To this point in my life I have borne a slight rancor towards the “selfie.” While I understand the impulse—to somehow capture a picture of your own face from arm’s length while including the background—the result is usually disastrous, leaving me looking like a disgruntled frog with God-knows-what in the background. I go into a selfie thinking I look somewhat decent and leave with crippling insecurity and the need to take ten more of the exact same picture—just to, you know, get the best angle, lighting, and hair sway.
Now I’m not against the casual, occasional face shot; such an action is simply the only one possible at times. If you’re alone on a deserted island and your last recourse besides somehow contriving a five-second timer on a shaky, this-is-probably-going-to-fall-into-the-water-and-have-me-yelling-“SHIT”-repeatedly balance on a tree root is to take a selfie, then by all means proceed. It’s better than not having the picture at all.
But the extent, the extent that people have taken this to is simply ridiculous. The fact that a selfie stick has been invented and that people actually use it shows that maybe we have taken this too far. All that is really required for a very decent picture of you (with the background!) is to ask someone who looks respectable to take a picture.
Cameras, after all, are not a very complex piece of machinery—unless you get a technological troglodyte who, when you hand them your camera, looks like you’ve just handed them a gasping fish and asked them to gut it.
However, instead of a pleasant exchange between people or a fish disembowelment, we have an environment where people wander around with selfie sticks taking innumerable pictures of themselves. I would like to say that’s an exaggeration but it’s not, and I swear on all that’s holy that I have had to skirt around people who—while surrounded by landscapes God Almighty crafted from the living bones of the earth—spend their whole time staring at a four inch reflection of themselves.
Anyways, this is all relevant information that looks irrelevant, and I was not thinking about the selfie at the moment we begin my story. Rather I was considering how long it would take to tempt some driver to accept a lovable if scruffy individual into their passenger seat.
Yes, I had a thumb outstretched towards the open road, a hobby for both the poor individual, the adventurer, and, of course, the poor adventurer. My destitute backpacking butt was stationed in Port Campbell, midway through The Great Ocean road, a gorgeous stretch of highway that winds along the coast of southern Australia.
After a short wait, a van packed with an Asian family rolled to a stop—mom and dad in the front, two elementary age girls in the middle, two high school guy hooligans in the back. I must admit that I was surprised, both for the fact that families usually leave you in a cloud of carbon monoxide as they blaze down the road and that they seemed to have little room in their car for anything but a few sandwiches.
As I chucked my bag into the back of the van and dove into the backseat, I found, however, that I was dead wrong—these were college students on a semester abroad to Adelaide. On a weekend whim, they had decided to drive eighteen hundred kilometers to Melbourne and back for the weekend, which—while not the most brilliant idea—earns my admiration for sheer audacity. It was just coincidence really that they looked and acted like a disorganized and clueless family.
They dutifully shoved over their collected backpacks, food, and other sundry crap to make room and gratefully accepted me in. I think they were just as excited to pick up a hitchhiker as I was to get a ride this quickly, as they peppered me with questions after I jumped in the back.
Soon enough, it was time for a confession.
“Ahh yes,” a guy next to me with a newsboy hat and dark sunglasses said, “we hit a kangaroo yesterday night…” He laughed. “The front part of our car is… not so good.”
Five minutes later, when we stopped at the Twelve Apostles (a gorgeous collection of massive limestone stacks off the coast), I took a look at the busted front bumper and the distinct smear of dirt and kangaroo blood.
“Can you notice?”
“Uhh,” I laughed. “Yes.”
“Then I should make a call later,” Dom, the most classily dressed of the crew, said nervously and then grinned.
We soon arrived at the Apostles, and sure enough, the group had pulled out a worn selfie stick, and were now ready to start an inescapable torrent of selfie shots. I offered to save them, to take the iPhone away from them, and take a decent photo—a real classic white person shot where everyone has to stand around with swiftly fading smiles while I take seventeen identical pictures. But they refused.
Instead, they wanted me to join them in the picture, which either means that they were very kind or they had never seen someone with so much hair and wanted to show their friends back home what they picked up. I have no doubt that my face is now on a Facebook page somewhere on the Internet with the tag the “American Yeti Hippie,” shoved in alongside the photo of “the kangaroo we hit.”
Thus, I found myself under the “selfie stick gun,” and I will admit I felt conflicted. My principles—my principles mind you!—were at stake. But as I grew aware of the laughter and the true smiles around me, I realized for all my crafted tirades about how selfie sticks would singlehandedly ruin photography and maybe humanity, that I might have been a bit harsh.
As the iPhone shutter clicked, I began to embrace the absurdity of the situation. More and more tourists stopped and stared at us, and I grinned—I mean, what the hell? If we were taking fifty pictures then who was I to have such a self-righteous stick shoved up my butt?
Later, after we had arrived at my drop-off point at Apollo Bay, I asked if I could take a picture with them. We scrambled out of the car and after ten minutes of directing the impromptu family to the desired picture spot, we were ready for the photo. Viva, the mother of the group, handed me the selfie stick, and I stared at it. If I were a man of principle, I would have shouted, “GET THIS DEVIL STICK AWAY FROM ME” and thrown it into a tree.
But instead I connected it with my cell phone, and prepared to use the unwieldy device. It was strange; it was cumbersome, but I like to imagine that somewhere God smiled, simply because he’s a cheeky son of a gun. I snapped away and grinned, a real smile, an action that showed, Yes, right now I am doing this and maybe, just maybe, I might actually be enjoying it.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/