Sunday, 21 February 2016

Module 7: Identity, Representation & Selfies

Module 7: Identity, Representation & #Selfies (two weeks)

MACT Reading Week Feb. 15-21

Monday, Feb.22, 2016 - Sunday, March 6, 2016

  • Feb.22: As practise for your Selfie Assignment, tweet two #selfies (in two separate tweets) and include a short critique using the remainder of your character count
  • Feb. 29: As practise on weaving theory alongside your critique for your Selfie Assignment, read Lauren Katz’s “Say it with a Selfie: Protesting in the Age of Social Media” article and Crisia Miriou’s “The Selfies: Social Identities in the Digital Age” paper ALONGSIDE at least the first page of selfies on “Which Picture Would they Use?” at How do you interpet the selfies and how does the representation fit alongside the two articles and the theories of identity raised? Post your findings in a 2-3 paragraph response as a COMMENT on my Module post on the class blog
  • March 2: Tweet your thoughts/reflections/questions about any of this module’s readings
  • March 3, 7:00 pm: live e-class chat

Theory of the Selfie Assignment DUE by 23:59 March 6


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. One of my key questions when looking at the “What Picture Would They Use” page was who is the “they?” Is it the media? Is it the police? Just like people choose to present a different face for different audiences, different people “using” a photo would choose depending on the audience and the story they want to tell. In my experience with a death in the news, reporters use whichever photo is the fastest to find, cross reference with a name and confirm. If they can do that with more than one, for example a non-private Instagram or Facebook account, they will. If someone’s digital gallery included all kinds of photos, (pot smoke, graduation, short skirts, gangster signs), that variety would usually be shown.

    I understand the point of the question is not so much about the literal photograph, as much as the “picture” which may be painted by police to justify a shooting. There is a disconnect when a person feels empowered to choose how they want to portray their story through their image, as if they are the only ones able to add context to it.

    As in William James’ quote (in Miroiu, p. 3) a person “generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups.” So while one may show themselves dressed up as a bad-ass (like thericardodurand) for friends, and in a cap and gown for family, the choice of how the “real” person is perceived is up to the audience and the text story surrounding the photo. As much as one is trying to tell a narrative about themselves through the selection of selfies, just because the subject chooses the photo to post, doesn’t mean there is similar control about the context in which it is used or percieved. It is naïve to think otherwise.

    Further, because selfies are captured “to be shared on online media networking sites,” (Miroiu, p.9) there is in my opinion a magnification of the image being broadcast: the subject chose that photo and put it out there because they want people to see them as a gangster, or a pot smoker, or a good person.

    I agree with Katz that this kind of campaign can “bring selfies beyond narcissistic tendencies,” but it also is narcissistic in that it turns the lens and the idea inwards to the selecting of an image of oneself.

    If They Gunned Me Down Which Picture Would They Use? Retrieved from:

    Katz, L. (2014, May 10). Say it with a selfie: Protesting in the age of social media. All Tech Considered. Retrieved from:

    Miroiu, C. (2014). The Selfies: Social Identities in the Digital Age. Retrieved from:

  3. Adding to the comments above, “Which Picture Would They Use?” effectively demonstrates Mead’s notions of ‘play’ and the ‘the game’ as outlined in Miroiu (2014). Individually, each selfie represents ‘play’, the moment in time when one aspect of a person is captured and they are playing a specific role: partygoer, graduate, gang banger, father, traveller, militant, etc. That role may represent a part of them — or perhaps it is fictional! — but in either case it is unlikely to represent the totally of the person. Each moment is a mini narrative, with the subject playing a character in a particular setting during a particular event.

    The pairing of specific selfies by each individual acknowledges ‘the game’. It is here where the individual “pay[s] attention to the attitudes and behaviours of the other participants” (Miroiu, 2014), in this case how others might judge these isolated images through the lens of negative stereotypes. By pairing contrasting images and including the hashtag, participants recognize and challenge the judgement of others while preserving their multifaceted identities.

    Miroiu, C. (2014). The Selfies: Social Identities in the Digital Age. Retrieved from:

    1. Thanks Mark, for your interpretation of Mead's concept of 'play' and 'the game'. I actually found this explanation more helpful than that of Miriou. I particularly connect with your statement: "Each moment is a mini narrative, with the subject playing a character in a particular setting during a particular event".

