TIME Television

John Cho: Why Skeptics Should Give Selfie a Chance

John Cho
John Cho Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP

"If you think you’re going to dislike the show, watch the show — there’s somebody who would dislike the show on the show"

The story of My Fair Lady gets a social-media makeover on ABC’s Selfie, premiering Sept. 30. Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame plays Eliza, who’s more obsessed with Facebook “friends” than real ones, while Cho plays Henry, the luddite teaching her people skills.

TIME: Now that you’re starring on Selfie, do you feel pressure to take selfies now?

John Cho: No, I don’t know that it’s a good idea for people to take their own photographs.

You sound a lot your character.

I am a little curmudgeonly about new media. Although, like the show, Karen admonished me and said, “You should be tweeting more.” I have been more active, and it is more interesting than I thought.

Were you ever on Facebook?

Never. I have this nightmare that one day I will have to look at every picture I’ve ever taken with people in an airport or in bars or restaurants, and it will make me very sad. It will be like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. — a descending wall of sadness.

Sounds like you want to go off the grid.

I am just a poser. Of course I wouldn’t go off the grid. Of course I depend on technology. I just have this idea of myself as someone who doesn’t do this sort of thing. It’s just a way of connecting. Our species likes being social. This is a way to maximize that desire.

As a parent, do you think a lot about what technology you give your kids and when?

My kid was two, and we went down to Union Station here in Los Angeles. I took him down to the train station because he was so into trains at the time. He went to the map and pinched his fingers on the map because he thought it as a touch screen!

Oh wow.

That was horrifying. I think we’re freaked out that that’s all they’re going to do, but my kid loves books as well. He watches YouTube and likes the big TV screen and then likes books and crayons. The scope is wide. Maybe because I didn’t have much of it back then, once we had cable, I never wanted to do anything but watch cable. And so it’s an old-school mentality: our parents thought that sitting too close to the TV was bad for your eyes and would melt your brain. I believed it, and I think I’m applying it to my kids. But I don’t know whether it’s true. They just seem to float between media very easily.

Do you think people are prejudging the show?

I was scared that people would never watch the show because “selfie” of course sounds terrible. And it should! It is a good gag reflex we have as a society, that we hear the word selfie and dislike it. Maybe we should loathe the concept a little bit.

Your character is almost a proxy for the audience, then.

If you think you’re going to dislike the show, watch the show — there’s somebody who would dislike the show on the show.

Perhaps they didn’t get that it’s loosely based off My Fair Lady.

Yeah, I thought that was a big deal. When I saw My Fair Lady, I was surprised at how mean and misogynistic Henry was. Maybe that’s why it’s dropping out of public consciousness.

Does the show set out to correct that?

I don’t think so. They’re dealing with that push-pull a little bit. I feel like social media, in a way, you could call it feminine. If you accept the premise that women are more social, women are more about connecting with other people, then social media is the most extreme version of that. And the most extreme version of gossip, which is considered a feminine trait. Henry is the antithesis and therefore the masculine viewpoint. You could see it as male-versus-female, this show. I think that sort of is underpinning the show, to an extent.

If the selfie backlash is already brewing, how will the show stay hip?

The show starts at pop culture, but ultimately it’s about these two people who shouldn’t like each other but are starting to. That idea has legs.

A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 29 issue of TIME, available now.

TIME Media

The Private Self(ie)

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" Party - The 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Jennifer Lawrence attends the "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" party at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2014 in Cannes, France. Mike Marsland—WireImage

Pressure on girls to take sexy selfies comes out of a culture that equates modesty with shame, instead of seeing what it really is

Since the Jennifer Lawrence photo hack, Internet security has come under scrutiny. But why do many young women feel the need to take and share nude selfies in the first place? Don’t get me wrong: I think hackers are morally reprehensible and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But I also think that we need to build an alternative to the dogma “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Young women are told that it’s a sign of being proud of your sexuality to “sext” young men—a philosophy that has turned girls into so many flashing beacons, frantic to keep the attention of the males in their lives by striking porn-inspired poses.

