Selfies and the self: what they say about us and society
RIO DE JANEIRO - AFP
The selfie craze speaks volumes about the era in which we live: How images race around the globe and can dominate public discourse, eliciting strong emotions and even blurring the lines of reality.
Sometimes, that can be a very toxic mix, experts say.
"We are truly in the age of the picture, of the fleeting image," said psychoanalyst, essayist and philosophy professor Elsa Godart.
"The selfie marks the arrival of a new sort of language that plays on the way we see ourselves, on our emotions."
Selfies are everywhere you look on social media.
Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are flooded with the knowing poses: A teenager with her kitten, a Chinese man in front of the Eiffel Tower, newlyweds at Disneyland, a fan with a movie star.
Selfies "put us in touch with a lot more people," said Brazilian psychoanalyst Christian Dunker.
For Pauline Escande-Gauquie, an expert in the study of signs or symbols, "the goal is above all to create or strengthen one's links with a particular community with your fans if you're a celebrity, or with everyday citizens if you are a politician."
The selfie is designed to create a heightened memory of an experience: Usually snapped from above, at flattering angles, with an interesting background, selfies allow the total control of one's image.
Selfie-takers often put themselves at the center of all things.
"It is not a narcissistic problem, because narcissism is very positive, but a problem of ego, and overvaluation of the self," said Godart, author of "I take selfies, therefore I am."
That overvaluation craves as many "likes" as possible and can betray a self-centered me-me-me mentality.
Spectacular selfies allow a person to show off their best side because they are often staged in phenomenal settings.
Selfies are also a tool for activists; environmentalists posting 'before' and 'after' pictures of beaches for clean-up campaigns or supporters of breastfeeding posing with a suckling infant.
"It's very intimate but there is a real message behind it," said Escande-Gauquie.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has used selfies as a political tool, to challenge the communist rulers in Beijing or show support for migrants risking death to cross the Mediterranean.
Celebrities deploy the selfie to promote their business interests, every time Kim Kardashian poses nude for her 141 million Instagram followers, it makes headlines.
Five times more deadly than shark attacks
Between October 2011 and November 2017, at least 259 people died taking selfies around the globe, according to India's Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, compared to just 50 people killed by sharks in the same period.
While women take the most selfies, young men, who are more prone to take risks, make up three quarters of the selfie deaths in drownings, crashes, falls or shooting accidents.
India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion and 800 million cell phones, holds the record for the number of people dying in the act of photographing themselves, with 159 recorded so far. That is more than half of the global total and a testament of sorts to the nation's love of group photos and its youthful population.
India has seen selfie-snapping groups of youths die when they were hit by a train or drowning when their boat sank at the moment they were clicking the shutter.
The situation has become so dire that India has set up "no selfie" zones -- 16 of them in the city of Mumbai alone.
The country came in far ahead of Russia (16 deaths), the United States (14) and Pakistan.
In Russia, people have fallen from bridges and high-rise buildings, shot themselves or even died while handling a land mine. Police issued a guide to "selfies without danger" in 2015.
In the United States, most of those involved in selfie deaths fatally shot themselves while seeking the perfect pose. A number of people have fallen to their deaths at the Grand Canyon.
Rescue services in Croatia used Twitter to ask tourists to "stop taking stupid and dangerous selfies" after a Canadian miraculously survived a 75-meter fall in the Plitvice lakes region.
In January, Taiwanese social media celebrity Gigi Wu, known as the "Bikini Climber" for taking selfies on top of mountain peaks dressed in a bikini, died when she fell into a ravine. She was 36.
Even when they are not fatal, selfies can be extremely macabre. In 2014, a Brazilian woman sparked rage online when she took a smiling selfie in front of the coffin of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos at his funeral.