Hey, you know what’s not actually a new thing and that people can all stop going crazy about? Having a phone on your camera. I mean, my phone cost £11.99 and it’s got a fucking camera on it. Getting excited about having a camera on your phone is a bit like getting excited about having a takeaway coffee or playing a song off your laptop. It ain’t no thing.
Still, half the adverts I see on TV are for cameras and phones with cameras on them. There’s usually a smiling mum photographing her snowboarding child in the ultra zoom and capturing their soul in a Twitpic forever, and we’re all being told we should be doing this. We’re told that life is passing us by and that if we don’t take pictures of every banal moment in our lives – like Guy Pearce in Memento – these moments will be lost to us forever. It’s like we’re being told not to trust our own memories.
We’re not just being encouraged to be the official club photographers of our own existences, either – we’re also being told that we should be documenting every meal as if we were preparing for a retrospective at the Saatchi gallery. This idea finds its epitome and is perpetuated most fervently by something called Instagram. You might have heard of it.
I don’t know what it was about the turn of the century – maybe we all got carried away and thought we were the “chosen ones” because our lives spanned two different millennia? – but something in the atmosphere at that time seemed to make us fall in love with ourselves. Our inflated sense of self-esteem is probably why we were complacent enough to allow Travis and jeans that looked like tents to pass as youth culture and why we all bought into the myth that there was an artist in residence within all of us. No longer did we have to be constructive members of society to survive its wilderness, we could all make a living designing logos for juice bars and running our own coffee shops/galleries/grime labels. Don’t have the requisite money, talent, intelligence or motivation to do that? It’s cool, just get a bank loan or win a competition, or something – we got you, B.
Think I’m generalising? Well, in 2001, I rode my micro scooter into school one day to be told by my art teacher that I’d been commissioned by the council to design a mural for a local underpass. This confused me, partly because I was 12 and partly because I was old enough to realise that I was a shitty artist. I declined, went on to achieve a G-grade at GCSE, killed my art teacher’s dream that I had my own suburban version of Guernica buried within me and spent the rest of my adolescence telling posh girls that I wasn’t appreciated by the heathens at the exam board and that Van Gogh never sold a painting either.
In the cold light of the dole queue, most of us now realise that this was a complete crock of shit, and it’s probably the reason why anyone under the age of 30 is an insufferable bastard with a sense of entitlement equal to that of an exiled Nepalese prince (myself included). The age of Blair begat the culture of rampant self-obsession and bullshit aspiration that brought us Olly Riley and Emmanuel Frimpong rather than the next Issac Newton.
Then there was Banksy, who proved that all you really needed to make it as an artist was a series of ill-informed, left of centre, political metaphors and a rudimentrary understanding of graphic design to get Alan Yentob and Alain De Botton calling you “The Shoreditch Goya” or some shit.
Of course, this has been going on for a while and you only need to go to any South London art college’s graduate private view to see that the vast majority of modern creatives should’ve just taken that job at Snappy Snaps. Recently, though, this ludicrous idea that anybody can be a doyenne of self-expression has found its cruddy conclusion in the unlikely guise of a free smartphone app.
For those of you not in the know – I guess you’re busy being good grandmothers or something – Instagram’s purpose is to provide an excuse for people without any semblance of taste to spew their own bohemian delusions on the people they went to school with. It’s the creative equivalent of a celebrity name drop, a glimpse of a better life foisted onto people who mostly aren’t interested, carefully timed and justified with a bullshit excuse, like “Isn’t London beautiful today?”, when we know that the real reason the photo exists is to prove that you’re on the roof of Shoreditch House.
Of course there are plenty of decent people who post interesting, tasteful pictures, but it’s the associated culture that so many people seem to want to be a part of that’s the problem. The aesthetics, the themes, the tropes. Instagram might just be a photo app, but it’s also the weapon of choice for the people who call celebrities they’ve never met by their first names. It’s for people who pass off Jay Rayner restraurant reviews as their own opinions. It’s for people who actually bought the Speech Debelle album.
There are many aspects of Instagram that it’s easy to take umbrage with, but let’s ignore the connotations and motives for a second and just take a look at the aesthetics.
First of all there’s that dreadful sub-Windows Moviemaker filter effect that you’re obliged to smear over any photo you take. This doesn’t make whatever you’ve taken a picture of appear timeless or classy, but more like a rotting Polaroid of a long forgotten missing girl that David Jason might find in a dusty evidence draw in A Touch Of Frost. I’m no Brian Sewell, but to me Instagram just looks cheap and grotty. I feel a bit queasy looking at the pictures – they remind me of my nan’s council flat that hadn’t been redecorated since the right to buy came in. It reminds me of polyester suits worn by racist comedians and abandoned furniture shops. It reminds me of death and farts. Maybe this means I have some kind of phobia of them – maybe I was suffocated with a tank top in a previous life – but I just can’t hack the way they look.
Then there’s the fact that most of the pictures are of food that I’m sure were mouth-watering IRL, but, when instagrammed, end up resembling the photo pages of tattered cookbooks dating from the early days of the microwave, full of turkey curries and scrambled egg lasagnas.
What’s the point of these photos, anyway? Sure, I can understand the idea of wanting to capture an important, romantic or amusing moment for purposes of posterity and nostalgia, but really, how many of these pictures are going to stand the test of time? We’ve become tourists in our own lives, aimlessly snapping away at anything and everything we do. Many of these pictures never even leave the memory cards they’re saved on; they are the digital versions of the disposable cameras we used to leave behind in Centre Parcs chalets.
Even if you’re just using it to share the lulz, Instagram ceases to be useful. The po-faced nature of it sucks all the amusement out of a passed-out friend or a comical typo. Once funny photos come across like a clip from You’ve Been Framed that’s lost all its soul in an arthouse remake.
Maybe it’s just a way of trying to get a grip on a world that’s passing us by, capturing those seemingly mundane moments that, when assembled, begin to make some kind of sense of our existence, like a Bayeux Tapestry with less death and more painted nails. Maybe I’m just a cynical bastard whose phone is barely capable of sending an SMS at ground level. Maybe Instagram does have some kind of worth.
I think the problem is that there’s a dishonesty at its core. All photography of worth captures some kind of truth, something that you wouldn’t have picked up on with the naked eye. At the very least, it presents an interestingly distorted view of reality. Instagram, on the other hand, offers a lie, aesthetically and thematically. It’s a filtered and staged version of the real world, which is fine if you’re Tim Burton, but Instagram thinks it’s street journalism.
Anybody who sees a riot, a terrorist attack or a self immolation is not going to be wasting any time pondering whether “Valencia” or “Nashville” is the best filter to complement the burning American flags. Nobody who sees anything remotely interesting is going to wonder which filter they should use before they send it to the AP. It’s people with too much time and not enough originality who inhabit the world of Instagram.
Maybe Instagram isn’t something to get worked up about in itself, maybe it’s just a slightly crude way of sharing your photos with a bunch of other people who like to do that sort of thing, but Instagram isn’t an exclusive club. It’s mostly used by smug people to inflict their smug existences and bouji bullshit on the rest of us, and that’s when it becomes a different animal altogether.
This is culture as status symbols. It’s just that being at the right restaurant at the right time has replaced the second-hand Mercedes Benz.
Sorry Instagram, but I just don’t get you (apart from when rappers use it, ’cause they post pictures of themselves fishing in jacuzzis, which is amazing).