US university teaches culture of selfies

Updated: 2015-05-11 10:45


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US university teaches culture of selfies

US Secretary of State John Kerry takes a selfie with a baby elephant while touring the Sheldrick Center Elephant Orphanage at the Nairobi National Park, May 3, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. [Photo/Agencies]

SAN FRANCISCO - A new university course is delving into the study of selfies, self-portraits taken on cellphones, to analyze its cultural meaning and self-expression in the modern world.

The course began this semester at the University of Southern California under the more formal title "Writing 150: Writing and Critical Reasoning: Identity and Diversity," though it is better known among students as #SelfieClass.

Associate professor Mark Marino, who teaches the course, defends its importance to understand the phenomenon that boomed with the advent of smartphones.

"My students are learning that we live in a moment where selfies have become a part of the communication process," Marino told Xinhua, "and there are parts of our identity that are being read regardless of how we try to portray ourselves. They can see selfies as part of a larger process of the communication act."

As part of the course, students have to take five self- portraits and analyze the background, their clothes, their gestures and any objects in the image. Throughout the course, they are asked to compare their selfies with other students and well- known celebrities, like Beyonce, the singer who frequently posts selfies on social media.

Marino said he "wanted to look at how we view ourselves and how we make ourselves look like for others when taking selfies, analyzing gender, race, education and socioeconomic background."

The students were asked to help first-generation aspiring university students with their college applications for a few weeks as part of a class project. After this, Marino told them to review the selfies they took at the beginning of the course.

"Students saw themselves in a different light, through a different perspective after ten weeks, especially since they helped with the project," he said. "This comes to show that our own views about ourselves also change over time and influence how we portray ourselves to others."

The course will run through next semester as part of a broader project to study the selfie culture beyond the celebrity world. Throngs of researchers from different universities have been working for over a year to create a common syllabus and have joined hands through Facebook, the birth place of modern selfie.

Dismissing the notion that selfie a narcissistic expression reflecting a self-absorbed society, Marino views it as something that has been present through the ages.

"This process began the first time someone put their hands on the wall of a cave and it continued with the written letters, painted self-portraits and personal diaries. It will continue as long as people need to communicate, it will just evolve into something else."

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