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The Selfie Culture: Where A Picture Is Worth A Million Likes

December 23, 2013

Have you ever taken a “selfie”? It’s the new craze right now. The camera lens is flipped and instead of taking a picture of what’s in front of you, you snap a picture of you. When in November 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary welcomed “selfie” into the “you’re-an-official-international-word-club”, people had plenty to say.

Acknowledging and claiming “selfie” as an actual word brought forth the debate of the good and bad of our selfie culture. A writer from the Atlantic views it as an artistic expression, while a writer at Jezebel feels that selfies are teenager’s cry for help. Regardless of the two camps, it’s a popular word with usage growing by 17,000% according to Oxford.

Over at Slate, Rachel Simmons wrote an articulate article on the positives she sees from teenagers posting selfies to various social media sites. Simmons is wholeheartedly in favor of selfies, claiming they are “tiny bursts of pride” for teenage girls. I believe Simmons effectively presents positives for girls taking selfies, claiming it’s a way to say things they cannot say out loud. This article capitalizes on an active audience and potential for interesting discussion on “selfie” due to its introduction into the OED. Simmons also seems to be in the minority, considering her audience appears to be people more critical of what the selfie means for girls in our society today.

The reason Simmons argument is effective is set by the way she organizes her article. Because a selfie often has a negative connotation, in order to persuade her audience to listen to her opinion, she has to really push her message across and make strong points. Simmons begins with a narrative, describing the evolution of girls promoting themselves in various activites:

An elementary school principal I once worked with said that if you ask a group of first grade girls who the best runner in the class is, they all point to themselves: I’m the best runner, they’ll say. Ask a group of sixth grade girls, she went on, and they’ll point to the best runner.

Ask a group of ninth grade girls, I thought to myself, and when they point out the fast girl, she’ll flinch and demur, saying, “No, I’m awful!” Pride, after all, is a cardinal sin in girls’ social culture. It’s a lesson they learn early and with ugly consequences. Act too confident and you’ll be isolated, called “conceited,” a “bitch,” a girl who “thinks she’s all that,” who’s “full of herself.”

It is a subtle introduction because the reader does not encounter the word or topic of “selfie” until the fourth paragraph. This gentle lead-in allows Simmons to then jump into a cultural norm that many females can relate to: “Girls adapt by learning the language of humble.” If the reader can relate to this idea (which I most certainly could), then Simmons is already gaining support within her first few paragraphs.

What further helps Simmons with her argument is the way she goes back and forth between examining the opposition and then trying to turn that argument on its head near the end of her article. To support her opinion, Simmons doesn’t forget to provide some backup from known sources such as the Pew Research Center or the Girl Scouts of America. The opposition and then Simmons refutation does not occur until near the end of the article, which is effective because it allows Simmons to build her argument and begin to sway the audiences’ opinions before even examining the opposition.

At the end of the article, Simmons attempts to build her credibility one last time as she leaves us with her final thoughts. As an educator, Simmons clearly has spent time in the classroom with the teenage girls who are ones posting selfies on #selfiesunday. What makes the last two paragraphs of her article strong are the ways in which she doubts her own argument, agreeing to some extent with her opposition. But this allows her to then take her argument one step further, expanding on an even larger problem she sees with our culture today. The larger argument questions how positive or helpful is social media: is it a good thing? Simmons does not want her reader to view it as only problematic and a resource girls use to seek approval and praise. Instead, she wants the reader to realize each selfie contains a different meaning for each girl and in many ways “the selfie flaunts the restrictions of ‘good girl’ culture…” Flipping the camera to face the photographer is defying a cultural norm. A selfie gives power to this photographer and Simmons believes we need to embrace this idea. Simmons is fighting against some tough opposition but effectively makes her points and not only will she educate her audience, but hopefully also change their opinions.

If You Want To Know More:

  • This article most definitely uses kairos to its advantage. Learn more at kairos over at the Writing Commons.
  • Simmons introduction seems to follow the model considered in Rhetorica ad Herennium, an ancient Latin rhetoric textbook of unknown authorship. The “subtle approach” is explained in section 1.4.6.
  • As Simmons builds credibility and attempts to make an emotional appeal to her audience, she is relying on Aristotle’s three proofs found in speeches: ethos (building credibility though Simmons profession as an educator), pathos (appealing to the audience’s emotions through the narrative at the beginning of the article), and logos (supporting her opinions with logic found at the end of the article where Simmons discusses cultural expectations as being a negative cause and effect model when thinking about girls and selfies). To read more, see Aristotle’s Rhetoric, looking around section 1354al.
  • In this article, there are hints of using a Rogerian style of argument. This style examines both sides of the argument and attempts to make a compromise (what we see Simmons doing at the end of the article). It does appear that she also borrows from the six-part Ciceronian style of argument as well (De Inventione: I, xiv, 19-xv, 21).

Hailley Fargo is a senior at Coe College, where she is majoring in English with minors in French and writing.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2013 11:53 am

    Reblogged this on hailley with two "L"s and commented:
    Yeah, I just can’t push this article around enough. I’ve made a Facebook status, tweeted about it, blogged about it, and so this is the last push. I’m proud of how the article turned out and it also allowed me to write about something I love to research: current culture. I definitely hope to write for this blog again; just have to keep my eye out for something else to write about!

  2. May 6, 2014 6:32 am

    Today, it’s really hard to decide if selfies are for good or for bad causes. As for me, as long as you are representing yourself in a way that will not make yourself look bad (unprofessional, etc.), it’s okay.

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  1. The Rhetorical Implications of “Selfie Culture” | Lukas' Blog

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