A History of the Selfie You Never Know Existed, No Matter How Embarrassing It Is for You

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Selfie could land you in big trouble

Selfie is cool. I can’t say that he invented them, but my younger brother was one of the pioneers of the selfie. Back before there were cameras attached to phones and before phones that weren’t attached to the house, you had to put film in your camera. That meant you could take only 12, 24 or 36 photos before you had to put another roll in. Inevitably, he would put a new roll of film in my mom’s camera and immediately take a picture of himself with a ridiculous expression on his face. And mom would yell at him for wasting film.

So, from the very beginning (or thereabouts), the selfie caused trouble. But like everything else in our digital age, screw-ups are now magnified and made everlasting by the Internet. Some of these are simply embarrassing, but there are honest-to-God criminal charges pending in some cases.

Look, it was cute when Ellen DeGeneres took her selfie at the Oscars surrounded by more stars than there are in the Big Dipper. She took the retweet record away from President Obama, and they joked about it on her show. I am not as beloved nor as charming as Ellen, so I’d hesitate to challenge any record held by the guy who got bin Laden and who is in charge of the drones.

Of course, we all remember Anthony Weiner’s selfies that ended his political career. One day, you’re a congressman with a bright future. The next, thanks to a few pictures of your package, you’re unemployed but lucky to still be married.


We also have Amanda Bynes, Geraldo Rivera, and Miley Cyrus selfies that I suspect they’d rather have back. But these are simply embarrassing, and well, if other people didn’t get embarrassed, we’d have to find another way to fill the time slot occupied by “Saturday Night Live.”

Naturally, wherever there is embarrassment, there are software giants who will help you make it worse. And although Gmail’s new “shelfie” feature was just an April Fool’s joke, there are countless apps and software out there to make selfies not only easy, but trendy. Google’s prank reflects a self-obsessed culture, one that will allow the selfie to stick around for a long while, and thus, perpetuate the embarrassment.

In some cases, simple embarrassment would be welcome. Consider the case of the “foreign student” who wanted to take a selfie while sitting in the lap of a sculpture known as “Barberini Faun,” which resides in Milan’s Academy of Fine Arts of Brera. Rather than get a cute shot to Instagram, the student managed to break a leg off the statue. God clearly protects idiots because the security cameras caught nothing. Since the statue was a 19th century reproduction of an ancient work, there was no real harm done to civilization as a whole. Still, unintentional vandalism is vandalism, and I’d rather not be on the wrong end of an Italian court — the lesson of Amanda Knox.

Sometimes, though, you don’t get lucky. Consider the case of Daniel Lee Thomas, who lives in Wales. He took a selfie while in Mold Crown Court (Mold is the town in North Wales where there is a Crown Court – it’s not the same as a Crown Court that has mold, nor is it the same as Crown Molding). The shot included him, a judge in his robes and presumably the silly wig, and the crest of the court in the background.


Unfortunately for Daniel, it’s illegal to take pictures in a Crown Court. A member of the public (nosy bastards every one of them) complained to someone at the court. The police went to his house, took his phone and found the photo. He’s facing a 400 pound fine, and he’s lucky the authorities aren’t going after him for contempt — that would mean jail time.

The BBC noted, “The court heard Thomas decided to take the picture because it was the first time he had been in a crown court when he was not the defendant.” The Beeb also quoted him as saying after the hearing, “It was my first-ever selfie.”

But it’s this recent case that might be the height of selfie stupidity. On January 23, an unknown woman allegedly broke into a man’s home in Canarsie, NY, and stole his phone (and perhaps other things). She has since taken a selfie, and it was uploaded to the owner’s online account. Police now have a photo of her from which to work.

All things considered, my brother was being relatively responsible with his 1980s selfies, and certainly so compared to this.

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