Carrie Browstein’s “So I Thought I Could Dance” started with an admission of guilt at having seen a live performance of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) with her parents. She claims, citing her recent post about The Bachelor, to not be above reality television, even if it does irk her readers. Brownstein then described SYTYCD for her readers in case they didn’t know what it was (a reality show where dancers from different genres have to learn unfamiliar genres in a season long dance competition). Carrie was hopeful of an interesting night of dance and culture, but was disappointed to find that the live performance felt more like an over hyped TV show than anything else. She explained how surreal it was to see the glitzy TV experience in real life.
The dances were only seconds long and each one was enthusiastically hyped by cheesy announcers in a “remember when” introduction before a reenactment of what had already been done on the show took place. There were even “commercial breaks” where a life-sized Snuggle Bear was there (apparently shilling fabric softener) and where the “break” for the merchandise-clad dancers was really just an excuse to hawk that merchandise to the audience, or motivate the viewing consumer to buy. Carrie explained that there was a jumbotron provided in the stadium where she went to see this show so that the audience could watch the live show on the jumbotron if they liked instead of watching what was happening in front of them.
There were segments about the dancers played on the jumbotron, just like on TV; and Carrie admitted that the dancing was actually kind of disappointing in “real life,” but looked better on the jumbotron. Carrie also mentioned how branded everything was. Each dancer had their own “TV-ized” look and personality, and then there was the heavy merchandising and jumbotron-ing going on as well. Carrie expressed dissatisfaction because she felt that instead of TV celebrating dance, this was dance celebrating TV. She also wanted to feel like she was a part of something that was really popular so that she could feel the connection with the other fans, but she instead felt a devastation at the extreme lack of cultural appreciation. No one from this crowd would be buying tickets to the ballet.
In his article “Here I am Taking My Own Picture,” Alex Williams explores the modern trend of self-portraiture that had exploded on the scene around 2006. Williams starts out by discussing Morgan Adams, a recent college grad who frequently takes and posts to her myspace page pictures of herself. He notes that plenty of kids have probably done this to their bedroom mirrors in the attempt to find one’s identity or how one fits in the world, but it’s a different thing entirely to have your personal moments of identity building available to an audience of “56 million registered users.”Williams notes that there is more camera access now than there ever was at any other time in history and that self-portraits are the main thing that is coming out of this skyrocketing level of access. He also notes that a lot of the self-portraits are theatrical or dramatic—with heroic or sultry poses.
Alex then speaks to a variety of authorities: a student affairs coordinator who confirms that kids are always snapping everything they do to share with their friends; an art historian who says the popularity of self-portraiture is unprecedented; and a PR executive who sees his daughters constantly taking photos of themselves. Williams wonders if technology could be the explanation for such an explosion of activity, but he doesn’t think so because the art historian he previously spoke with explained that snapshots with the Kodak Brownie were reserved for special occasions and would have been viewed as too self-aggrandizing, even though the technology for quick, cheap pictures was available as early as the 1960s. Williams talks to a psychologist who expresses that self-portraiture is like trying on different identities—it’s an experimentation.
Another psychologist explains that young people believe people care more about them that is actually true and so project the idea of an “imaginary audience” (as Freud explains with the ego and personality theories) and that this self-portraiture stems from that. The celebrity-saturated culture could be seen to have rubbed off on the present generation and they are simply now emulating their fame-drenched idols. Then again, a few young people were asked and it seemed clear that they took pictures for different reasons. Some just think it looks cool, others want to recreate identities and scenarios in painstaking detail. Williams also briefly notes that there is concern about predatory behavior with young people posting alluring photos of themselves online; and he also briefly mentions that there is an increased artistry in self-portraiture because the phenomenon is inspire those within it to go further so that they can continue to simply communicate with those around them.
Brownstein, C. “So I Thought I Could Dance”. In How to Write Anything: A Guide and Reference With Readings. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012.
Williams, A. “Here I Am Taking My Own Picture”. In How to Write Anything: A Guide and Reference With Readings. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012.