Brilliant article on forthcoming American TV show 'Selfie'
ABC’s upcoming Selfie draws on the perennial fantasy of “fixing” female disobedience with modesty
The selfie is a modern folk-devil. Constructed within popular discourse as a trivial type of image, the selfie is predominately associated with a set of negative female stereotypes relating to narcissism, vapidity, and sexual impropriety. To see how this discourse works and to uncover its implications for social control, we need only consider the trailer for ABC’s upcoming new sitcom Selfie.
The show will focus on Eliza Dooley, an updated version of the lead character of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and its musical theater remake, My Fair Lady. Whereas Shaw’s Eliza was marked by certain working-class clichés — such as her strong accent and unrefined manners — today’s equivalent embodies the “problem” of modern femininity, in that Eliza’s confident entry into the virtual public sphere is presented as emblematic of her lack of restraint in other areas of her life. It is this absence of feminine discipline that is seen as the problem: She lacks the social graces and controlled appetite (relating to food, sex, or self-representation as signified by selfies) that continue to be expected of young women.
The story of Pygmalion is an apt template for exploring the discourse of the selfie. Both express a marked disdain for women and a desire to control them, replacing their inappropriate untutored modes of self-expression with compliance to a system of male-issued rules. The fable of the errant subject’s correction consolidates gendered power relations, offering tidy narrative satisfactions and conventional rewards for the women who submit to discipline.