PBS Defends the Selfie in New ‘Why Do We Hate Selfies’ Idea Channel Episode

Defending the selfie in this day and age is a dangerous angle to take, but the folks at the PBS Idea Channel are taking a swing at it because, in their words, “despite being possibly the world’s most annoying habit, selfies are undeniably a major part of modern visual language.”

It’s an interesting argument to make, especially when you admit that the selfie is “the lowers common denominator” in photography. But as it turns out, PBS might be doing us all a favor. In the 9-minute video embedded above, they not only explain the relevance of the selfie, but also make a case for the selfie not actually being a photograph at all.

PBS is clarifying for the world at large something that many photographers have been saying for a long time: that there is a big difference between a snapshot and photography. Or more specifically put: between a photo as a ‘speech act’ of communication and photography as a fine art.


The selfie receives so much ire, argues PBS, because it is being judged as a photograph and by those standards it falls utterly and pathetically short. Pictures of your food and snapshots of your cute pet fall under the same category: they are maligned because they are communication masquerading as art.

Start thinking of them as communication, and the hate subsides… at least a little bit.

So maybe the Oxford Dictionaries had it right when they named ‘selfie’ the 2013 word of the year. Not because the word was used so much, but because the selfie itself (say that five times fast) should be categorized as language, not photography.

(via Laughing Squid)

  • bgrady413

    I made it 5:01 before all the motion and flashing of crap made me vomit all over this keyboard. Holy crap that’s what PBS is doing these days? They will close local stations master control centers and pull out production units to centralize so they can make nine minutes shows about nonsense that are intended to give me motion sickness?

  • Future

    Pic of vomit all over keyboards or it didn’t happen.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    1) Is it informative?
    2) Is it sufficiently interesting?

    When it comes to social media (or any form of communication, actually) it’s probably a good idea to ask those 2 questions first regardless of whether you’re using images or speech/text. If the answer to both is “no”, then you are simply wasting other people’s time and bandwidth.

    Specific to selfies though, it’s easy to be uninformative, uninteresting, -and- narcissistic. Just point at yourself, click, then upload; you don’t even have to type a single sentence.

  • Ralph

    Yup, agree with the above. The general hate of selfies is because of the lack of content. If an astronaut makes a pic of himself with earth in the background, i’m not gonna complain. If it’s a bimbo standing in a toilet room making a pic of herself in the mirror, it’s a whole different story (except if said toilet room is red, part of an mostly abandoned hotel, and 2 other people are there, 1 ghost and Jack Nichelson)

  • Renato Murakami

    I think Idea Channel (as with most of their videos, yes I’m a fan), is right on this one.
    In the sense that lots of times, it’s not to be seen as an artform or extension of photography as art, but more like means of communication.

    Even more so when Mike compares it to status updates and such.
    People who hates useless status updates (like me) will probably also hate useless selfies (like me). Doesn’t mean though that all selfies are useless and stupid.

    Yes, the vast majority of selfies (much like status updates) are useless, boring, stupid, only there to boast, made by attention whores and whatnot.
    BUT there are also interesting ones.

    Plus, let’s admit that the closer to you the people are, the less you’re inclined to be judgemental about it. Let’s just admit that sometimes selfies are only functional – not exactly to be appreciated as art, but it tells you something that you might want to know.

    For instance, a selfie that has almost no “artistic” content at all from a stranger will always look kinda stupid/pointless, whereas from a friend it could at least be somewhat informative… like a new look, a place he/she is visiting, some sort of interest from the person, etc.

    Aaanyways, I was never as affected by it as some people I know. Some people just have to let go of the idea that photography is something sacred only to be used in a highly technical way as a form or art. It’s almost as easy and common as talking these days. Doesn’t mean you can’t create something more elaborate with it (singing, choiring, ventriloquism, beatboxing, imitating others).

    To note: I think the only selfie I took myself was for avatars and such. Oh, and photos with friends and family, if that counts as a selfie. :P

  • BDWT

    I can dig this argument. It’s just a shame that so many selfie-takers are oblivious of this and how they present themselves to others through these means.

  • Matt

    To be honest, I don’t understand the hate. In a way selfies are kind of document society, arguably not for the best, but still… That said, I don’t do facebook so maybe I’m missing out on the “fun”.

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