On Sunday, Hillary for America design lead Victor Ng tweeted this pic with the caption “2016 ya’ll” [sic], galvanizing the hearts and minds of Americans who hate selfies and the millennials who take them.
The picture was actually taken in Orlando by Barbara Kinney, a photographer on the Clinton campaign, but it’s taken on a life of its own. There was CNET, which posted an eye-rollingly florid denouncement of the photo in the guise of a “Missive to the Stars”, excerpted below:
If we want to be seen with you, we’ll turn our backs on you.
Please don’t be offended.
It’s just that your fame isn’t enough for us anymore.
We need to attach ourselves to your fame, so that we can post the resulting picture to Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
Social media content shill Cafe said the photo “will be in future history textbooks in the section explaining why 2016 sucked.” “Just horrifying,” the conservative-leaning Independent Journal Review shrieked. “Millennials, please stop taking selfies of everything.”
For anyone outside the dogpile or not consumed by the cultural need to denounce every single selfie as a sign of millennials’ apocalyptic narcissism, this tongue-clucking is confusing. People are upset because a crowd wanted their picture taken with a celebrity? And not just any celebrity, but the probable first female President of the United States? And this is …bad?
There is a reassuring but absurd fantasy among people who hate millennials that the love of having a photo taken of yourself during a memorable moment is a trendy new fad that millennials invented to satiate their bottomless egos. This is obviously and demonstrably untrue — the love of having your likeness captured for posterity predates photography by nearly a thousand years. The fact that this act has now been democratized by our iPhones is less a sign of addiction to visage than it is another sign of an incredibly human symptom: the desire to capture an important moment.
“We live not to be there, but to be seen to be there,” that CNET article went on, to which I might ask: “wtf are you talking about?” I took a picture of myself and my wife at a Kanye West concert on Saturday night, because we were having a great time and I wanted to remember that and share it with my friends. The idea that taking a selfie at an event robs you of enjoying that event is a ludicrous fiction that nobody actually believes but everyone repeats like it’s a well-known truth. A Kanye West concert is a much dumber thing to be seen at than an event with the probable first female President of the United States, but I didn’t somehow not go to the concert because I took my picture there.
And that brings up another point. Millennials, so frequently lambasted for being unengaged in the political process and incapable of focusing on anything beyond the two inches of screen in front of their noses, have turned out en masse to listen to a speech from the Democratic candidate for the presidency. This isn’t a Kylie Jenner photo-op. Here is a group of women supporting a candidate they are excited about (probably at least partly because they believe a Trump presidency would be a living hell for women) and all some people can talk about is how awful it is that they want their picture taken with her.
Perhaps you hate Hillary Clinton and think she’s unworthy of the attention being lavished on her here. That’s one thing, but to reduce your political disagreement to “oh millennials and their selfies, whatever will we do” is laughably demeaning. Have enough respect for the people in this picture to assume their support of Clinton goes a little deeper than a memorable photo op. Sure, this photo doesn’t fit the popular narrative that Clinton just isn’t connecting with millennials, but that’s hardly a reason to dismiss it out of hand.
There’s little need to get into the sexism on display here, because it’s obvious enough. It’s true that women take more selfies than men, but it’s equally true that there’s a reason photos like these don’t garner the same level of attention that Sunday’s Clinton photo did.
There are real problems faced by millennials and the digital revolution has brought its own set of challenges, many of which have certainly created a uniquely generational worldview that millennials will have to wrestle with. But to simply point a finger at the most obvious cultural outworkings of those challenges like selfies, hashtags, frozen yogurt and trap music is lazy in the extreme, singularly unhelpful and another sign that no matter how much millennials love taking selfies, they don’t love it nearly as much as people love criticizing them for it.