Virtually Documented Popularity

Cameras. Camaraderie.

I hate it. I hate pictures.

I hate smiling. I hate you.

When exactly did social documentation become a legal obligation? Why does every creature with opposable thumbs and access to a camera feel a contractual commitment to chronicle every aspect of every social event in a catalogue of depressing images? Why are there hundreds of pictures of my stupefied face plastered carelessly along the fractured walls of the internet, none of which I endorsed, wanted, or even knew about until I was tagged in them several weeks after said social event took place? Why?! Answer me!

A birthday, a celebrity encounter, a wedding, a divorce, a holocaust – I understand why we may want to document an unusual, uncommon event. But every weekend? Really? Is it really necessary to dedicate an entire digital album to an arbitrarily average night out on the town, then wittily name it – gr8 nite out lol xx ! :)


It’s not.

Pictures are no longer tangible. Existing solely in digital form, they float in the internet’s vast expanse of nothingness, there for everyone to see. Which is precisely what we want. Social networking has twisted the humble photo album into a popularity contest. It’s imperative our ‘friends’ have visual access to everything we do. Otherwise we might be considered mundane. God forbid the world doesn’t see you for the bubly, exitin, funni, luvable social fuck-stain that you are. You’re popular. You have a million ‘friends’ and want to expose them all to your millions of pictures. It’s Virtually Documented Popularity.

Is our incessant snapping a product of vanity, self-consciousness, or an horrific cocktail of the two? Must we display our animalistic asymmetry because we think we look good, or because we think we don’t and want to be told otherwise?

I’ll save you the time it takes for you to scramble around for your USB cables – if you think your face looks like the axe-wound in a buffalo’s cranium, you’re probably right. Leave your camera alone. No-one wants to see your face any more than they have to.

Our self-conscious vanity stems from our celebrity obsessed society. I suspect for some being tagged in the online albums of a club or bar is their own private slice of superstardom. The closest they’ll ever get to appearing in Heat magazine. Cherishing the moment the resident club photographer glances in their direction, they begin preening, posing and pouting before you can say: Oooooooooooooo new Facebook profile pic.

Do you remember the old days, back when we used to remember things with the aid of our mind? We’d say things like:

“Hey, remember last week when you got wasted and punched that old lady?”

“Yeah man, that was totally awesome.”

Now it’s not enough to have actually been there, because that’s in the past. And the 21st century doesn’t take place way back there. Everything’s about the here and the now. Memories require effort, and there’s the possibility you might forget. Now with one simple click of a button it’s saved. Immortalised for eternity. Allowing you to savour the flavours of youth wherever and whenever you want, using your HDPSiPhoneOSX360Pro+.

The problem is that most of these flavours aren’t really worth savouring. The majority of pictures taken by teenagers are the photographical equivalent of breadsticks – fun for a few bites, but before long just tasteless and bland.

The worst culprit is the typical webcam-kiss photo. We’ve all seen them. A public display of affection. An international display of affection. Available to everyone with internet access. It’s intrusive to my monitor. It’s visual arsenic. It’s more than a picture too. It’s a taunt.

Look at us. Looks how successful our relationship is. We can allow our lips to touch without either of us launching into an inappropriate and unprovoked attack on each other because we’re so helplessly in l-o-v-e – love. Are you happy? Are you as happy as we are?

No. But I don’t have hepatitis C either. Slags.

Perhaps people are trying desperately to hang onto every ounce of happiness they experience. Every smile, every smirk saved to serve as a reminder of their emotional prosperity. Age is inevitable. Misery will eventually find us all. When it does, it pays to have a millions pictures online displaying our distant delirium, enjoyment now extinct. But it won’t work.

Despite my misanthropic transmissions I’m not as miserable as you think. Sometimes an auspicious smile fights through the melancholic mist that shrouds my persona, and I often laugh aloud to myself after dragging a memory from the muggy mire that is my mind. One second I’ll be sat stone-faced as my marble veins pump cold soup into my carbon-heart, and then I’ll laugh. It could be anytime, anywhere. A thought. A sight. Anything. The point is, I laugh, I smile. For a few seconds a day I enjoy life. But to artificially replicate this feeling and manifest it as an emotional representation conveyed through a facial expression, how the fuck do you do that? How do you smile on demand?

A humourless fascist automaton I am not. I am capable of smiling when the situation presents itself. But smiling just like that, it’s unnatural. Surely this synthetic, simulated smirking devalues the moments in life where a smile is truly required.

You’re stood within the wondrous watery mists of Niagara Falls. You’re stood beneath the incomprehensibly spectacular colours of the aurora borealis. You’re stood gazing into the incredible, cavernous splendour of the Grand Canyon. You’re the happiest you’ve ever been, and look. Look at your face. You’re wearing the same gormless grin you were wearing in Yates’s last week while you were necking Strongbow and dancing to Lady Gaga. There’s pictures to prove it. Smiling can be deceptive. It’s difficult to gauge how good a time you’re having.

