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A selfie isn’t a form of protest, it’s a form of narcissism

20 March 2014

3:20 PM

20 March 2014

3:20 PM

How to protest these days? You can’t rely on our music industry to kick out a good protest song, and the film industry does a pretty feeble job. So once again, it’s down to the people. In the past few years, we’ve seen a couple of examples of how Generation Y protest: Case Study 1: The 2011 riots. Case Study 2: The 2010 tuition fees protest. Quite old school in style, and not hugely effective, but both at least showed there was still some fire in the belly of Britain’s yoof.

There’s a new case study to add to the Generation Y protest list. 3: The Selfie Protest, or SelfRighty, as I call it. It’s bloody simple, and perhaps therein lies its supposed ‘brilliance’. You can protest, without even getting out of bed. Very John Lennon. All it requires is a smartphone, yourself, and some vague political message.

In the past year, we’ve seen various examples of the SelfRighty in action. Feminist factions commandeered it for the ‘Who Needs Feminism’ campaign, in which lots of people explained why they really needed the movement. In reality, what most of them actually needed was a good haircut and some whoopee. But I digress.

An 'I Need Feminism' selfie

An ‘I Need Feminism’ selfie

We then saw it in action for the #StandbyMe protest, in which students in Sheffield protested government policy on immigration. Friends of different nationalities took selfies together, to show just how forward thinking they were by befriending people who didn’t look exactly like them.

Friends sans Frontières (Photo: The University of Sheffield

Friends sans Frontières (Photo: The University of Sheffield)

The SelfRighty then moved to Oxford for the ‘I, too, am Oxford’ movement.  Wanting to raise awareness about racial prejudice at the university, a number of students took selfies of themselves carrying handwritten signs with messages saying things like ‘No, I’m not on a scholarship from Africa’. This act of ‘bravery’ was met by a countermovement of students keen to disprove the idea that racial prejudice existed at the university. Damn straight.

A countermovement by 'We Are All Oxford' (Photo:

A countermovement by ‘We Are All Oxford’ (Photo:

And then this week, the SelfRighty was deployed again. In fact, it’s still being deployed. Type in #nomakeupselfie into Twitter, and you will find girls posting pictures of themselves not wearing makeup. Presumably this is an act of bravery because they are normally caked in the stuff. They are trying to raise awareness of cancer, which is something to be applauded. What’s not to be applauded though is how this form of protest is essentially a vanity movement.

A brave #nomakeupselfie (Photo: Tegustaaa)

A brave #nomakeupselfie (Photo: Tegustaaa)

Using a selfie to protest something is not brave. Maybe the first person to do it was brave, but it has quickly become hackneyed, and smacks of narcissism. It is about I, not We. The pretense is ‘we’re all in this together’, but that’s obvious drivel. Posting a photo of your makeup-free pout, or you, set against the glorious Oxford cityscape, with a soft-effect filter on, may make you feel better about yourself, but does it really help your cause? It raises awareness, sure – but awareness of yourself. That’s it. It’s frustrating that people seem to think it’s doing anything else.

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