The Selfie: The Modern, Digital Self-Portrait

By Erin Whitney

We’ve all done it, whether in a restaurant’s bathroom mirror, while stopped in traffic, or at any time or place we think we’re attractive enough to share our looks with the world. It’s called the selfie, and before you toss your hands up in denial, just accept that you’re guilty. Everyone is.

selfie portrait gallery London

The selfie sensation first took hold when MySpace became popular and every junior-high schooler (myself included) snapped endless photos of themselves for the oh-so-important default photo . (Remember how we called them “defaults” before they became “profile pics”? Unlike many unexpected and odd digital trends, the selfie hasn’t gone away, and has only gotten more ubiquitous.

Recently, two Brooklyn-based curators placed the selfie in the context of art with their exhibit the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery. (Mind you, these two also sold Vines as art pieces in a New York exhibition earlier this year.) The gallery, comprised of 30-second or shorter video installations by 19 visual artists from the U.S. and Europe, took place at the Moving Image Contemporary Art Fair in London last month. Each installation allowed artists to express their faces through video, ranging from a collage of made up of emojis and the Skype logo to a multi-split screen of one artist posing and singing to Lana Del Rey.

la-et-jc-selfie-is-the-oxford-word-of-the-year-001While it may sound absurd to put the ridiculous phenomenon known as the selfie into the same sentence as art, just think about it for a moment. As the exhibition’s curators Kyle Chayka and Marina Galperina told the Daily Beast, the selfie is actually a modern self-portrait, a digital rendering of the artist’s face. Vincent van Gogh did it, Rembrandt did it, so what makes your duck face on Facebook any different? Actually, a lot, since your photo with 32 likes is vastly different from such revered paintings (although probably more reminiscent of Warholian concepts).

The most interesting aspect of the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery is that it does not propose the ridiculous notion that the selfie is a work of art, or that the subject in it is even an artist. Instead, it analyzes the technology behind the image (or video), suggesting that perhaps these modern self-portraits tell us more about the constantly evolving digital age and the ways we use it for self-expression. Chayka and Galperina contend that the selfie functions as a sort of digital language understood by people of a variety of different backgrounds, something that anyone with a smartphone can now take part in.

The title of the installation by artist Jayson Musson pretty much sums up the gallery’s concept entirely: The Inherent Problematics of a Technology-Based Portraiture Method Eclipsing the Role of the Subject, Who, Really is No Longer the Subject at All. Rather the Technology Itself is, so Please Don't Be Taking No Selfies With a Fucking Windows Phone. That Shit is Deplorable Son.

Sorry to break it to you, but the most compelling aspect of your selfies isn’t you; it’s what you’re doing with that little bit of technology in your hands. Sure, you’re using it to perfectly craft how you want your Instagram feed to perceive you, but in the end, you’re really just sculpting a brief performance of your projected self via the tools of technology.


As Chayka and Galperina said, “We’re getting used to looking at everyone through a veil of performance,” a phenomenon they also dubbed a form of “digital self-branding.” Thanks to smartphones, filter apps, and social-media sharing, we have now democratized the self-portrait, or more accurately, the making of the self into a subject for constant audience observation (I’ll bet you look at more Instagram photos in a year than you do works of art in a museum).

So does this mean the selfie is an art form, the photographer is an artist, or the subject is worthy of the adoration we give it? Not necessarily. But what this phenomenon does allow us to consider is how digital technologies have, in a way, enabled any and everyone to express the self they want the world to see them as. Tilt your head to the right, fix your hair, put on your photo face, then slap on X-Pro II or maybe Toaster, and you’ve got your own digital self-portrait. Now, don’t go calling yourself an artist; just thank your smartphone and press “Post” already.

Top Photo Montage Courtesy of the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, Moving Image, London

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Holiday Movies You Can Stream
And Download Right Now!

By Erin Whitney

love actually copy

Colorful garlands and lights are decorating the streets, Christmas trees are making their way into homes. The holidays are here and there’s no better way to get in the spirit than with some festive films. Instead of stumbling into the middle of a holiday movie playing on TV, why not stream it in full online? From Christmas rom-coms to animated comedies, below are the best holidays movies to stream and download to help you celebrate the season.