Today if you watch the famous Algerian-French singer Enrico Macias singing to his late wife, Suzy, about how he “won her love,” their dynamic seems as if it’s from another planet. Some might watch this decades-old video and imagine her passivity indicates that she wasn’t empowered. But I see something else in her shy manner and dancing eyes: a drama between them that was not for the public to see. The words of his song are certainly moving—“In the exile’s nights, we were together/ My son and my daughter are truly from you/ I spent my life … waiting for you”—and yet there was even more than what those beautiful lyrics revealed.

The pressure on girls today to take sexy selfies comes out of a culture that routinely equates modesty with shame, instead of recognizing it for what it really is: an impulse that protects what is precious and intimate. Teenage girls need to know that when boys ask them for naked pictures, they can—and should—say no. It’s not merely because those pictures can find their way onto social media. (Even without the aid of hackers, such photos seem to have a way of slipping their iPhone collars and circulating with astonishing ease). A better reason to say no is that, having set a higher standard, maybe someone will write a love song for them instead.

And if the boys don’t, who cares? Modesty is, at its essence, about having an internal sense of self, not needing others’ approval of how you look (naked or otherwise) to know that you have a unique purpose in this world, and certainly not needing all your friends to like your Facebook post in order to know you’re great.

My heroine this month is Zelda Williams, who stood up to online bullies when they weren’t satisfied by the photos she had posted of her late father Robin Williams. When they attacked her cruelly and publicly—some Twitter users even sent her horrific Photoshopped pictures of her dad to “punish” her for not posting enough pictures of him—Zelda zinged back on Instagram: “My favorite photos of family are framed in my house, not posted on social media, and they’ll remain there.” Her message was both brave and countercultural.

The larger issue here is our addiction to externalizing our private experiences to the point where we have nearly lost the ability to simply enjoy moments privately (or be allowed to mourn privately).

Did you hear about the woman who felt compelled to update her Facebook status while driving on a North Carolina highway? “The happy song makes me HAPPY,” she typed, a second before her car crashed into a truck. A Polish couple recently wanted to take some selfies near a cliff, and then—putting a bit of a damper on things—they actually fell off the cliff. It’s easy to distance ourselves from these tragedies and think, That’s crazy! That would never happen to me.

And yet social media is filled with videos of parents scaring their toddlers or filming their tearful reactions when told that Mommy ate all their Halloween candy. I seem to be nearly the only person who doesn’t find these videos funny, nor do I think that the appropriate reaction to a child’s tantrum is to film it and commiserate on Facebook about how hilarious it was. To me, these parents have fallen off a different cliff, albeit an imperceptible one; they’re breaking a private trust in order to feed the public’s appetite.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that the collapse of the public-private distinction has dialed down our capacity for empathy. Real empathy requires a private, intimate space, and, of course, a time when you’re not on Facebook. Last Saturday, my 3-year-old daughter fell asleep in her Sabbath finery after a spirited trip to the park, and it was one of those perfect moments. I gazed at her sweet slumber on the couch and I sighed, saying to my husband, “The Shabbos photos you can’t take are always the best ones.” (As Jews who observe the restrictions of the Sabbath, we don’t take photos on this day.) Then I realized, maybe it’s not that Sabbath photos are better in any objective way. Since I couldn’t immediately reach for my phone and capture the picture, I had no alternative than to be in the moment and drink it all in: her little chest rising and falling, her fancy dress artfully decorated with grass stains and crumb cake. What was she dreaming about? I was able to notice things and really throw myself into the moment in a way I never would have had I rushed for my camera as usual.

From a technical standpoint, the scene was mundane, but private, unmediated moments have a special quality. Let’s try to enjoy more of them.

Shalit’s first book, A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, was recently released in a new 15th-anniversary edition.

TIME Social Media

Is This Woman the World’s Selfie Queen?

