‘Aspirational’, the latest in director Matthew Frost’s series of fictional short films, commissioned by Vs. Magazine, stars Kirsten Dunst playing herself. Accosted outside her house by two young women who use her as a celebrity prop for their selfies before taking off without a please or thank you, she is left stunned, shaken and used.
It’s a jarring piece of work, which is sparking conversation on where ‘selfie culture’ is taking us. Are these characters typical of young people today? Is the internet affecting our ability to communicate in a real way with others? And how many tiny violins does it take to feel sorry for a talented and successful actor?
The lure of online validation from strangers is a phenomenon we’re all still getting our heads around. In the not-so-distant days when our only option was to be broadcast at by the media, it took effort to voice an opinion. Letters and emails had to be written, phone numbers dialled. Then suddenly it was possible to post our unfiltered thoughts on anything and anyone on the internet for all to see, with absolutely no guidance on how best to do this or how to safeguard ourselves and others. If the adults don’t know how to avoid becoming addicted to Facebook and Twitter, then surely there’s no way they can teach their children to not fall prey to the next app or social network of the moment.
Research about our use of social media often yields massively conflicting results. For instance, studies show that passive use of Facebook makes us more depressed, but active use can improve our mood. Scrolling through pages of other peoples’ achievements, happy relationships and beautiful babies can spark jealousy and depression on a bad day, but messaging friends, commenting on posts or simply clicking ‘like’ is proven to have a positive effect. It makes sense – a situation where your successful friend brags about their lovely life and you say nothing in return would be a bad night out but engaging with them and enjoying a conversation about life, love, the universe and everything in between feels much better!
Ultimately, in the same way we’re responsible for our behaviour in day to day life, we’re responsible for our actions in the online spaces we frequent. The term ‘IRL’ (in real life) is problematic because it’s all real life – viewing online and offline as imaginary and real can be really dangerous and lead to odd and inappropriate behaviour.
Put simply, don’t be a d*ck. Would you go in to your local pub alone and start shouting about your achievements, showing endless streams of Instagram photos and giving anyone who spoke to you a whole load of grief? I do hope not. So why is it ok to slam people – celebrities and otherwise – online, by name, sometimes going to the trouble of tagging them in the post?
Celebrities are an easy target because they don’t feel real. They’re so far away from our lives, often grotesque caricatures of their features and achievements – that’s why so many people experience a meltdown when faced with one in a real life situation. Celebrities are people too!
‘Selfie culture’ isn’t to blame for anything – we all are. We made it. The young characters in Matthew Frost’s film might not be monsters – perhaps they’re tongue-tied around famous people they respect. In this instance they’re more likely to be self serving attention seekers, callously seeking to boost their online following. However, if they were made aware of how it feels to be used in this way, would their behaviour change? I’d like to think so.
Frost’s film is useful because it asks questions – are we too obsessed with our online profiles? Are we becoming incapable of living in the moment…or could we? What is the effect of our behaviour on other people? Are we being considerate enough online? And who on earth are we trying to impress in the first place?
Answers on an Instagram photo…