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Why Is India Suddenly Taking Selfies Of Its Ink-Stained Fingers?

This election, narcissism is meeting nationalism on Facebook.

| by Mustansir Dalvi
Guest Column

( May 16, 2014, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) There has been a sudden spike in single digit inflation. You may attribute this to the election, but what drives grown men and women to the auto-documentation and dissemination of digital erection? What was Narendra Modi thinking, attempting his misguided selfie/felfie with lotus?
It is truly the season of the self-clicked photograph, a season officially inaugurated by Obama, Cameron and Thorning-Schmidt at Mandela's memorial in December, which reached its apogee with the 11 hydra-headed celebrity selfie by Ellen Degeneres at the Oscars in March becoming the most re-tweeted tweet ever.

But selfies have always been around. In the early eighties, when, as an enthusiastic fanboy I searched the non-electronic world for everything relating to the Beatles' times in India, I came across the psychedelic asymmetries of George Harrison's photos of himself and friends at the Taj Mahal and at Juhu Beach in Mumbai, taken with a fish-eye lens. Even in 1966, they all displayed the hallmark of the selfie – exaggerated bobbleheads and a raised arm that vanishes out of the frame.

Selfies are the province of the profligate. In the days before smartphones, cameras had to be filled with frugal rolls of 36 negatives that then were developed and printed at some cost. As a result, care was always taken not to waste film. Limited by the length of your arm, turning the lens at yourself was always a hit-or-miss affair and you always prayed that you would not decapitate yourself or worse, your loved ones. Even so, following on the Beatles, I took selfies of myself during my wedding, much to the chagrin of my relatives who would have preferred I behaved myself and acted a proper groom. These images are now nearly 25 years old. Nostalgia wells up in me, seeing this trope blossom, retroactively.

In the age of social media, it is all very well to post pictures of your ugly mug to induce adoration, but the explosion of finger photographs is a new animal in the “like-me” zoo. Other than your face, posting images of your own body parts is uncommon, even on Facebook. A close cousin to the taking of food photographs, the finger photo also falls into the category of “see what I did, but did you?” Posting a felfie puts your black mark on record. You have performed your national duty, now here is the self-certification of your democratic participation. Choose your type: photo with face and erect finger, or erect finger alone. It’s where narcissism meets nationalism.

I blame the Bachchan family for all this. In 2009, pater, fils and spouses all grandly walked out of the polling booth to awaiting cameras with triumphant smiles and upraised middle fingers. Everyone who saw these images went into convulsions at their unselfconscious “up yours” gesture. Once seen, you could not unsee it, and it was inevitable that this would trend in future elections.

In the five years since, the finger that can potentially rock the nation has found its true calling. In this election, the felfie (that should more accurately be referred to as an “inkie”) is copycat triumphalism, taking the moral high ground in an environment of hitherto relatively low voter turnouts. Today, this is meant to induce peer pressure. Could the need to be part of this common troth have caused the spike in voter turnout in this multi-phase election? It would be nice to think so.

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