      Another interpretation of this narrative "moment" comes from Brian Droitcour:

      [blockquote] "The selfie is abject, the residue of personhood’s digital and physical molting—images shed in square, flat flakes like bits of a snake’s skin, recording a body’s change".

      Such eloquence.

      Mark, I also like that you point to the "multifaceted identities" of participants in #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. It reminds me about our reading from Nathan Jurgenson, and the expectation that social media users should have a coherent identity without flaws. Participants in #IfTheyGunnedMeDown are highlighting the different aspects of their identities, embracing their "identities as more fluid" (Jurgenson, 2012). This is especially surprising, given that the #IFTheyGunnedMeDown participants are likely marginalized because of their race. Instead of choosing "selective (in)visibility ... [as] vulnerable populations" (Jurgenson, 2012), they're participating in the online conversation apparently without misgivings.


      Droitcour, B. (26 April, 2013). Selfies and Selfiehood [blog]. Retrieved March 1, 2016, from

      If They Gunned Me Down Which Picture Would They Use? Retrieved March 1, 2016 from

      Jurgenson, N. (2012, November 26).“Glad I Didn’t Have Facebook In High School!” - Cyborgology. Retrieved March 1, 2016, from

  4. Posting a photo of yourself with a message makes a bigger statement than simply tweeting a hashtag or anonymously signing an online petition (Katz, 2014). The If They Gunned Me Down hashtag is part of a campaign that focuses on a much large issue happening in America. While these photos use a hashtag instead of a sign, each post becomes immediately personalized, and the hashtag allows each poster to be linked together in hashtag activism. This definitely goes far beyond narcissism.

    Everyone has various layers to our identity. There is more to each of us than what each selfie captures. Comparing and contrasting two images shows the various sides of them. We are not just scholars, musicians, or out to just party, and sometimes what we look like in a selfie isn't who we are at all, but rather the purpose of the selfie was to document an activity or experience that is important to the individual. Without context, it leaves the audience guessing, and they could be guessing very wrong.

    Not working in the media, I can not be sure how photos are selected. Jenn's answer to that seems perfectly reasonable. But I also think that may depend on the company doing the reporting. There has to be a bias somewhere, people are choosing to use very specific photos for the purpose of portraying people in a certain light, otherwise there may not be a need for campaigns like If They Gunned Me Down.


    1. If They Gunned Me Down Which Picture Would They Use? Retrieved from:

    2. Katz, L. (2014, May 10). Say it with a selfie: Protesting in the age of social media. All Tech Considered. Retrieved from:

    3. Miroiu, C. (2014). The Selfies: Social Identities in the Digital Age. Retrieved from:

  5. When taking selfies, an “individual can choose how to construct and publicly disseminate his/her personal identity” to a certain extent (1). Once any image becomes accessible online, the originator loses complete control over the dissemination of this image, together with the commentary and the story it intends to tell. A simple example is when any photograph is re-shared on social media.
    Possible results include the mise-en-scène and judging of “isolated images through the lens of negative stereotypes”, as Mark described it. A clear example is provided by the If They Gunned Me Down Which Picture Would They Use? hashtag against racial stereotyping, in which the “they” refers to the media and law enforcement agencies (2). In his post, I think Mark hit the nail on the head when he cited an important facet of Miroiu’s argument. Miroiu draws on Goffman to call attention to the “social context” in which self-representation takes place. In short, self-representation is “theatrical acting” which happens in the social context of a “performance” (3). Images found online can be used by instances of power to influence public opinion and how an individual is perceived. Decontextualized pictures are used not only to shape perceptions, but also to reinforce assumptions of the stereotyped images and ingrained narratives that already exist in public in the public mind. In the media of a segregated America, images were and are used to reinforce the criminal stereotyping of African-American men and justify the use of lethal force by the authorities in the eyes of the public. The If They Gunned Me Down hashtag played an important role in pointing the finger at the pervasive negative image of Black Americans in public opinion and how the authorities use images to reinforce stereotypes.
    The critical role that images play in framing news stories is akin to the powerful role that highly manipulated portraits and self-portraits play in the construction of the post-modern idealized image of beauty and perfection. Conceptual visual artist Amalia Ulman has put together a brilliant performance (4) in which she created counterfeit selfies, which I chose to examine as part of my second assignment. A description of Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections performance is discussed abundantly online (5). Ulman’s performance reminded me of Nikki S. Lee’s Projects, which piqued my interest nearly 20 years ago (6). The exploration of gender stereotyping is an important aspect of these seminal performances, both of which involve elaborate mise-en-scènes, acting by the artists and an extended time span. They ask us to look and think beyond a series of photographic portraits that may at first appear ostentatious and exhibitionistic. Taken as a whole, these provocative staged images demand that we critically reexamine our collective notions of documentary truth, social, commercial and media image circulation, stereotypical gender representation, and so on. From an aesthetic point of view, their strength does not reside solely in their evocative power as images, or in the skill with which they were executed, but rather conceptually, in their social critique.
    With reference to last week’s discussion on the “curation” of images of an apparently heterogeneous nature in social media, also worth watching are the first few minutes of Ulman’s 2013 conversation with Dr. Cadence Kinsey (7). Ulman explains and then expands on why she was interested in the images found on a young Asian girl’s blog and Instagram account that combined teddy bears, babies, and cupcakes with images from ongoing plastic surgery (8).
    See references in separate post due to html character limitation.

