There is surely no better symbol for our collective social media anxiety than the lowly selfie, that embattled crux of a hundred quiet culture wars. When a photographer takes a self-portrait, it’s art. When a 16-year-old girl does it, it’s narcissistic posturing. Are the kids alright? Are the Twitters destroying us? Has all of humanity dissolved into some vacuous, duck-faced puddle, never to rise again?
These are questions we’ve looked at before, of course. (Many, many times before.) But Vanity Fair — fashionably late, as per its custom — has just seen fit to weigh in with an essay that pins a huge range of perceived social evils on the selfie before admitting, harrumph-ingly, that the genre is here to stay. There’s something both fascinating and fraught about this particular criticism of the selfie: as an encounter between the old-school, establishment media and the new social wave; as a clash between young and old; as a sort of aggrieved negotiation between sneering traditionalists and modern reality. Whatever it is, it paints with a very broad brush. And so your author, a Young Person, popped the essay in Genius and made some notes of her own. (In some browsers, you may have to scroll over the text to see where the highlighted annotations are; in all browsers, just click the highlighted text to bring notes up. If that doesn’t work, try it on Genius.) You can view the essay in its natural habitat here.