Start the Christmas Countdown With ‘Love Actually’

This staple Christmas film is one of the best holiday romantic comedies that never seems to get old. Sure, it’s ridiculously cheesy and melodramatic, but who tires of Liam Neeson and the adorable Thomas Brodie-Sangster reenacting Kate and Leo, Bill Nighy’s raunchy rockstar, and Hugh Grant grooving to the Pointer Sisters? Watch it on: Netflix

Celebrate Hanukkah (Again!) With the Ridiculous ‘Eight Crazy Nights’

Adam Sandler’s animated Hanukkah movie is undeniably outrageous, but you can’t expect anything less from Sandler’s crude humor. While it’s not a great movie, or even a good one, it’s stupid, silly fun and best of all it features the hilarious “Chanukah Song.” Watch it on: VUDU

Lasso the Moon With ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

It’s almost impossible to celebrate Christmas without Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a holiday staple in almost every household. George Bailey, one of Jimmy Stewart’s most heartwarming characters, is shown what his life would’ve been like without him just as he’s about the jump off a bridge. His guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) reminds George to appreciate everything he has, even if it wasn’t the life he wanted. This classic 1946 holiday film may have a simple message, but even after repeated viewings, it will always make you emotional and thankful for the little things. Watch it on: Amazon Instant Video

Experience the Magic of Christmas With “Elf”

There’s hardly anything as funny and sweet as Will Ferrell’s giant-sized elf running around New York City like a child. We all remember when we jumped out and down over meeting Santa (it was a pretty big deal) and Ferrell’s buddy evokes that perfectly. If his goofy elf antics and inextinguishable holiday cheer don’t get you excited for Christmas, well, nothing will. Watch it on: VUDU

Get Innovative With ‘Home Alone’

If most of us were left home alone on Christmas at 12 years old, we’d likely act how Kevin McAllister did: freak out for the first few minutes, then do any and everything our rebellious childhood selves could dream of. But if robbers tried to break into our house, we likely wouldn’t have the same creative genius that Kevin has to make their lives hell. “Home Alone” is will satisfy your craving for a 90s throwback and a fun holiday movie, and also remind you how badly you wanted a Talkboy or Talkgirl for Christmas. Watch it on: Amazon Instant Video

Prepare for Christmas With ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales’

This animated TV special features the Peanut gang prepping for the holiday by writing letters to Santa, getting a Christmas tree, and ice-skating. Charlie Brown cartoons are always feel-good, easy watching that are perfect to put on while you’re wrapping presents or decorating the tree. Watch it on: Netflix

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Comedy Of the Offensive

By Erin Whitney

Race and gender stereotypes have long been a subject of comedy in various Internet media, a sensation that garnered mainstream attention with “Shit Girls Say” in 2011. The humorous series features a male in female drag reenacting stereotypical things women say and do. While it began as a Twitter feed, it eventually grew into a popular web series and sparked the “Shit People Say” video phenomenon. More and more videos were made for highlighting various demographic, such as occupation stereotypes (“Shit Web Designers Say”), lifestyle stereotypes (“Shit Vegans Say”), sexuality stereotypes (“Shit Gay Guys Say”), and so on.

