Exhibit A: Lena Dunham's Underwear
This selfie from Dunham is somewhat inexplicable. It shows her halfway in (or halfway out of) her pantyhose.
Pros: Dunham's frequent nudity on her show Girls has been the subject of controversy since the show started. By showing nudity that isn't titillating on the show, it may help to regain women's bodies from the power of the male gaze. Posting this weird picture which is anything but titillating can be seen as part of that program.
Cons: What the heck is up with this picture? It looks almost as if she's contorting to get under the bridge here, or maybe she's trying to make it a hat? It seems that no-one should be wanting to share an image like that, much less have any of the rest of us look at it!
Exhibit B: Miley Cyrus' "Don't Call Me Ugly" Picture
Cyrus likes having fun with her fans, and sometimes he comes up with some strange ones, such as when she recently posted a selfie of herself wearing big fake teeth and hanging with her dog as she carried out a conversation wishing people wouldn't call her ugly.
Pros: On the Internet, everyone can become a troll, and many people make statements without considering the human element. Cyrus' response calls these people out in a lighthearted way that shows she might not take them too seriously.
Cons: Criticism comes as a natural part of the celebrity lifestyle, and when celebs lash out this way, it looks like the pouting of a spoiled child. If Cyrus or others like her don't want to be in the spotlight, all they have to do is stop.
Exhibit C: James Franco's Eye Pads
Franco Instagrammed a picture of himself lying in bed with medicated pads under his eyes. Apparently, he's concerned about bags under his eyes.
Pros: Gender is a construct. Men learn how to be men by watching other men do it, especially celebrities. By showing himself trying to look beautiful, he sends a message to other men that it's okay to be concerned about their facial appearance.
Cons: Why do we care about anybody's beauty regimen? There's a reason why women wearing face masks and cucumbers at night have been a staple in comedy for at least 50 years: it's a ridiculous thing that nobody wants to see, neither from a woman nor a man.
Exhibit D: Ashley Rickards' Wisdom Tooth Extraction
At a pause during her wisdom tooth extraction, Rickards had a picture taken of her cuddling her Ugg slipper, gauze trailing from the corners of her mouth, and looking a little dazed.
Pros: Adolescents are lax on oral hygiene and any time a celebrity posts something even mildly positive about a visit to the dentist's office, dentists breathe a sigh of relief.
Cons: Uh, yeah, talk about Awkward. Self-indulgent shots of people in these kinds of routine situations don't forward any cause but their own drive to self-promotion.
Exhibit E: Astronaut Aki Hoshide
Hoshide took this selfie while floating outside the International Space Station in 2012, using not your typical smartphone, but a camera on the end of a robotic arm.
Pros: Unlike most of these selfies, this one shows someone in an extraordinary situation, reminding us that we live in an age of wonders, and that the selfie itself is one of these wonders. It is by the efforts of individuals such as these that the human endeavor is constantly climbing to new heights.
Cons: The only con I can see here is that it casts all the rest of these selfies into sharp relief, emphasizing that people should be spending more time appreciating and promoting their great achievements and those of others rather than wasting their time on their daily minutiae.
What Do You Think?
Based on this evidence, is the selfie a sign of our impending implosion as a society and as a species, or does it help us move forward with a better understanding of who we are and what we can become.
Dr. Matthew B. Candelaria (PhD, U of Kansas 2006) is a literature scholar and Internet writer with a fascination of and focus on pop culture. His scholarly work has focused on the intimate relationship between humans and vermin, and the shattering impact of technology on society.