The snap that stole a soul

Let’s face it, folks: people like being photographed. Even a cursory glance at or thumb-through a society magazine will convince you of this human enough propensity. The most banal conversations around the coffee morning dos yield the most charming photographic memoirs; blasé interactions on the cocktail circuit provide fodder for paparazzi on the lookout for faux celebrities hamming it up; and blithe spirits in gala socialite circles preen and primp as if their lives, or at least their social lives, depended on it. Hello, there! Or, if you prefer it, “Hi!!”

This is true of hi, er high, society. Among primitive tribes, though, a contrary ethic prevails even to this day. Many natives believe that the white man’s small and handy machine, which steals silently up on you and flashes its awful horror in your face, can trap your soul for some undefined and yet nefarious purpose. For isn’t that you and yours captured for eternity in that magical image? Careful how you are taken then, for that one careless moment can snap up your life, your dreams, your very destiny…

In the age of Facebook – and now, Google+ – this reality is being brought home to more sophisticated types. That is to say, sociologists and socialites alike. But the scientific kind of study that links human behaviour in the googlesphere to the animal reality of our existence would bore you to tears, dears, so we can dispense with it for the nonce. On a sunny weekend such as this, the res is much less socialist and far more capitalist. Which, in a nutshell, means that your face is your fortune.

In all innocence, you post your photos on your FB home page or square the friendship circle on Google+ with a snap or six. Along comes an unscrupulous tech-savvy web stalker who rescues you from virtual oblivion and casts your images in a new light. One day you were a law-abiding, clean-living, model citizen with a life, a wife, and little strife save making your savings serve you as best as can be. The next you’re a guinea pig in some dubious experiment for face recognition training among shadowy intelligence outfits in the international underworld of policing and anti-terrorism operations. Or contorted by technical wizardry into performing some grotesque act that would have your late lamented grandmother gyrating in her grave. Even used in something as simple as a tag in database sharing, a target for unethical marketers, or a mark in an identity theft scam… the scariest part of it being that you will never know what ‘you’ have been up to in the reticulated recesses of the information superstructure!
Do I exaggerate? Very well, then, I exaggerate. But the reality may not be far from this fantasy that conspiracy theorists spin for your special benefit.

The deeper, darker sides of our nature come to light not so much on the net but in our daily interactions. Witness the parade of personalities at events where taking one’s picture is par for the course. First there are the ambitious types whose attention-seeking behaviour can be so amusing if it were not often something of a social nuisance. Second come the shy types who make such a fuss at taking a snap of themselves – even if they are the host or chief guest – that they reduce neurotic wedding and other extravaganza photographers to tears. Third there is the bumptious, downright rude, and arrogant kind; who don’t-care-tuppence-for-mine-host attitude borders on the boorish behaviour that beasts of prey demonstrate when they stalk off haughtily after decimating some poor whimpering creature (usually a society hostess or tyro at taking formal portraits of the guest of honour). Last but by no means least there are the shy poseurs or social non-entities who sidle casually up to indulgent-looking snapper-uppers with lenses and flashlight – and insinuate themselves into the frame, so to speak, by dropping names, greasing palms, or cajoling and coaxing with trite endearments; just so that they can make an innocuous splash in next week’s society columns.

So, perhaps the totem-worshipping natives were right, after all. A snap can steal one’s soul…
A final observation and we’re done. We all like to see ourselves – whether in a mirror (a trait we share with other intelligent species such as apes, dolphins, and elephants) or in a magazine (a characteristic that no other beast exhibits, interestingly enough!). Now we see through a glass darkly, but one day – confronted by the ultimate countenance of the universe – we may hope to see the truth face to face… if only to recognize it for the first and last time. Until we all have faces, here’s to happy snapping at soirees, mapping out layouts, and lapping it all up in hi, er high, spirits!

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