Culture of Display

Taking limitless selfies is now being regarded as a mental illness
"A form of obsessive compulsion was named Narcissism." [Image used for representational purpose only]
"A form of obsessive compulsion was named Narcissism." [Image used for representational purpose only] zuiko12/ flickr [Creative Commons]

Physical. Psychological. Many diseases in medical sciences have persisted for aeons.

Many new disorders and ailments got discovered and diagnosed by medical scientists and researchers that carried no resemblance to the diseases mentioned in their texts.

However, certain sicknesses are presented with varied manifestations and can be categorized among some established disorders.

Advanced medicine classifies human personality and behaviour disorders into various types. So much so that some of them have been based and named as per the manifestations and behaviours of some ancient mythological figures.

Different kinds of human behaviours and personalities were present since the inception of humankind.

Some of these personalities are described in the religious scriptures and some have been narrated through the myths and traditions of varied civilizations and cultures.

Narcissus, a hunter in Greek mythology was famous for his beauty. He was so much in love with himself that he ridiculed everyone who liked him.

Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, realized his abnormal behaviour and brought him near a pool to see his own reflection in the water. Narcissus was so engrossed in his reflection that he failed to comprehend that it was just his image. He madly loves his image until he dies by committing suicide.

In later times, after the invention of mirrors, humans with self-loving behaviour used to sit for hours in front of the mirror to admire their image. A form of obsessive compulsion was named Narcissism. Subsequently, with varied signs, narcissism was further classified into many subtypes. 

In the contemporary world, we have many such ‘Narcissus’ who are madly in love with their reflections. The only difference is that they do not gaze at their images in the waters but at the glaring screens of their smartphones. A comparatively new phenomenon of taking pictures of self (termed selfie), has emerged with the advancement of new communication technology. Besides being a personality disorder, clicking selfies has turned into an obsession and in several cases proved fatal.

In addition, taking limitless selfies is now being regarded as a mental illness. Thus the term “Selfitis”. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), it is the obsessive-compulsive desire to take photos of oneself and publish them on social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other media. APA added taking selfies to the official list of documented mental disorders. It further categorizes “Selfitis” into three stages. The mild form is Borderline Selfitis, which involves taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day but not posting them on social media. The second level comes as Acute Selfitis involves taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each of the photos on social media. The severe type is Chronic Selfitis, the uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s self round the clock and post the photos on social media more than six times a day (APA, 2014).

This new phenomenon “Selfitis” is yet to be studied and researched. Some leading psychologists are of the opinion that taking selfies is not just an addiction, but also a symptom of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley National Health Service (NHS) Trust, holds—‘Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones, have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites’.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is often used to help patients moderate their obsessive behaviour relating to their appearance. The report further added, sufferers of BDD can spend hours trying to take pictures that do not show any defects or flaws (applying umpteen Filters!) in their appearance, which they are very aware of but which might be unnoticeable to others. In one extreme case of the disorder, a British teenager Danny Bowman tried to commit suicide because he was unsatisfied with his appearance in the selfies he took (Daily Mail, 10 April 2014).

Dr Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston Massachusetts, in her write-up Making Sense of Selfies writes, “Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence that raises the ‘damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t’ spectre of either narcissism or very low self-esteem” (Psychology Today).

In another research study, ‘“Let me take a selfie”: associations between self-photography, narcissism, and self-esteem” carried by Barry et al and published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture (2015) a significant link was found between some dimensions of narcissism and specific categories of selfies taken by participants.

As such, the malady “Selfitis” is being researched and its various forms are being categorized into several established mental disorders. From BDD to low self-esteem to narcissism to megalomania to delusions of grandeur to feelings of inferiority complex, the “Selfitis” is turning chronically endemic, lethal and literally suicidal.

Years back, it was reported that ‘more people have died by taking selfies this year than by shark attacks’ (The Telegraph). There are shocking incidents happening while taking selfies. In 2015, at least 27 selfie-related deaths were recorded worldwide, with almost half occurring in India. Since then, the figures have been increasing.

Surprisingly, most of the people who died while taking selfies were youth, the so-called digital natives or popularly known as ‘Millennials’. It is an indication of currently overriding concepts in societies. The Culture of Display, from one’s pseudo status and pseudo relations to pseudo riches, is overwhelmingly getting approved and established, especially on social media.

From people in uniform to those in civvies, even officials and commoners, the Display is full on! The addiction to flaunting food, clothes, places, gadgets and any damn thing is applauded and admired. Perhaps because the hollowness within is transpiring out fast and is being mutually endorsed by the members of society. The “comments” on such “beautified hollowness” are equally empty and pointless.

“Selfitis”, as such, is the manifestation of shallowness that is primarily caused by the ideological vacuum and subsequent identity crisis (from personal crises to inferiority complex and poor self-esteem) that individuals are afflicted with in an ever-increasing world of consumerism where confusions and falsifications about life and its real essence are deliberately galore.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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