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The Selfie Diaries – documenting ourselves

For the past 3 months I’ve undertaken a project to explore the medium of selfies.

Through Facebook I’ve sourced over 40 selfies.

Each selfie is accompanied by two quotes from the subject of the selfie, responses to the following questions;

  1. What does your selfie say about you?
  2. What does your selfie fail to say about you?

These selfies were then curated publicly on Instagram, and tagged appropriately.

The only specifications given regarding the selfie was that it had to be a photo of you, taken by you.

This led to some interesting interpretations.

The majority of selfies sourced were taken by women. This reflects similar, global-scale studies on the selfie.

Most selfies submitted showed the selfie-taker at their most photogenic. There were a few notable examples though which seem to be trying to appeal through humour.

Taking a selfie with an animal was not uncommon, a trend which appears to be global. Several ‘animal selfie’ trends have circulated online in recent months such as quokka selfies.

Taking selfies with animals, domesticated or exotic, ties in with how people also appeared to like taking selfies when they were doing something out of the ordinary.

In regards to the question What does your selfie say about you?, responses were fairly descriptive of the content of the selfie. Respondents described their image, sometimes with explanation as to why they look that way.

More interesting however were the responses to the question What does your selfie fail to say about you? Often this revealed that the person in the selfie was not as confident or content in their life as the image may make them appear.

People, especially young people, genuinely enjoy taking selfies. The medium is used as a way to document their life, from the places they visit, to the people they meet and the experiences they have.

Most of the time people want a selfie that shows them at their best, though for some this may mean taking a humorous shot. Selfies capture a moment in a person’s life that can be read as documenting them as they were at a particular place and time.

But it is important to remember what selfies cannot document. Selfies–documenting us at our best–fail to communicate the inevitable troubles faced by everyone.Therefore selfies can be seen as a tool of photojournalism by the self, a way of creating and controlling your image in an increasingly online world

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Whitewashing: Hollywood’s dirty habit

Whitewashing: Hollywood’s dirty habit

Is it ever appropriate for an actor to play a role outside their own racial group?

Hollywood has a long history of casting white actors as characters of a completely different race. The practice became so commonplace that it has been nicknamed ‘white-washing’. While white-washing in television and film is rarely as caricatured and racially insensitive as in the early days of film, ‘white’ actors are still commonly cast as characters of a completely different race and culture (think Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia, or the entire cast reversal in Avatar: The Last Airbender).

Apparently the casting director had a rare type of colour blindness…

So why is ‘whitewashing’ bad?

The practice is harmful because it implies that viewers only want to see white actors on film and television, that only white actors are good enough to play leading roles. It is an issue of representation, the importance of which should not be underestimated. White-washing is particularly harmful if the film or television in question is unquestionably based in a non-western, non-white culture where it is entirely unrealistic for protagonists to be white. Basically ‘white-washing’ prevents fair and equal representation across the racial spectrum.

But is it ok for an actor to play a character of a similar race?

In the recent American sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt the love interest of titular character Kimmy Schmidt is a Vietnamese character named Dong Nguyen. Many critics have praised the show for the inclusion of an interracial love story, a rarity on American cable television.

The twist is that Ki Hong Lee, the actor who plays Dong Nguyen, is Korean-American not Vietnamese.

The argument against casting an American-Korean as a Vietnamese character might state that there are significant differences between Korean and Vietnamese people. Such a casting decision could be argued as another example of western cultures perceiving all ‘asian’ or ‘black’ people as one culture.

At this point it is helpful to stress the difference between ‘race’ and ‘culture’.

 Racedefinition

culturedef

From these definitions, it’s evident that an individual may identify as one race (defined by physical characteristics like skin colour), but from an entirely different culture (defined by the society they were raised or reside in). In an increasingly globalised world, more and more people identify with a culture(s) outside what may have been defined by their race. An personal account of the difference between race and culture can be found here.

Back to our original question. If an actor physically resembles the race of the character they have been cast as – even if they identify as different culturally – is it an ethical casting decision?

Yes.

After all, an actor’s job is to be someone else.It is the casting director’s job to find an actor suitable for the described character. To clarify; television and film ‘white-washing’ is racially insensitive, it disregards people of colour from being allowed fair and equal representation. But in a media landscape that has Australian actors playing English characters, English actors playing South African characters, and absolutely everyone playing Americans – whose to say a Korean actor cannot ethically play a Vietnamese character?

Talking Animals: the reality is no fairytale

Talking Animals: the reality is no fairytale

What was your favourite movie as a child?

Babe? Garfield? Lady and the Tramp? Aristocats? The Jungle Book? Stuart Little? Cinderella? Lion King?

"Do you see the common motif yet Simba?"
“Do you see the common motif yet Simba?”

What’s similar between all these films is their use of talking animals as a main plot device. In some films (such as above mentioned) animals are able to speak ‘human’ languages, holding fully understandable conversations with either,

a) only their species and other animal species

or

b) their species, other animals and humans

Other children’s films, whilst not allowing the use of language per se, have animals which are clearly capable of human-like intelligence, responding non-verbally to the actions of human characters, and in turn having the human characters understand these responses. Films that portray animals thus include Tangled, Mulan, Frozen, Aladdin, Free Willy and Flipper.

Bestowing intelligent communication skills to animals is a common trope in films aimed at children. As we move through adolescence and into adulthood however, films that feature animals capable of complex communication become less and less common. Is it that we no longer find it credible that animals could be smart enough to communicate? Or do we no longer want to?

‘Talking’ animals are not as fanciful a notion as you may think however. Whilst there yet exists no non-human species capable of communicating verbally with us (an individual exception was Alex the African Grey parrot, who was capable of intelligent spoken communication – not simple mimicry) there are numerous examples of animals able to express themselves explicitly to humans. Apes are almost universally recognised of having highly developed communicative abilities. This is evidenced by their ability to learn human sign language to converse with their handlers (Koko the Gorilla is a prime example).

Accepting other species as capable of inter-species communication presents an ethical dilemma as to how we as humans treat them, particularly in regards institutions which keep animals captive. The ability to communicate is often regarded as a sign of intelligence. This makes confining animals capable of communication morally questionable. The notion that animals capable of communication may be entitled to freedom was recently highlighted by the case of Sandra the Orang-utan. After living her entire life in an Argentinian zoo, 29-year-old Sandra was last year granted “non-human personhood”, enabling her the right to live freely.

I will miss the free health care though...
I will miss the free health care though…

Acknowledging other animals as entitled to the right to freedom will no doubt maintain controversial for many years to come. But considering the human desire to fictionally portray animals as cognitive equals, it is not unreasonable to imagine a future where animals’ ability to communicate is accepted, and rights to freedom consequentially granted.