Let's Not Blame Selfies for This Russian Teen's Death

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We are, right now, at the perfect point in history, at the exact, particular juncture in the life cycle of a meme, where we can witness tabloids report on the "selfie-induced" death of a 17-year-old girl named Xenia Ignatyeva.


It's always (well, usually) interesting to watch as a phenomenon forms around any given object. Take, for example, the selfie. We now have a specific word for something that has long existed (taking an image of oneself), and with that word, that new-ish name, comes culture. The culture surrounding selfies — how we present them, how we feel about them, how we discuss them, what they say about us and how we see ourselves, how we use them to market products to a demographic who use these as a cultural touchstone — is new and incipient, and we're watching as it grows and morphs in real time. And it is smart and cool and boring and stupid, all at once.

Closer Online, a site dedicated to celebrity gossip and lifestyle stories and the odd SEO-friendly teen death, writes that the "keen photographer had been trying to take a dramatic selfie when she climbed up onto the railway bridge in Saint Petersburg, Russia - but she somehow lost her balance and toppled over the side," losing her life after evidently grabbing onto a high voltage cable for support. The Mirror, a UK-based source that describes itself as "the intelligent tabloid" (hashtag: #madeuthink), makes sure that the word SELFIE is wholly capitalized in its headline.

And, while this young person's friends and family are preoccupied with mourning for a person they loved, we have the benefit of sitting back and wondering why it is that the selfie should take center stage in this story. Indeed, teenagers and people of various age groups can and do die while performing ill-advised activities, whether wrestling with wild life beside a Florida canal or taking copious amounts of drugs and getting into a vehicle or taking a picture of oneself on a bridge at night. But, right now, selfies have a foothold on the international stage. They have caught our imagination, and we love them or love to hate them. And so a story about a young girl apparently electrocuting herself in a panic, and then falling 30 feet on a dark night in Russia, becomes a story about a cultural touchpoint that we can laugh about or cluck our tongues over.

"Experts have warned people are increasingly putting themselves at risk as they try to take more spectacular and risky self portraits to outdo others on social networking platforms," says the Mirror, linking to its stories about selfies. And it's anyone's guess who these experts are. Maybe it's us!