Samsungs and Selfies: Ellen’s Moment in History

Ellen Selfie
Selfie: noun, informal (also selfy; plural selfies), a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website
Who would have taken the greatest selfies in all of history? Would it be an artist like Michelangelo, a leader like Napoleon, or someone history completely forgot? In sports, I’m going with Ali. He had the drive required of a good selfie taker, plus a sense of humor. He traveled the world, which would show a diversity of locations. And he met a lot of interesting people in those interesting places. That’s the big three of taking a good selfie.
Out of musicians, I’d go with Miles Davis. We already see the restless intensity in his paintings that he would have brought to selfies. Plus, his devotion to boxing displays a concern with manipulating the human figure that translates well to the medium. Speaking of manipulation, my #2 greatest selfie taker of all time is Picasso. Outside of potential Cubism-inspired selfies that would change significance depending what angle you viewed it on your smartphone, he’d have the first selfies to get hung in Versaille.
But the greatest selfie taker of all time has to be Da Vinci. You could argue, as I often do, that his Vitruvian Man was the original selfie. And isn’t the Mona Lisa only missing a smartphone in her hand to be considered a selfie anyway? Through these “selfies”, Da Vinci explored new boundaries of beauty, truth, dimension, and proportions. Those are all the noble goals we strive for every time we’re stuck in traffic, pretending to look out the window, searching for just the right angle to Snapchat people we only know by avatars.
Selfie = the Linsanity of Words for 2013
“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
– a post on Australia’s ABC Boards, September 2002
Selfie was announced at the Oxford English word on the year in 2013. They traced the word back to an Australian forum from 2002, spelled with a “-y”, which shows how all waves start with one pebble (and also shows how most good movements are started when people are wasted). And as linguist Judy Pearsall explains, “Australian English has something of a penchant for -ie words…so this helps to support the evidence for selfie having originated in Australia”. So that’s that.
Selfie had a slow rise to winning the championship for Word of the Year*. It was the most hashtagged word back in 2004 on Flickr, but never really broke through to the pop culture barrier until it got its reps in over the next 10 years. In 2013, the use of the word increased over 17,000%. The word also spawned other genres including welfie (selfie of hair), drelfie (drunk selfie), shelfie (a selfie of a shelf?), and bookshelfie (a bookshelf taking a selfie?).
*the 2012 OE word of the year was GIF
Important selfie movements in 2013 included the #SelfieOlympics, #And1Selfie, and…umm…
Ellen or Obama?
Ellen wanted to break the record for most retweets in Twitter history. The previous record was held by President Obama, with a tweet announcing his re-election getting over 780,000 thousand retweets over two years. So who would win – the host of the 86th Academy Awards, or the President of the United States? Well, Ellen, and it only took her about an hour (it’s up to 3.2 million retweets a few days later).
Sometime in between 2002 and 2014, a selfie stopped being about yourself, and more about where you were, and what you were doing. Now you have to take selfies with the Pope (752 retweets) or in outer space (979 retweets) for it to even register. Regardless of how high selfie stakes are raised, the conceit is the same: I was here for this moment. But on social media, these moments literally last forever.
And Ellen’s hosting was tailor made for social media, featuring the spontaneity of live TV, celebrities, and product placement. Pizza was delivered from Big Papa’s and Mama’s and handed out to the audience. A tip was collected with Pharrell’s hat, which Arby’s bought for $44,100. Ellen’s selfie included Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, and Julia Roberts – taken with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
It seems silly to ask if Ellen’s selfie is more important than Obama’s re-election. I mean, it is technically much, much, much more popular on Twitter, but that’s no real indication, right? After all, Jared Leto did mention Ukraine and Venezuela in his acceptance speech early in the night, but then pizza got delivered, and awards were handed out, and…you know. Ukraine or celebrities? Elections or awards shows? In 2014, that’s a decision we all made, not with our wallets, or votes, but with our retweets.

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