Bring Back the Shame
It seems that under the omnipotent guise of progression, our society has willingly thrown away invaluable household mores, such as respect for elders, social etiquette and, most importantly, shame.
Shame has played an important role throughout human history. In times before the law dictated our collective moralities, shame helped us navigate the shifting tides of right and wrong.
To be accepted into society, which you were dependent on for food, water, shelter, safety and inclusion, you had to play by the rules. Now we get our food from Woolies regardless of our social worth, rely on the law to protect us from each other and can interact without actually talking to anyone.
Since the advent of smart phones – which have provided us with the ability to document, photograph, narrate and share our lives 24 hours a day to anyone scrolling past – shame has waned.
It is now socially acceptable to sit on the beach, take multiple pictures of yourself and then upload them to the internet. And you are not alone, there are currently over 23 million photos uploaded on Instagram with the hashtag #selfie, and 51 million with the hashtag #me.
Recent studies in England found that narcissism is on the rise. Thanks to smartphones everyone is capable of manipulating their “active online identities”. Instead of relying on spontaneous interaction, we can tailor our identities to ideality. We are also encouraged by our peers to promote these ‘identities,’ through views and likes and comments.
Emily Cook, a British selfie-taker, comments on the benefits of selfies to the BBC: “you know that if you’re not feeling great, there’s someone who will ‘like’ your photo and tell you you’re pretty”.
Photographic masturbation is now celebrated when it was once admonished and ridiculed. The former irony of the term “selfie” has almost been forgotten as it bores its way into common vernacular.
Selfie-takers should be publicly berated for their self-indulgence, or at least led to a pool where they can follow Narcissus into a wet grave. I’m sure Nicéphore Niépce would join the mass suicide if he had predicted his invention would facilitate such sordid egotism.
Photographs were taken to preserve memories. They are now a medium for informing friends that you are on the beach and not just home alone sitting by your computer, eating microwave food while intermittently wanking – which is basically true anyways.
Does anyone see the absurdity in spending time with our friends taking photos of ourselves to put on Facebook to show our other friends who are not there who we are with and what we are doing? And to add to the confusion you can now get your most loved Selfies burnt onto toast.
I crashed at a friend’s place recently, who is totally stable and cool, and yet on my way to the fridge I caught her looking at Google images of vaginas. I asked her what the fuck she was doing, hoping for some lesbian backstory, and was disgusted when she told me “I am thinking about getting vagina surgery because I think mine looks weird.” This comment, I have no doubt, is in direct correlation with her excessive Instagram use. No woman would naturally consider vaginicide otherwise. It is the constant sculpting and manipulation of our ‘active online identities’ that is setting the unrealistic bar of what is beautiful or even normal.
Furthermore, let us not permit Go-pro photography to exist unashamed. Along with food, water, toilet paper, flint and bear-mace, the selfie stick is now thrown into the backpack of necessary equipment. For less than $50, with no additional shame, you can ensure that the least popular of the group is always invited to the picture party.
American festivals Coachella and Lollapalooza recently banned the sticks as a result of pressure from artists. The artists were complaining that the selfie sticks were a distraction from the music. The Australian Soundwave followed, actively shaming them as “wands of narcissism”.
With the coupling of photographs, videos, a keyboard, and heaps of time alone, you can also master the skill of a constantly updating stream of your life activities. It was only recently that the discussion around Facebook vs. real human interaction was pulsing with opinion, judgment and shame. Since, a tidal-wave of acceptance has cleansed our collective social media sins and rebirthed this activity as a social norm.
Street photographer, Babycakes Romero, has attempted to document the “death of conversation” by taking photographs of weddings, dates and dinners, where all participants are choosing to “plug in” rather than participate in conversation. And because this is a growing norm we can now go to dinner with our girlfriend and peruse the menu, order, wait for meals, piss, shit, eat and pay without having to make eye contact, and can leave with our minds free from shame.
What social event besides the one that you exist in can possibly be more important? How long has it been since people shared a silence without robotically grabbing for their phones and thrusting it up to their faces, shielding them from the prospect of stillness? Fuck, I feel as if these ugly, pathetic, sad, idiotic, socially reprehensible activities used to be totally stigmatized, shamed and effectively controlled. Now they are permeating our social landscape unchecked, making dystopias like Forster’s The Machine Stops not so much a prophecy but a reflection of present reality.
A Director of Psychology Research in Boston, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, observes that “culturally, people aren’t supposed to self-promote or brag”. Rutledge argues that self-promotion creates separation and distinction, and is linked to the ego. And this is right. Humbleness and modesty are deserving of respect, while self-indulgence and bragging are made to shame.
We need to reignite the debate against runaway social media, and #bringbacktheshame.
Maintaining eye contact while sharing a silence is daunting, but if you push through and allow your brains and imaginations a moment to conjure, they will provide.
I also share the sense of loss when I leave an awesome place without tangible evidence of my experience, but that is the beauty of transience and impermanence, and taking a picture of it won’t slow the tide of time.
As for selfies for the sake of selfies, there is no justification. I believe they stem from a psychological impairment that needs to be judged, diagnosed and shamed, so that the patient can be empowered to achieve something worthwhile. After all, you don’t want your only legacy to be a thousand photos of your face.
Our current lack of shame is obviously stark. So how do we effectively shame these people without completely alienating them from society, thus making them radicals and attaching them to their flaws? The answer is Reintegrative Shaming, a form of criminal punishment “administered as a sanction by the community, which is thought to strengthen the moral bond between the offender and the community”.
So next time you see a person stretching their arm out, with their hand grasping their second brain, fucking scream, “Narcissist!” smash their phone, and kick sand in their face. Then offer them a beer and fucking talk to them.