Political selfies relay excitement, not self-indulgence

Illustration by Momo Lin

As I type this, Internet-Zach finds himself swimming in two types of digital expression: political spiels spurred by the critical October 19 election, and the omnipresent stream of selfies. As different as they appear on the surface, they have much in common.

Social media makes self-expression simple;  we can make ourselves an open book to the rest of the world. Inevitably, our aims in placing ourselves on display in such a way are called into question.

People commonly accuse avid Instagrammers of using selfies to brag; to show off themselves and their lives like trophies, putting the rest of us to shame. As being politically-minded and civically-engaged grows steadily trendier, many who showcase their political views through social media are painted with a similar brush.

Jen Gerson, the writer who first made this point, summarize her argument best in The National Post on October 13 by saying, “It’s not even about being part of a political party as much as it is about demonstrating that you’re part of a political party. The sort of person who belongs to such things.” That is, people post photos taken with ‘X’ political leader not out of real concern for politics, but to ensure others know how fashionably educated they are.

While there are undeniably such people out there, portraying everyone pushing the #StopHarper hashtag as cut from the same cloth seems rash. That the point is made through a comparison to the selfie is an awfully condescending double-whammy. There really shouldn’t be anything wrong with sharing aspects of your life on a platform that’s specifically designed for doing so, nor should it result in being labelled a ‘fake.’

Gerson describes the selfie as a symbol of how self-obsessed we’ve become in the modern age, but it’s more than a vain indulgence; it’s a mark of healthy confidence and self-love. Why should we make fun of it any more than we do other forms of photography? If we ourselves, humans, full of emotion and intrigue, don’t qualify as art, then what can?

She proceeds to link selfies and politics, and bases her doubts of people’s passion towards the political issues on the kind of posts people make. As an example, she notes that selfies taken with Justin Trudeau “rarely, if ever” include actual discussion of his platform in the caption.

But really, this is a little petty. It very much comes off like asking someone: “You like this band? Prove it. Name five of their songs.”

Gerson is a prime example of a significant subset of people — those who eschew forms of social media and look down on those who embrace it. ‘Of course selfie-sinners couldn’t actually have intelligent thoughts,’ is what it amounts to, and this is both close-minded and elitist.

I do apologize for the fact that, in the event that I meet the leader of my preferred party and take a photo with them, it will probably not be accompanied by an APA-style essay even after it hits the Internet. I’d like to think I’m allowed to support a party without being obligated to speak on their behalf at every opportunity.

Perhaps I was more concerned with being in the moment and sharing my excitement than going into details. Perhaps I figured that anybody who cares either already knows about my party’s platform, or has the ability to check for themselves within seconds. Perhaps I’m respecting that not everyone appreciates being flooded with political info on their news feeds.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m secure enough in my political beliefs that I don’t feel like I have something to prove.