up, and it’s all reliant upon their cultural literacy.

Recently, there was an ad campaign for Australia day that featured two girls in headscarfs. Personally, I thought it was great that we were finally acknowledging a few of the diverse range of cultures that Australia is lucky to be home to, but some people saw this as wrong. Due to fear, ignorance, or cultural illiteracy this campaign that was originally empowering, became an image of disempowerment as it was circulated and removed as a result of racism. However, this was turned around by Ms Madigan. The sign returned and with a powerful message of support, as people pledged money towards its return. This story represents the strong effect that comments from people have on the effect of an image, or a selfie.

The ad campaign recently for Australia day featured a billboard sized image of two girls in headscarfs. I saw this image and thought not much of it. Australia is compromised of a multitude of cultures. To me it’s nothing new, and honestly nothing significant. Definitely not something that deserves to be taken down and campaigned against. But because of those peoples ignorance, fear and context that is what they believed should happen. It turned an empowering image, into a metaphor for disempowerment as it became the subject to huge amounts of racist hate. But then turned around again to become an image of empowerment due to the campaign to get the billboard back up again. The same is true for the opposite side of our double-edged sword. If the photographer behind the selfie is culturally ignorant, an image that they perceived to be empowering, can be severely damaging to themselves and/or the culture they are immersed within.

On the flip side, a selfie can be taken with good intention and distributed within the public sphere, and it isn’t until the public respond that the photographer realises an alternate message behind it. Shapira is one of those members of the public that ensures people become aware of the cultural history of their selfies. He launched a project called Yolocaust in which he publicly shamed selfies that had been taken at the site of a memorial for the victims Holocaust. An email that is on his website perfectly explains this idea of cultural literacy affecting our perception of images;

If you knew me you would [get it] too. But when it gets shared, and comes to strangers who have no idea who I am, they just see someone disrespecting something important to someone else or them.

Being culturally ignorant, and assigning your identity to that can be incredibly socially damaging. Whilst being ignorant and assigning your opinion to a selfie can be incredibly emotional damaging.

Senft, T & Baym, N, 2015. “What Does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon”, International journal of Communication, Vol. 9, pp. 1588-1606.

Stav, Z 2017. ” Selfie-Inflicted wounds: making the world safe from idiots, one shaming at a time”, Downtime, Vol. 56.


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