This new form of internet comedy opened up a new field to express cultural anxieties felt towards certain demographics, since usually someone of the opposite type reenacted the video, mainly girls playing guys and vice versa. This form of humor was hardly harmful or offensive since large communities of people could relate and agreed on the veracity of the content, or at least found its exaggeration funny.
However, the playful humor took a turn when race became a factor, specifically when one race impersonated another in “Shit White Girls Black Girls.” In the 2012 video comedienne Franchesca Ramsey, a black girl, dons a blonde wig and, speaking in a valley girl voice, says a handful of things she believes white girls say to black girls. The video ignited debate over whether or not Ramsey’s video was a form of reverse racism, whether one race has the right to comment on another, and that if what the video depicts is reflective of society, are those who are angered (white girls) in denial of their behavior?
While it may seem like this phenomenon of using stereotypes comedically had died out after “Shit People Say” faded into the recent past, newer Internet mediums such as Vine prove otherwise. As my last blog introduced, there are a handful of Vine subgenres and one is none other than “Black People vs White People, ” which similarly play off of racial stereotypes humorously. In “White people vs black people reaction to magic” black men impersonate white people’s calm and reserved reaction to an off screen trick, then switch to play themselves reacting as they jump and holler in excitement. In a way, this Vine like Ramsey’s video could be perceived as offensive reverse racism since it shows one race commenting on another. Other Vines however, such as “Black guy listening to white people music,” shows both a black and a white guy commenting on one another, allowing for a more mutual stereotyping.
While these videos feel good-humored and playful, there are some Vines that go too far and come off as shockingly offensive. In “White mom vs. Black mom” a non-black woman calmly knocks on her son’s door asking him to unlock it, then switches to playing a black mother holding a belt who kicks down the door and, from what we can infer  from the loud slap and boy’s scream, beats her son. There are a variety of other “Black Mom vs White Mom” Vines that portray the white mother as timid and the black mother as violent, portrayed by both races.
Regardless of the debate of who has the right to poke fun at racial, gender, or sexuality stereotypes, all these videos bring up the more important question of why are we making them and laughing at them. The argument can be made that the more these anxieties towards people of other identities are expressed, especially with humor, the more they will go away or draw awareness to it. Yet there is also the reverse view that such forms of commentary only perpetuate stereotypes, strengthen stigmas, and further divide people of differing groups.
Sure, it’s harmless to highlight to moronic and silly things certain types of people say and do, but we must decide at what point the comedy turns cruel. At what point does the judgement shift from the subjects being made fun of in the videos to those acting them out? Defining the lines of politically correct humor, especially with race in mind, is incredibly difficult. But since when did comedy become about putting on a mask to, in a way, make fun of someone other than you? The comedienne should be someone who is involved in the humor, someone who is also shamed by it, not the one pointing a finger laughing. Perhaps we should shed this lazy and borderline-offensive humor and try looking at what we know for comedic inspiration. 
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Blockbusters: We Had Some Good Times!

By Erin Whitney

blockblockbustersIt hardly came as a surprise earlier this month when Blockbuster announced that all of its stores across the country would be closing. In our age of digital downloads, online streaming, and Redbox rentals, it’s more shocking that Blockbuster managed to survive as long as it did.

It’s puzzling to imagine why anyone of late would actually go into one of the brick-and-mortar stores to rent a movie -- although the last time I did wasn’t more than a few years ago, when I was looking for Hitchcock films that weren’t available online. With the addition of the company’s online streaming service, the thought of going to a Blockbuster to rent a DVD that you’d have to physically return in a few days seems simply absurd today.

We have to admit, however, memories of good ol’ video store renting definitely trigger a wave of nostalgia. I can think back to my earliest memories of picking out a VHS in a video store when I was five or six years old. It was a little shop in the Valley in L.A. called Video All Stars, back when a mom-and-pop video store was in every Albertson’s parking lot for your movie-watching convenience. I probably rented the “Look Who’s Talking” series more times that any human in history should be allowed. And although my Kindergarten self always knew I was going to walk out with the same VHS tapes, it was the act of stepping into a video store, scanning the racks, and possibly discovering something new.

It became an event to visit a Blockbuster store when I moved near one. I always rushed to the beginning of the New Releases section, starting at the front of the alphabet, carefully and methodically scanning each and every row of covers. For a young film fanatic like myself, picking out a selection of new movies to take home and watch was a thrill on par with a Toys ‘R’ Us visit. Racing to a store on the day of new releases to rent that new film I’d been itching to see usually turned into a city-wide expedition -- if one store was out of rentals, it was on to the next, then the next till I had a copy in my hands. But if a popular movie was simply out of stock, that just meant better luck next time and to go with your second choice.

That exciting mystery of not knowing whether you’ll be able to rent the movie you want is nearly extinct now. This summer’s biggest blockbusters can be found on iTunes or Netflix in minutes, while almost every Criterion Collection film is available on Hulu. There’s no doubting the wonders of streaming and online renting, as it’s allowing us to watch whatever film whenever we want, and for a cinephile like myself, that’s a dream come true. And honestly, if a Blockbuster did exist near my apartment, I would still choose Netflix, since it’s better and more efficient in every way.

But still, as with everything in the pre-digital age, there was something special and magical about journeying to the blue and yellow store, standing among rows of movies, and grabbing your own personal copy. Maybe I’m overwhelmed by the surplus of options today, maybe I miss the physical event of renting movies, or maybe I’m just another nostalgic kid of the ‘90s. But at least I don’t have to worry about those outstanding late fees anymore.

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