Instagram enhances Facebook’s most essential quality.
Facebook allows you to keep in touch with old “friends,” but keeping in touch means subjecting yourself to climate-change rants from that girl who failed biology in high school, college football highlight videos from that guy who never went to college, and (if you’re friends with me) shameless plugging of Mockingbird blog posts. But we subject ourselves to this cacophony for one reason and one reason only: So we can see their pictures.
Their pictures allow us to establish our place in the hierarchy. Her kids are cuter than mine, but mine are way cuter than his. Her framing of that photograph betrays an atrophied sense of aesthetics. Boy, has he gotten fat. That girl needs to eat a sandwich. I know you spend a lot of time at CrossFit, but it doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.
So Instagram does away with the cacophony. We no longer have to hear them; we can just see their pictures. But, because Instagram has those handy filters, all of those pictures look so much better. When filtered through X-Pro, your terrible family beach photo suddenly looks . . . artistic. And our Instagram feeds become a curated world of attractive photos. Our idiotic friends, when filtered through Instagram, become worldly artistes, and we can bear to look at them again.
Instagram’s filters work both ways. They filter out our bad qualities, but they also filter the gaze of our frenemies. That is a triumph. But what would happen if we tried, not just to enjoy the better world that Instagram shows us, but to win Instagram?
That is, of course, absurd. None of us could win Instagram. But, then again, none of us are Kanye West.
Kanye West wants to be the best. Kanye West wants to be hailed as a genius. Kanye West wants to go down in history. There is an entire subculture dedicated to Kanye’s grandiose proclamations, but his ambition can be summed up in this recent quote, which he delivered in Cannes (natch):
“The reason I said I didn’t like Samsung particularly is because throughout my entire life, because of how my parents raised me, I have to work with the No. 1. I can’t work with anyone but Jay Z, because he’s No. 1. I can’t be with any girl but Kim, because that’s the girl whose pictures I look at the most and get turned on by. I’m not going to represent any company but Louis Vuitton, because that’s No. 1. … Samsung is not quite Apple . . . .”
Kanye wants to be number one. Apparently, he has always been that way. So it was no surprise that, upon the occasion of his wedding, he set out to have the number one photo on Instagram. And he did. This photo of Kanye and Kim’s wedding that was posted on Instagram currently has almost 2.3 million likes. But Kanye revealed this week that posting the photo was not just a matter of applying the right filter; it took a team of editors four days to get it just right:
“Let me tell you something about that kiss photo that my girl put up … this was pissing my girl off during the honeymoon, she was exhausted because we worked on the photo so much because Annie Leibovitz pulled out right before the wedding. I think that she was, like, scared of the idea of celebrity.”
“Because Annie pulled out, I was like, ‘Okay, I still want my wedding photos to look like Annie Leibovitz,’ and we sat there and worked on that photo for, like, four days because the flowers were off-color.”
“Can you imagine telling someone who wants to just Instagram a photo, who’s the No. 1 person on Instagram, ‘We need to work on the color of the flower wall,’ or the idea that it’s a Givenchy dress, and it’s not about the name Givenchy, it’s about the talent that is Riccardo Tisci — and how important Kim is to the Internet.”
“And the fact the No. 1 most-liked photo [on Instagram] has a kind of aesthetic was a win for what the mission is, which is raising the palette.”
In sum, Kanye spent four days of his honeymoon editing an Instagram picture, all so that he could “rais[e] the palette” for the rest of us. No one said being a celebrity was easy.
We have plenty of reasons to laugh at Kanye, but, in reality, Kanye is just bringing the selfie culture to its logical conclusion. How many of us have missed concerts or sporting events or our own kids’ birthday parties trying to get that perfect shot, the shot that would get 50 likes on Instagram? We are all trying to raise the palette, even if our palette is so such smaller than Kanye’s.
So what is Kanye really up to? Kanye has been very upfront in the past about his Christianity. Many felt that, by entitling his last album “Yeezus,” Kanye was being blasphemous. But maybe that was just a clue to his intentions. Maybe, just maybe, he is trying to cure us. Maybe, by raising the palette, he is just trying to raise the bar.
And maybe, if he raises the bar high enough, we’ll see that we can never save ourselves through our selfies.