I really, really don’t want to talk about selfies. I have tried so hard, over the years, to avoid not only discussions about self-portrait photo-snaps posted to social media but the photos themselves: I look away from every duck-lipped girl and muscular boy as if they would burn me, probably because I knew that if I allowed them to worry me – which I knew they would, because they would begin to represent a world in which appearance of the most conventional kind mattered over all achievement, etc. – then I would at some point find myself having to justify this embarrassingly moralizing emotion, I would find myself creating an argument (that the selfie represents a world in which appearance etc. and perpetuates in particular young women’s insecurities about etc.) and then I would be enmeshed in it, I would be arguing about selfies like everybody else and that would be just as bad as posting them.
And also because I knew I would be on the wrong side of it, I would not be able to get with what all the smart people said about them – the essayists who can so cleverly claim that every single social trend embraced by female teenagers, from anorexia to slut shaming to Mormon werewolves, is in fact empowering and anti-patriarchal in ways that the patriarchal society itself could never understand – and I am tired of being against modernity. And I can’t easily have an opinion, in fact, about a trend that tends to involve more females than males, because I am male. But then along comes this James Franco guy, an American actor. He is male, so any opinion I have of him is not sexist (Or is it? Someone will no doubt tell me that it is). James Franco is sort of almost interesting because he (1) is good looking (2) was pretty good in the otherwise execrable Spring Breakers (3) published a novel, which was apparently not good, but still, good for him. And he was allowed to write an essay in The New York Times about selfies, not as it turns out because he is an intellectual with even remotely insightful views about them, but because of (1) (2) and (3) above and because he posts a lot of selfies of himself on Instagram. He is then in a position to explain why he does so, the way, I guess, my cat is in a position to explain why he always pees on the shoe mat.
I tried very hard not to read this article for the first few days of its viral contagion of social media, for reasons explained, and then in a moment of weakness I found myself clicking, the way you mindlessly click on the picture of a star’s nipple slip and find your computer gripped by Russian malware. I so wish I hadn’t.
What I learned is James Franco posts a lot of selfies on Instagram because he finds that is what people most want to see. That’s about the extent of the analysis. He also admits, “I am actually turned off when I look at an account and don’t see any selfies, because I want to know whom I’m dealing with.” (Yes, he wrote whom.)
This is what I mean about insight. I guess James Franco has never had occasion to look into the work of any prominent, say, epidemiologists. Or actuaries. Or metallurgists. Or constitutional law experts. Or captains of artillery (male or female). He would be very surprised by the small role selfies play in such successes, and he would also be totally baffled, because how would he be able to evaluate those people and their careers? That whole real-world thing would be weird to him.
There was one interesting thing that came out of my research on James Franco’s selfies though. He takes a lot of pictures of himself and a doll that looks like him. It’s a James Franco doll, made as promotion for a movie called Oz The Great and Powerful. It is $18.99 at Target. He carries it with him to a lot of places and it shows up it many of his photos, an amusing little homuncular doppelganger. You might think this shows a certain irony or self-awareness, a reference to the selfie photo as a kind of lifeless avatar.
But all it shows is that James Franco is just a neophyte when it come to this selfie avatar doll thing. He is a rank amateur in the doll trend. He has not been reading the news. He has not seen Lady Gaga’s selfie doll.
The Gagadoll is a human-size, human-weight, rubbery synthetic replica of the pop star herself. It is made by a Tokyo firm specializing in “love dolls”, those eerily humanoid sex toys that sell for thousands of dollars. An impressive video of the technology involved in its creation can be seen online. The doll’s body is apparently based on the porn-star models already available, but the face is convincingly Gaga-like, and the two dolls that have been constructed so far, as prototypes, are dressed in the pop star’s own outfits and wigs. They really look like her (or perhaps it is she, with her waxy makeup, who has always looked like a silicone mannequin, but that is what’s clever). The dolls are so far not for sale, being used solely as promotional gimmicks for her latest album, Artpop. They have, implanted in their chests, speakers that will play songs from the album to anyone who presses an ear to her breast.
But here’s where the fashionable singer shows she actually understands the intellectual value of such creepy gestures. She went to a promotional thing at the beginning of December in Tokyo for the album, and they had the two Gagadolls there. One of them was dressed as an “oiran,” a high-class geisha, cementing the sex-doll hint. Lady Gage gushed to a reporter that her own friends. “… were so excited to take pictures of me with the dolls and then all of a sudden the dolls took over. And the dolls were the most important thing in the room. And this is a beautiful thing.” Here we have an actual understanding and embrace of the role of a hyper-sexualized, idealized, stand-in for oneself. The representation that becomes more valuable than the original (otherwise known as the simulacrum). Once the perfect doll is in the room, Gaga can leave. That is the ultimate selfie. James Franco, pffft.