As far as I understand it, you’re supposed to raise the corners of your mouth, forming a curve and raising your cheeks to signify a pleasant emotion. Perhaps part your lips to display your cheery little teeth. I simply can’t do this. Rather than all this raising and rising, my mouth just flattens. My smile is flat and I have lips like a basilisk. It’s just a straight line across my face.

I can’t bare my pegs either as it makes me look like an excitable gimp. My eyes naturally squint and I look like a confused crack-whore. If I try and consciously widen my eyes I look like an enraged psychopath. Furthermore my teeth have irradiated into a dirty yellow hue doe to too much caffeine, masturbation and woeful disappointment. At least that’s what my dentist said. But you can’t trust a word he says. Drunken commie.

So I can’t smile properly. But I can frown with the best of ’em. When I frown it looks like a frown. It’s absolutely textbook. I make Mr. Grumpy look like Mr. Euphoria. And don’t give me that shit about it taking more muscles to frown than it does to smile, because it’s not even true. Google it.

So the next time you point your Sony Something in my direction, do me a favour and just shoot me. I don’t mean shoot my picture, I mean just shoot me. I will not smile and I will not take part in your trivial documentation. Want me to smile? Make me. The last time I checked I owned the rights to my face. Not you and not Mark Zuckerberg. You can’t have a copy unless I say so. And I don’t. So take your camera and piss off.

That’s me. Anti-fun. Anti-smile. Anti-social.

I’m going to drink whiskey in the dark now. Go away.



9 thoughts on “Virtually Documented Popularity

  1. Excellent post! I dread getting tagged in albums, for the simple fact that I take terrible pictures and I hate my smile, which is why you’ll rarely see me do it in a photo and if I do, it’s closed mouth. Kind of makes me look like Lurch on the Adams Family. heh

  2. Thanks D. It’s the constant pictures every time I’m out drinking, you can’t avoid them. There’s probably a more serious issue beneath all this, similar to everything else i write about, however I tend to just avoid that in favour of aggressive whimsy and common insults.

    • Just fine thanks. I’ve been pretty busy with university work lately, and between that and games I’ve haven’t written much in the way of articles. I’ve been working on a piece that’s somewhere in between a short story and a poem though, which is shaping up well. Should be worth the wait.

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  5. Hello, I followed a link (from where I can’t remember) to your post on “The Cube”, which I mercifully missed in its entirety, but I really enjoyed reading your writing and so I have just been going forward from that point. I have enjoyed every post I have read so far. While you may have damaged your karma by causing be to have watched not only that wretched insurance? commercial but the first 15-20 of the Pants off dance off video, which has achieved the elusive combination of being both moraly and creatively bankrupt and though I’ll never watch it and find out I would guess it manages to do all that while providing exactly zero entertainment to anyone with less than total brain damage. That being said I agree even more so with this topic, this widespread need to document every event no matter how routine or boring and then share it with the world is getting really ridiculous. I don’t have it in me to look through one more album called “The Best Weekend Ever, part 37”. Almost without fail it will contain 50 pictures, and if I’m lucky there will be one that may interest me. Of the rest roughly half will be poorly framed shot of the intrepid documentarian and various friends/aquantancess/people they just met posing arm in arm labeled as “me and my bestie, BFF, or depending on gender my girls/boys, 30-40% will be rock solid photographic proof that people drank alcohol and/or ate food, and the rest will be a smattering of blurry pictures of people on stages taken from a camera phone so far away that it could be anybody, pictures of the place where the event no one cares about took place, and a few that even with a caption I can’t identify. What I can’t figure out is why the person who took these pictures would ever want to look at them, even more unlikely is that anyone else wants to see them (maybe I’m wrong and each of the 42 pictures of them with a beer is special in its own way). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to grab someone’s camera and tell them that instead of worrying about taking 73 pictures so that they can later prove to others how much fun they had, they should perhaps just have fun. Well that was long but strangely cathartic, I feel better now. I have been consistently impressed with your writing, both in terms of the point of view that you convey, as well as in how well you do so. I was blown away when I read that you were only 19 when you wrote these, not that the anonymous opinion of an Internet commenter has much weight in the publishing industry but I hope you continue to write and can’t wait to see your eventually book on a shelf.

    -Ben M

    • Thank you. I can barely comprehend compliments of this magnitude. It’s a shame, but this place has been largely neglected for quite a while now. I should really work on some new stuff, your comment [which arrived sandwiched in spam comments] was rather inspiring. It’s nice to know this old stuff still gets read, and is occasionally enjoyed.


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