Social media guilt: Speculation on the fall of Selfie

John Cho as Henry Higgs; Karen Gillan as Eliza Dooley. Image via Variety.

Selfie, the ABC sitcom remake of My Fair Lady starring Amy Pond as Eliza Doolittle and Mister Sulu II as Henry Higgins, has already been canceled. I’m sad to see it go, because I feel like it never got a chance to meet its full potential. I’m not going to pretend to know why it’s being canceled. But what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t speculate on things I know nothing about? Here goes.

Hypothesis: Selfie failed because it was obsessed with shaming its target demographic for using what could’ve been its most effective marketing tool.

Now, it could easily be argued that the show was about Eliza’s misuse of social media, not social media itself. The possibility to take the show in that direction was what kept me watching. Unfortunately, though, it never quite got there. Each episode reinforced messages that we see everywhere: That our Facebook friends aren’t real friends. That we’ve lost the art of meaningful communication because of our communication devices. That using a digital platform to talk about yourself and your life is a sure sign of narcissism. That if you have EVER dared to take a photograph of yourself and utilize a platform that :gasp: allows other people to see it, you are a hopeless attention whore who thinks the world, nay, the universe, revolves around you.

To be fair, Selfie’s Henry Higgs is as lost as its Eliza Dooley. Although Henry prides himself on not being the type to settle for shallow digital connection, he’s as lacking in real-world connections as his insta-famous mentee. It’s obvious that Selfie wants to be a show about two out-of-balance opposites meeting each other in the middle. But this misses the entire point of the source material. My Fair Lady (like the non-musical play it was adapted from, Pygmalion) was a satire of middle-class manners. In the original, there was nothing wrong with Eliza. And Eliza didn’t substantially change over the course of the story. Her basic personality, which was fine to begin with, remained intact. Higgins simply changed the way she spoke, dressed, and comported herself so that she could successfully conform to upper-middle-class arbitrary social conventions. The guttersnipe became a princess just by putting on a pretty dress and pronouncing her consonants. The story mocked the society that accepted or rejected Eliza based on these shallow, arbitrary standards, not Eliza herself for playing their game and winning.

I feel like Selfie could’ve been so much better if it had taken its social media farce in this direction. It could’ve subverted the platitudes of social media guilt that have become as ubiquitous as social media itself. Why aren’t Facebook friends real friends? They’re actual people. They aren’t computer programs. Isn’t it your choice if you’re adding people you don’t want to be friends with, or if you’re posting shallow or drama-filled statuses instead of using this neutral tool to cultivate real friendships? Why can’t phone apps be a way to enhance meaningful communication? That funny Pinterest pin you send your sister could spark a conversation that brings you closer than ever. Why can’t people read their family’s and friends’ posts because they’re sincerely interested in these people’s lives, and why can’t you post things about your own life with the understanding that this sincere interest is mutual? Maybe the real narcissist is the person who’s annoyed by their family and friends wanting to – OHMYGOD – talk about their lives! Why does taking a selfie have to mean that you expect the whole universe to stop what it’s doing and worship at your altar? Can’t it be just another chapter in humanity’s ongoing quest to document our existence? Part of a tradition that goes back to cave paintings?

But now back to my elephant-in-the-room hypothesis. Social media is an invaluable platform for promoting a work of entertainment. Especially for a generation that keeps finding new ways to avoid viewing paid advertisements. We Millennials will adblock our favorite shows out of existence, but we’ll check out that thing our BFF keeps livetweeting. Remember my post about The Quest, another ABC show? I didn’t notice a single commercial for it, even though, unlike most of my Millennial friends, I watch programming on an actual television set. I started watching The Quest because my sister sent me a text about it. On her phone. And then my sister and I joined thousands of other people who tweeted about the show on the hashtag #TheQuestArmy. It was by no means the first show I’d consistently livetweeted. But, although I tuned in to watch Selfie every week, I can’t say I was ever inclined to livetweet a show that kept telling me in the most anvillicious ways possible to put down my damn phone.

Ironically, I think Selfie might’ve had a better shot on a different platform. Since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, YouTube has been flooded with modern adaptations of classic English literature. Most of them, it seems, star cute redheaded female leads. Selfie could’ve easily had a place among them.

But to do that, they would’ve had to cater to all those millennial narcissists on social media.

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Author:

Author, blogger, internet person. My claim to fame is Thalia's Musings, an indie fantasy series set in the ancient Greek pantheon and narrated by the muse of comedy. http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ https://amethystmarie.com/

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