  6. References
    (1) Miroiu, C. (2014. July). The Selfies: Social Identities in the Digital Age. Paper submitted for publication in the proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Annual Conference, Swinburne University. Abstract retrieved from:

    (2) If They Gunned Me Down Which Picture Would They Use? Retrieved from:

    (3) Miroiu, ibid. p. 4.

    (4) By performance here we mean a performance done in the context of a visual art context. See
    Performance art. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2016, from

    (5) Sooke, A. (2016, January 18). Is this the first Instagram masterpiece? Telegraph. Retrieved from


    Kissick, D. (2014, October 24). from plastic surgery to public meltdowns amalia ulman is turning instagram into performance art. I-d. Vice. Retrieved from

    (6) Nikki S. Lee, . (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2016,

    (7) See Dr. Kinsey’s current research interest:

    (8) Video in Common. [Screen name]. (2015, January 22). Amalia Ulman & Dr Cadence Kinsey - in Conversation, 2013 [Video file]. Retrieved from

  7. By posting selfies with the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown, social media users are participating in a larger conversation about race. While the selfie is a form of expression, it's the distribution of the selfie on social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr) that makes it unique. That's to say, there have been self portraits for centuries, but -- as Miroiu points out -- the digitization of pictures has now allowed for rapid and ubiquitous distribution (p. 13).

    In the words of José van Dijck (as cited in Miroiu, 2014), they're "storing photographs to document their lives, but by participating in communal photographic exchanges that mark their identity as interactive producers and consumers of culture” (p. 7).

    Using these platforms as a sounding board really counters the radical intent of the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown or #BlackLivesMatter movement, in my mind. Rob Horning argues that selfies aren’t an act of defiance, because they’re created for a network with set parameters. In his words, a selfie is "one’s self commoditized to suit the logistics of networks”. Therefore, participating in conversations like #iftheygunnedmedown aren’t altruistic. They are too self-aware. In Horning’s words:

    [blockquote] "Selfies may be mistaken for autonomous self-expression: an assertive, short-circuiting gesture that recuperates the communication/surveillance platforms that otherwise contain the self. But selfies don’t tap a suppressed inner essence; they develop the ‘self' as an artisanal product line.”[/blockquote]

    The #IfTheyGunnedMeDown conversation is particularly poignant for me. As a member of the media, I have trawled Facebook and Twitter looking for pictures of people who recently died. If the story is considered important enough, then the pictures are considered fair use and distributed without a second thought.

    I have rarely covered stories as contentious the deaths of Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin, so I'm not sure now I would have reacted. That said, clearly members of the media need to examine their bias when working on racially-charged stories. In my experience, newsrooms have very few people of colour, so it's predominantly white people telling the Black Lives Matters stories.

    When talking about anti-oppression, I don’t want to insert myself into the conversation. As a white person and therefore a person of privilege, I find myself comfortable at a distance, offering words of support. As this Tumblr post displays, oftentimes in anti-oppression discussion white people aren’t welcome. Link:

    Katz, L. (May 2014). Say It With A Selfie: Protesting In the Age of Social Media. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from

    Horning, R. (2014, November 23). "Selfies without the self,” The New Inquiry. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from

    Miroiu, C. (2014.) #Selfies: Social Identities in the Digital Age. Proceedings of the Australi and New Zealand Communication Association Annual Conference, Swinburne University,
    Victoria 9-11 July, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from