I wonder what today’s youth, as they age and mature, will think about the contribution of the Selfie to mankind? Critics pass judgment on the Selfie phenomenon as a form of mass narcissistic self-indulgence—a visual parallel to Macbeth’s famous quote: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I sometimes find myself thinking along those lines, except when I am the one taking the Selfie or shooting picture upon picture of wholly inane stuff—like price tags on furniture and end-the-game scoreboards. Honestly.
But to better understand the Selfie phenomenon, we need to clarify that narcissism is more than an obsession with oneself and more than a compulsion to see repeatedly our own image. Narcissism is actually not self-referential—inwardly directed. It is the opposite. Narcissism is dependent upon, and references with, the outer world—the other person. Only through the continuous reinforcement by the feedback of others can we be reminded that we do exist—perchance to be the fairest of them all. The Selfie pretext often is quite harmless. But the dynamics of narcissism also can be dangerous and harmful—especially so, when, like Narcissus, we awaken to the reality that our Selfie image is not really us. That realization can be devastating, even when hide it from ourselves or others.
In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, when the evil Queen cries out, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all,” it is not simply an affirmation of her beauty that she seeks, for surely her mirror’s reflection reveals her (cold) beauty. But the Evil Queen’s mirror is animated by a grossly distorted image (her inner self?), which tells her that her beauty is surpassed by Snow White—thus throwing her into a homicidal rage.
In current times, we need look no further than our President, whose obsession with Twitter and unceasing sexual conquests, demonstrate the powerfully seductive lure and inherently unsatisfying consequence of narcissism. Although they are extreme examples, the Evil Queen and Donald Trump demonstrate how the boundless appetite of narcissism can never be satisfied.
Our everyday use of the Selfie is not inherently pathological. But when we find ourselves continually engrossed in endless taking and sending Selfies, we would be wise to pause and ask ourselves, how much is enough? The reference point of narcissism and the Selfie phenomenon may be external, but the discovery of why our souls seem forever hungry can only be found within.