Lately there has been a wave of me-tagging on tumblr. You choose a photo showing several people, and tag every one of them me. Me and me are bullying me. Me, me, me and me are amusing themselves, ignoring me. Me is dragging me into a toilet stall, about to rape me (or just beat me up, who knows, not I).
Using Facebook’s tagging function in a funny way by distributing friends’ names freely across images of still lives, landscapes, starlit skies, or animal shop displays was popular for a while around 2010. The selfie craze washed away these harmless, but joyfully explorative transgressions of the line between humans and nonhumans. With the selfie adventure, the nonhuman world became compressed into a background or surrounding: ‘Me plus X.’ X could be anything—what, hardly mattered. It could be an abyss, and some people lost their lives falling into it because they mistook the depth for a void-colored plane next to their skin-colored face.
Cultural critics found it easy to accuse selfie generation people of their dumb, insensitive narcissism, which seemed ignorant even of the difference between the Eiffel Tower and Auschwitz. The Yolocaust website by Israeli satirist Shakak Shapira assembles selfies taken by tourists at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial and exposes their cruel stupidity: Upon mouseover, the picture’s background changes into a historical image from a concentration camp with dead or suffering victims. Apparently we creatures of the twenty-first century need reminding that our me’s are moving in a world—that reality is not exclusively or preeminently visual, that it consists of material bodies, that all bodies can be destroyed, all living bodies be killed, and that humankind has a history of killing each other in numbers beyond imagination, whose most atrocious massacres have come from a refusal to recognize a you that is, or even just seems, in any way unlike the me.
Clearly ironic, the recent experiments with multiple me-tagging nonetheless admit to the pathology of today’s subjectivity. They are me-mes, at once mocking and celebrating self-centered existence. Attaching me marks to representations of bodies that are not mine nicely corresponds to a decentered subject, which has no control over its own host body’s life. A contemporary work of art will not be credited to those who actually control or fail to control the process of its material realization, though, but to the one who signs whatever order or chaos ensues; and the contemporary subject seems to understand this: Self-tagging can be the ultimate salvific gesture, once you look at a world of images instead of turning the world into an image—and detect in this image-world occasions for being you instead of making the world the site of your likeness.
Irony works in favor of subjective empowerment here, in a quite traditional, romanticist form. The ironic fashions a direct link between the individual and the universal, by simultaneously contracting the world and expanding the I. It even restores a notion of fate under post-metaphysical conditions: If I am always meeting myself in a random encounter, chance is no material reality but merely an expression of unpreparedness. See how I fucked up again at coming to terms with my life! Had I been able to foresee what was meant for me to be in this situation, the picture would have been empty save for the one me that is me. It would have been a true selfie. But I will be forever post-selfie, because I am always too late.
Sarcastically dramatizing the discrepancy between two presents—the present ‘as it happened’ and the present ‘as it should have happened, had I been up to speed’—reminds of what Alain Ehrenberg says about depression in Weariness of the Self. Today’s depression echoes post-Fordist capitalism’s stress on potential. I access every present through a comparison with what might have been possible for a me that performed better. The actual me always loses, for my competitors are not others’ actual performances but a superior version of myself, which to imagine takes so much time and effort (and perversely, gives me so much pleasure) it consumes what little attention I seem to have left for the present.
—> part (2)