Meet the mysterious Thai woman who's posted more than 12,000 photos of herself

Kim Kardashian’s new book, Selfish, reportedly has 1200 selfies. But a woman from Bangkok, Thailand, makes her look like an amateur. Mortao Maotor, as she calls herself on Instagram, has posted more than 12,000 pictures of herself to the internet, often at a clip of more than 200 a week. She has about 20,000 followers, a not particularly high number, but she more than makes up for it in her dedication to her craft. So we’re wondering: could she be the selfie queen?

By way of comparison, Mr. Pimpgoodgame, the self-proclaimed selfie king from Texas, has 10 times as many followers but has posted a paltry 600 self portraits. Jen Selter, who has garnered more than 4,000,000 followers with pictures of her unusually rounded rump, has posted only 457 shots at last count. And then there’s Ms. K., with her millions of followers–but counting her self-portraits would be as absurd as counting sand. The Kardashians play in a their own selfie league.

Mortao, which is not her real name, defies the stereotype of the selfie-taker. She’s 40-ish, not famous and is married to the owner of Room of Art, an antique store/art gallery in Bangkok at which she takes many of her photos. Mortao doesn’t speak English, but through a woman who answered the phone at the Room of Art and said she was Mortao’s husband’s daughter, she declined to comment on why she posts so many selfies, saying it was “quite personal.” Other posts suggest she has older siblings and loves dogs and desserts.

It’s not all that surprising that Thailand, a country which reportedly has more mobile phone subscribers than it has people, might be the home of world’s most dogged selfie taker. During the coup in May, some locals even took selfies with the soldiers enforcing martial law. The country’s Ministry of Health was moved to issue a warning that taking and posting selfies was not helpful to the self-esteeem of young Thais.

Not all of Mortao’s pictures are of her face. She also likes to shoot her legs and her iced drinks or meals (many of her pictures are taken from a Bangkok Starbucks or an After You cafe.) But the overwhelming majority of them are classic selfies. She has fondness for shots taken in apparently the same bathroom mirror, perhaps the one in the Pantip Plaza in Ngam Wong Wan near Bangkok, which is often geolocated in the photos. While her photos often draw risque comments, and some are suggestive, none of her images are pornographic, and she only replies to the clean remarks, with unfailing politeness.

Mortao, whose account was first brought to our attention by the social media analysts at Nitrogram (now called Totems), is an impressive candidate for the biggest Practitioner of Selfie Taking Extraordinarily Regularly (POSTER), but we’d be willing to entertain others.

TIME Arts

Reddit User Makes Greco-Roman Statues Look Like They’re Taking Selfies

The future of art?

In case you were curious, that is the face of a Greco-Roman statue, modeled after those at the Vatican Museum, “posing” for a selfie.

Thanks to some careful camera angling, Reddit user “jazsus_ur_lookin_well” took these photographs of statues at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, Ireland, as a way to join old art with new… art. (Is a selfie art? What would Kim Kardashian say?)

“The staff in that art gallery were giving me some strange looks,” the user wrote on Reddit.

At least this person didn’t break any of them.

(h/t Bored Panda)

TIME society

Millennials’ Worst Nightmare Realized When Fake Security Guard Fines People For Taking Selfies

Apocalypse Instagram.

New Yorkers reacted to a sign recently placed in Central Park declaring it a “Selfie-Free Zone” Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to midnight as you’d expect they might: They took selfies with it.

In the latest edition of Jena Kingsley’s YouTube series, the prankster put on a security uniform and informed people that their selfies were punishable by a $50 fine. And some of the filter-loving photo takers were not pleased with the supposed de Blasio New York policy.

But even though the video just aims to poke fun at our cultural selfie craze — “Can you imagine what our pics are going to look like to our children and grandchildren?” Kingsley asks TIME — it hits a little close to home. Some institutions are at war with selfies. They have been banned at some school graduations, in clubs, and a New York law now prohibits direct contact between the public and tigers or other big cats as more and more men make “tiger selfies” their profile pictures on online dating sites.

Is this parody really a look into a post-selfie future? Sparrow face while you still can!

