The Presentation of #SELFIE

Currently #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers is the number 20 song on the Billboard Hot 100. That’s right, the phenomenon of the selfie has grown so much that a song about the act is popular. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the selfie phenomenon and connects it to the sociological concepts of impression management and the presentation of self.

Everybody’s doing it. Ellen broke Twitter records with her Oscar selfie. This reporter made news by barely missing a baseball to the head while she was posing for a selfie. Heck, even the president has made news taking selfies during Nelson Mandela’s funeral. It’s official, the selfie is a thing[1].

Let’s analyze a selfie like a sociologist. First, note that people often take selfies in locations that are noteworthy. It’s often a way to say, “hey everybody, look where I visited”. Second, before you take a selfie you make sure your hair/clothes look good and then you make a face or “give a look” to the camera. For instance, consider the ridiculous trend of taking selfies with a “duck face”. Both of these facts tells us that the selfie is a manufactured presentation of self.


The Presentation of Self

While the selfie is new, the manufactured presentation of self is not. In 1959 sociologist Erving Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman argues that as we move through the world each of us engages in what he calls impression management. In other words, each of us tries to present ourselves as we want those around us to see us. So when I walk into the classroom I am trying to present myself as a professor in the hopes that my students will believe that I am a competent professor.

If Goffman were alive today, he would likely argue that all of social media is designed around the presentation of self. Everyone who uses social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. posts images and updates that show only one side of ourselves. Very few people tweet pics of themselves first thing in the morning or doing anything that is not particularly flattering. In my experience, Facebook has become a place to brag about your accomplishments, post photos of your vacations, and/or post images of all the fun/cool things you’ve been doing.

The point of impression management and the presentation of self is that you are not really the person you present yourself to be in a selfie pic or on social media. That version of you is only part of the story. Each of us leaves out our low moments, the pics that make us look ugly, and, for the most part, the struggles we face every day.

Let’s Analyze #Selfie

Now that you have the presentation of self and impression management in your tool bag, let’s watch the song #SELFIE by the Chainsmokers to see how both of these concepts play out in the video. You’ll share your analysis with us in the Dig Deeper questions below.

NOTE: There is one curse word in the song and another curse word is shown written in the video, so you can decide if this is NSFW.

Dig Deeper:

  1. What evidence of the presentation of self and impression management did you see in the music video for #SELFIE?
  2. What about gender? What does the video tell us about how women and men are supposed to act? That is, what stereotypes about men and women are reinforced in the video?
  3. What about race? How does the video deal with race? Focus on both the images seen in the video and the words spoken.
  4. Have you ever taken a selfie? If so, how did you do impression management in your photos?

  1. For the uninitiated, when someone holds their camera/phone and takes a picture of themselves (and often their friends) it’s called a selfie.  ↩