Selfie-Screen-Sphere: Examining the selfie as a complex, embodying gesture

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This article argues that the selfie is a gestural act (Senft & Baym 2015: 1589) that allows individuals to embody themselves within what Vivian Sobchack calls the “screen-sphere”: a reformulation of our definition of the screen which accounts for the ubiquity and mobility of contemporary screens that can no longer be regarded as an “‘array’ of discrete artefacts” but instead regarded “as a structural and functional collectivity” (Sobchack 2016: 157). While Sobchack claims that our “lived-bodies cannot physically dwell in this new spatiality without special technologies” such as VR equipment, I believe that the set of complex gestures which result in the selfie allow, in fact, for a type of embodied existence within the screen-sphere. I am following Flusser (2014) in my definition of gesture; that is, a production of meaning that is contained in some practised performance: a symbolic movement that at once both expresses and articulates. The selfie hybridises two gestures to do this: posing before a camera, and posing before a mirror (Warfield 2014; Tiidenberg & Cruz 2015). This results in the selfie being a gesture uniquely separate from traditional photography. While Flusser asserts that photography arguably “[sought] to fix subjects that exist in four-dimensional time and space onto a two-dimensional surface” (Flusser 2014: 72) the process of standing before a mirror is something which allows individuals to conceive of the body in multiple dimensions, resisting the photograph’s fixity. I will draw upon Bo Burnham’s film Eighth Grade (2017) to provide an example of this gestural relationship within the screen-sphere, in which a young protagonist engages with a variety of “screenic” surfaces (Strauven 2016). Analysing the main character’s selfies as depicted in the film, I wish, first, to show how the selfie can be understood as a complex gesture; second, how one’s attitude towards and with the screen has become a primary means of affirmation (Sobchack 2016: 158); and, finally, to explore the nature of this very affirmation as a process emerging from within the screen-sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263–283
Number of pages21
JournalNECSUS - European Journal of Media Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

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  • embodiment
  • gesture
  • mirror
  • screen-sphere
  • screens
  • selfie
  • Topology


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