Caitlin Dewey (c) 2015, The Washington Post.
The online satirists at The Daily Currant earned lots of laughs in September when they claimed that Boston’s Emerson College would soon be launching a course on “The Art of the Self Portrait.”
But four months later, a London college is offering a class by almost the exact same name — and this time, it’s no joke.
“The course is a theory/practice introduction to photographic self-portraiture,” intones a syllabus for City Lit’s “Art of Self-Portraiture.” “It is conceived for students to improve their critical understanding of the photographic self-portrait, as well as a platform to develop ideas towards the creation of a coherent body of work.”
City Lit, admittedly, isn’t a conventional college; it has more in common with a continuing ed program than an actual, degree-conferring university. That said, the British school is daring to tread where only satirists (and the occasional community college) have tread before. And it’s doing so in accordance with a pretty significant trend: Now more than ever, it appears that academics see the lowly self-portrait — and other maligned trappings of Internet culture — as subjects for serious academic inquiry.
Just think about some of the other buzzy college classes to make news in recent months. You can study YouTube and online porn and “wasting time on the Internet” — it’s about time the selfie saw some of that love.
Academics are, after all, enamored of the form: More than 2,000 belong to an informal group called The Selfies Research Network, a hub for people studying “the artistic, economic and sociological impact of ‘selfies.'” (If you doubted, for a moment, that the lowly selfie had such wide-ranging impacts, you need only scroll through the SRN’s Facebook page — where, at any moment, high falutin’ academics are discussing everything from “Marxist Feminism photo-boasting” to Lady Gaga.)
Conferences on everything from art to anthropology have hosted panels on the selfie. An upcoming issue of the International Journal of Communication will study its sociology and ethics, considering the selfie as both as an “act of production” and a “cultural signifier.”
When you sum it all up, in fact, it’s less amazing that this one school is teaching a class on the selfie … and more amazing that more colleges haven’t followed suit. Sure, there are still a few, arthritic grumps out there, harrumphing the habits of the “kids these days.” But increasingly, mainstream academia seems to understand the selfie as a cultural artifact — and perhaps the mainstream public does, too. That would at least explain why so many people fell so easily for The Daily Currant’s “selfie class” story in September.
“Sometimes I read satire and wonder how long until it becomes reality,” one woman tweeted at the time.
Apparently, no time at all.