TIME viral

Men Are Shaving Their Chest Hair Into Bikini Tops Because… Oh, Wait, There’s No Good Reason

They did not wake up like this

We don’t know why men are choosing to manscape their chest hair into the shape of bikini tops — both halter and strapless for easier tanning — but according to trend-tracking listicles, it’s officially #ChestHairBikini season y’all.

Advertiser approved!

Granted, the all-natural mankini isn’t exactly a new revelation. It has been ongoing since the invention of Spring Break and tequila shots, but it is reportedly reemerging on the beach scene…whether you asked for it or not. Here’s one of photos that started the trend, which dates back to at least Sep. 2013 on Twitter:

Everyone pack up your towels, it’s time to go home.

TIME viral

Watch a Teen Who Took a Selfie Every Day for 7 Years Transform Before Your Eyes

“I was taking selfies before they were cool.”

Kim Kardashian might get a lot of selfie buzz, but according to 19-year old Hugo Cornellier, “I was taking selfies before they were cool.”

Almost every day for the last seven years — “Out of 2500 pics I should have, I’m missing about 50,” he told TIME — Cornellier sat in front of his computer to take a selfie, capturing experimental facial hair and all.

Over the years, Cornellier has posted updates on his YouTube. But the recent video tracking his development from 12 to 19 has been a particular hit, accumulating 1.2 million views in just over 2 weeks.

And Cornellier isn’t planning on stopping any time soon.

“I still take a picture every single day,” he said. “This will go on forever. I never plan on stopping.”

TIME psychology

What People Learn About You From Your Selfies

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Woman looking at reflection Vintage Images—www.jupiterimages.com

The pictures you post online could affect the way people treat you in person

According to new research, there are scientific reasons why you judged that girl who posted a selfie on Instagram last night.

It’s no secret that people make snap judgments about each other, but the study, conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York, was able to accurately predict what those judgments would be based on facial measurements such as “eye height” and “eyebrow width.”

Previous studies have shown that first impressions often fall into three categories: approachability, dominance, and attractiveness. The researchers at the University of York took 1,000 photographs from the Internet, analyzed the facial features of the subjects (who were all Caucasian), and studied how people reacted to each photograph. They were then able to develop a statistical model that predicted what the viewer’s impression of the face would be based on the measured facial features.

The findings of this study help illuminate the importance of these impressions in an age of social media, in which pictures of faces proliferate and people meet, talk, and even date online. According to the researchers‘ report, curating the perfect photo for these websites isn’t as trivial as it seems. “Some of the features that are associated with first impressions are linked to changeable properties of the face or setting that are specific to a given image,” they wrote. “So things like expression, pose, camera position, lighting can all in principle contribute alongside the structure of our faces themselves.”

Perhaps the most surprising finding was that snap judgments based on a photo could shape the way we respond to a person even after we’ve met them in person. The researchers explain it this way in the introduction to their report: “Although first impressions are formed rapidly to faces, they are by no means fleeting in their consequences. Instead… facial appearance can affect behavior, changing the way we interpret social encounters and influencing their outcomes.”

Less surprisingly, the research showed that “masculine” faces, determined by factors such as cheekbone structure, eyebrow height and skin texture, were seen as dominant, whereas more feminine faces were perceived as more attractive and youthful.

But the researchers also found that the shape and size of a person’s mouth directly affected his or her perceived approachability, and that larger eyes tend to predict higher levels of attractiveness.

So it’s time to stop making fun of people who obsess over choosing their profile picture. Richard Vernon, a PhD student who worked on the study, said, “Showing that even supposedly arbitrary features in a face can influence people’s perceptions suggests that careful choice of a photo could make (or break) others’ first impressions of you.”

TIME viral

This Is What It Looks Like When The Queen Photobombs Your Selfie

One is amused

An Australian field hockey player was minding her own business, talking a selfie at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, when her picture was photobombed by the Queen. As in, Elizabeth II, Queen of England.

AND she was smiling.

This wasn’t the Queen’s first time embracing millennial photobomb culture, either:

Royals. They’re just like us.

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