July 12, 2018 – In a new article entitled “Selfie Consumerism in a Narcissistic Age” professor Derek Conrad Murray of the University of California at Santa Cruz finds that popularized claims of narcissism around selfie-taking are deceptive, since they are non-clinical assessments that dismiss important modes of self-representation, particularly those of women and socially defined minorities.
Murray’s essay, recently published in the journal Consumption Markets & Culture, argues that “the popular discourse on selfies has evolved from a lighthearted discussion about the perils of technology and consumption, to the pathologizing of those individuals as potentially suffering from serious mental health disorders.”
Murray is particularly suspicious of the popular journalistic use of quasi-clinical diagnoses like “narcissism”, as well as accompanying stock imagery that often ridicules women for their selfie-taking. Unpacking the shifting clinical definitions of narcissism, and its contested status as a legitimate psychological condition, Murray states:
“…the wielding of the term narcissism in selfie-related articles in popular journalism – even when substantiated by medical professionals – is not an official diagnosis, but rather an ideologically skewed generality that is largely without meaning. What the wielding of this term does is create public sentiment that allows for the trivializing of a largely gendered form of visual expressiveness.”
Murray also connects the cultural maligning of selfie-takers to larger issues related to pathologizing the use of computational technology by women, arguing that:
“…the online participation of women has emerged as a powerful and oppositional force, and self-imaging is among its most incendiary interventions. On sites like Instagram and Tumblr, young women are utilizing self-imaging and the blogging format as a tool of political resistance – mobilized in the service of speaking out against a range of causes, from racism and sexism, to activism again queer and trans-phobia.”
Ultimately claiming that selfies should be thought of as, “highly tech-based self-representational strategies,” Murray suggests that their use may be less about creating corrective representations, and more about forcefully intervening into gendered power relations.
For an interview, please contact:
Professor Derek Conrad Murray
History of Art and Visual Culture
University of California at Santa Cruz
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* Read the full article online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10253866.2018.1467318