That “more specific than necessary” caveat is in conflict with the entire rationale for this article. You don’t need to ask people for a picture that they themselves took because if you’re texting someone, it’s almost a certainty that the pictures they’ll have available are ones they themselves took.
There’s been a cottage industry in trying to identify the earliest selfie, the earliest photo a person took of themselves. In 1839, the year the apparent earliest selfie was taken, taking a photo of yourself was enormously challenging, for a whole slew of reasons, some of which involved chemicals. Even into the 20th century, taking a picture of oneself was limited by the fact that cameras were bulky and heavy. For decades after portable cameras existed, selfies were limited by the fact that you had to take your film to a guy sitting in a small room in a mall parking lot to see how the photo had turned out. (This is one of those things with which many of us grew up but now seems shockingly bizarre.) The advent of the modern cellphone, in addition to allowing one to send and receive text messages, allowed for taking hundreds, thousands of images and reviewing them immediately.
Our phones are cluttered with selfies, and selfies have become cultural currency. No wonder we needed a shorthand term for the images.
But this is not an article about the history of technology or etymology. It is, instead, an article about politics.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has made her willingness to pose for photographs with supporters a key part of her campaign. Sometimes, as in the example above, they are, in fact, selfies. Usually, though, they aren’t.
Her team has a systematized process involving a half-dozen staff and volunteers for handling long lines of people who want to have their pictures taken with the candidate: They hand their phones to a staffer, stand next to Warren, get the picture taken, get their phones back. Over and over, sometimes for hours at a time.
It’s smart politics, since many or most of those photos end up on social media, each a little advertisement for Warren’s candidacy. But they are not, as Warren insists, selfies.
“I made the decision when I decided to run not to do business as usual,” Warren said during Thursday night’s presidential primary debate in Los Angeles. “And now I’m proud to have been in 100,000 selfies. That’s 100,000 hugs and handshakes and stories, stories from people who are struggling with student loan debt, stories from people who can’t pay their medical bills, stories from people who can’t find child care.”
There are a few things happening there apart from the vernacular. Warren's emphasizing the same woman-of-the-people vibe that her photo-taking process is meant to elevate. She's presenting herself as a departure from a normal candidate in that she's hearing from people, not from polling. She's then using the stories she hears to bolster her rhetoric.
"I meet families every day in the selfie lines," she said at another point, "who talk about what it means to be crushed by student loan debt. That's why I have a proposal ..." etc. (That "in the selfie lines" bit, echoing, as it does, phrases like "in the salt mines," earned a few jokes on social media.)
During the debate, she also used the term to contrast her policy with politicians who charge donors big money for a one-on-one photo.
"People who can put down $5,000 to have a picture taken don't have the same priorities as people who are struggling with student loan debt or who are struggling to pay off medical debt," Warren said.
All smart. But she's doing something else, too. She's using "selfie" both to differentiate from those formal, posed, paid-for pictures, to emphasize the informality of the encounters — and as a way to show that she "gets it."
There’s a long tradition of politicians appropriating cultural language to connect with voters. It’s often not easy, given that most politicians spend their time around other politicians, the least cool people on earth. The results can be ... clunky.
“Selfies” is a far less egregious (or cringe-y) example than the one displayed by Warren’s now-colleague in the above clip. But it’s certainly true that part of Warren’s use of the term aims at the same outcome Mitt Romney sought: approachability.
For some reason, Warren’s opponents in Thursday’s debate failed to challenge her on her misuse of the term. (The reason is obvious; it is a dumb, picayune thing with which to take issue in any context.) It’s low-hanging fruit: The candidate whose brand is detailed plans for the economy and the country is misusing a term for photographs? Scandal. That our own fact-checkers have given her a similar pass is a black eye for The Post, as well.
Warren has posed for tens of thousands of photographs, earning both the appreciation of her supporters and anecdotes that can bolster her case as she runs for president. She’s posed for far, far fewer actual selfies.
There’s no reason to think that the Warren “selfie”-line process has been developed for any reason other than efficiency, but it bears a hidden, underrecognized utility.
Remember when Ellen DeGeneres took a selfie with a bunch of celebrities at the Oscars in 2014? It became, at one point, the most-retweeted photo ever. But, as it turns out, she probably didn’t own the photo, despite it being taken on a phone provided to her. Instead, the owner was Bradley Cooper, the person who took the photo. (Cooper was in it; it was therefore a selfie — Cooper’s.)
Imagine one of those photos-with-Warren ends up on the Instagram page of someone arrested for being involved in a national scandal. In short order, the Warren staffer on duty that day who pressed the shutter button could conceivably contact the photo-sharing service, claim copyright and seek to have the photo removed. There might be a (fascinating) legal fight, but precedent suggests that the Warren team would win.
What I would be interested in seeing, of course, is whether Warren would then demote the image from being a “selfie” to the more pedestrian and accurate term “photo.”