24 August 2016

Cidade do Selfie

 Rio`s new iconographic landscapes
The City of Rio de Janeiro is undoubtedly situated in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world, with one of the most pleasant climates, and is surrounded by oceans and mountains that provide escapes from the summer heat. The iconic physical landscapes are complimented by iconic architectural and urban designs: Cristo, Parque do Flamengo, Calçadão de Copacabana, Sambódromo, Arcos da Lapa, Maracanã. Now, the city government has added the VLT, BRT, and the Museu da Amanhã to the pictography of the city.

As I was watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics, one of the commentators on SporTv said: “This has been the selfie Olympics.” And then it struck me: this was the selfie Olympics in the Cidade do Selfie.

Central do Brasil w old selfies on the wall
When tourists, commuters, workers, vagabundos, and geographers walk into the main hall of the Central do Brasil train station they are faced with murals that depict the city around them. On front of the Rio Sul Shopping is always a gigantic mural of some scene in the Zona Sul. In restaurants and bars, the pictures on the wall are always of Rio. It’s not uncommon to see Cariocas preening in front of their cameras and then flipping through their selfie collection while stuck in traffic.  There is a Brazilian fascination with the selfie that I will leave to the anthropologists to dissect, but I would guess that Rio is the epicenter of this phenomenon that may come from a historically situated condition of perpetual self-reflection on the natural beauty of the city.

A brilliant place for a selfie
Of course, Brazil and Rio are not alone in this, as the selfie as a mode of personal expression has gown around the world to merit more serious attention. The selfie phenomenon may indicate a general switch in human consciousness or simply a different way of experiencing the world, or it may be just another way of fetishizing lived experience as an act of consumption. With the explosion of cell phones and digital cameras, photography has become such an integral part of our daily lives that we forget that as recently as 15 years ago, we still printed our pictures, increasing the time and space between the moment of the picture and its remembrance.

In the cidade do selfie, I take a picture (with a me-phone) and immediately look at it, admiring my own beauty and marveling at my good fortune or privileged leisure before the moment or experience has actually passed. The collapsing of personal experience into a constant echo chamber of selfie reflection may eventually force us to evolve longer arms and more delicate index fingers, but it does not permit much space for reflection about the world in which the selfies happens. It is as if we are afraid that we will not remember where we were ten minutes ago without encapsulating the moment in a photo.

The selfie is a perfect expression of reality within the Olympic Bubble. As with the USAmerican rower who was so adamant that she would “row through shit for you”, the Olympism is a self-referential moral system that projects the desires of the individual onto Others as a means of justifying that pursuit. The gringa was never rowing through shit for anyone but herself and completely ignored the rather obvious fact that she can choose to do this while the people who live here are rather mired in it.

It is within this selfie bubble that Thomas Bach can say “There was no public money involved in Rio 2016” or that the IOC “is not responsible” for the risk that whistleblowers run when denouncing state sponsored doping programs. The Olympic City is always a city constructed to be photographed, within which Olympic tourists descend to take selfies, consuming the landscape and experience before heading home to show their friends and family their pictures of themselves in front of iconographic scenarios specifically constructed for their selfies.  Thus, Olympic urbanism meets Samsung and begets 916 million instagram photos in 16 days. 

The selfie is part of a larger trend towards the instant historicization of the present and recent past. Within an hour of the closing ceremonies, there were already retrospective montages of the Games that encapsulated the best moments for us, before we could think about it ourselves. The government is rushing to say that the Games were a success without allowing the dust to settle. Play-acting president Temer launched a press release yesterday saying that “The World has rediscovered Brazil” – a tidy articulation with the IOC’s “A New World” slogan. How did the world rediscover Brazil? What world? What Brazil? What (re)discovery? This way of promoting and interpreting Rio’s mega-event cycle is fraught, eliding problems and challenges that can only be adequately digested and addressed with the passage of time.

Prolonged consideration, public engagement, and collective action are actions that the Olympic Cidade do Selfie does not encourage. It is the Cidade de Nós Todos that needs to be constructed in its stead.

1 comment:

Dr Purva Pius said...
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