Selfiecide: The Price of Narcissism and Why It’s Higher under Putin

Alice E.M. Underwood

“Thus with a kiss I die.”

“Et tu, Brute.”

“The rest is silence.”

Some famous last phrases go down in history. “Let me take a selfie” is now one of them. And it wasn’t even penned by Shakespeare.

In the midst of the craze that has spawned the selfie stick and worn out front-facing cameras on iPhones the world over, some wannabe photographers have taken it a snap too far. And with good reason: if a self-pic of you smiling with a sunset behind you will get a handful of likes, why not boost it to a hundred or so by climbing on top of a rickety bridge while you’re at it? There’s nothing like a photo in an extreme or potentially life-threatening situation to boost the adrenaline (not to mention the Facebook following), but a few too many lately have been ending in tragedy.

Morbid curiosity not satisfied? Here are some times when maybe it’s better to keep the phone in your pocket:

And those are just a few of the examples. Deadly selfies have cost more than 50 aspiring photographers their lives in 2015 alone. And that’s just at halfway through the year.

So what’s the world to do? Cope with the high price of narcissism? Keep people with cameras away from bulls and high places? Abolish the selfie stick?

Nothing so extreme as that. But one attempt to quell the flow of self-portrait-turned-suicide has emerged from a place that’s somewhat unexpected: the Russian Ministry of the Interior.

Shouldn’t Russia be worried about other things, like Crimea, the failing ruble, the ongoing twerking epidemic, and oh yes, President Putin’s growing authoritarianism? Sure, but when “Let me take a selfie” becomes a funeral dirge, even the authorities have got to take notice.

While extreme selfie stories crop up across the globe, the nearly 100 injuries and ten fatalities this year alone make Russia among the extremest of the extreme.

Hence the “Safe Selfie” initiative, which will aim to encourage aspiring selfie snappers to pursue more peaceful portraiture. Public memos, safety rules, and new school electives involving psychologists, police, and professional photographers (a natural trio any day of the week) are meant to avert the morbid desire for extreme shots.

Which is nice, but also sounds like the typical educational jargon that misses the point of what’s really up with Russian youth. And not to put all our nesting dolls in one, um, bigger nesting doll, but chances are the increasingly authoritarian situation, which includes repression of social as well as political expression, has something to do with a widespread sense of disillusionment, powerlessness, and a sense that voices don’t get heard.

For many young Russians, what results is a whole lot of apathy. The symptoms? Online entertainment, social media, and, that’s right, potentially lethal selfies.

Sure, there’s that urge to show your pearly whites as well as what you’re capable of, just like in other places. But higher risk-taking in Russia might, just might, have something to do with a higher drive for escapism, low investment in one’s immediate surroundings, and a sense that connection through social forums — especially based on dangerous experiences — can substitute for meaningful cultural engagement.

The question of where Russia’s at today and what the borshcht its youth are to do about it is one for another time, but the selfie phenomenon and its higher-than-average fatality rate in Russia highlights the struggles of a demographic that most folks tooting the anti-Putin horn often forget about.

Which doesn’t mean there’s not something to be said for the Safe Selfie initiative. “Health and life are not worth a million likes on social networks,” the motto goes. And they’ve got a point.

Even if the stats are higher among Russian youth, that urge for extreme action — and the reward of the throng of thumbs-ups that results from capturing it forever — is a driving force for many young folk today. Without completely overhauling the way we perceive friendship, success, and things worth being proud of, it’ll be tough to kick the selfie craze in our generation entirely.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.