May 21, 2016

heard on NPR this afternoon, an interview with a film maker about his project, the long-story of a murder that happened in Queens, NY in the early 1960’s. the incident became notorious after reports that witnesses failed to call police or intervene and the victim died alone in the street.

the film maker’s research showed those early reports to have been incorrect on some accounts, and focused on the victim’s younger brother in his search for the real story. the film maker’s mission became a rediscovery of the person who had become reduced to a tragic ending in family and public memory.

the brother’s journey began when he returned from service in Vietnam, having lost both legs, and started looking for the people who could tell him about his sister. what the film maker said about the brother struck my ear,

he wasn’t angry . . . he wasn’t from the Selfie Generation: he was empathic and sincere.

This observation, in this human and historic context, touches on a piece of the Selfie puzzle we have been skirting in our discussion, the piece that is generational in outward style, yet seems to attach modesty and privacy to conscience at such depth that it might be a key to why we concern ourselves with understanding each other. 

Does the Selfie phenomenon prove that the value and meaning of privacy is gone. . . going?  Is this what gives the edge to Erin’s edgy images? Her use of snap-shot cropping and art-less distortions fix a large and public setting for the boundary wrecking in her content, a kind of back-slashed space between public and private that goes back to Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and goes forward to. . . where? Like the Dejeuner in its time, the Selfie image threatens a disintegration, if not just of polite society, then of the Self as pictured.

The issues are not trivial, yet in the time it takes most of us to weave a tapestry, Selfies have become commonplace, on the way to the glossary of the Cultural Dictionary, where analyses are collapsed and questions are closed. Has anyone noticed? Did we miss the boat?

—margaret sunday