Man writes terrible column about selfies, is journalism professor

Andrew Cohen selfie

Andrew Cohen, a Carleton University journalism professor and syndicated columnist, has written a garbage column that ought to get him fired, or at the very least embarrass the hell out of the students he teaches. The column in question is a startlingly original piece on the narcissism of the modern age, as typified by selfies.

First published in the Ottawa Citizen, the column was republished a few days later in the Calgary Herald because newspapers hate their readers. It comes about half a year after everyone else had already covered the selfies-as-narcissism idea to death and despite the head start, Cohen’s argument manages at once to be boring and to get some basic things wrong.

In case you missed it, a “selfie” is “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam, uploaded to a social media website.” The word’s popularity soared in 2013, largely because of the “selfie” hashtag on Flickr and other photo-sharing websites.

Whyyyyy? First of all, selfies don’t need a dictionary definition at this point, unless of course you just learned about them and formed a half-baked idea for a newspaper column. Second, it’s certainly strange to think the word “selfie” gained popularity not because people were taking such photos but because they were hashtagging them… on Flickr of all places. (Note: you don’t use hashtags on Flickr.)

According to Cohen, we live in the Age of Self, when all our interactions are actually about ourselves and all we care about is reaching a level of celebrity that affirms our own genius, etc. Oh, and also Miley Cyrus, because Andrew Cohen is an old man who has opinions goddammit!

Desperate for attention, she “twerks” — another of the popular neologisms of 2013, which means dancing to popular music in sexually provocative ways, particularly thrusting hip movements.

Well, that’s not really what twerking is but OK. What else?

It worked for her, as it did for Elvis Presley in the 1950s and the Beatles in the 1960s.

Um… Elvis and the Beatles were not twerking. Got anything else to say about our culture of narcissism?

This is the story of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. For him, the past year was one, long selfie.

For good measure, Cohen throws in the Senate scandal and even claims that Mike Duffy is pulling off some kind of narcissistic performance, even though Duffy has probably never heard of selfies or the internet.

There’s really no way to tie Ford and Duffy to kids uploading selfies to Flickr and twerking to Miley. But there’s also no reason for Cohen’s column to exist anyway.

Wherever Canada’s editorialists get their ideas, they all seem convinced that the country is famished for more political analysis, even though it’s usually about as dull as dishwater and the market for political pundits is past saturation point. While there’s always plenty to say about culture, technology, education or a whole host of other topics, hacks who get column inches in our nation’s newspapers inevitably circle back to politics, either out of a lack of imagination or because they know they can get away with lazy writing.

Newspapers of the world, please just hire some commentators who have more range, or at least someone who recognizes the irony of complaining about narcissism while being an opinion writer.

[Calgary Herald][image: the Albatross (yes, it was photoshopped)]

Andrew Cohen, , bad writing, , culture, , Miley Cyrus, , selfies, this modern world, twerking

  • sol_chrom

    You young whippersnappers these days have no respect for your elders.

    • ishmaeldaro

      Mad respect for the term “whippersnapper” though.

  • Emily

    I can’t believe I wasted my time reading your piece, linked to via the Twitter embed on

    You have not argued a single valid point in your column, Ishmael. What exactly supports your thesis that the column is out of touch, that it should lead to the professor’s firing, that publishing the column was evidence the paper “hates” its readers? Where is your conclusion beyond, “I know everything about selfies and you suck?”

    We do live in an age of the glorified self. Exhibit A - your blog; ah, your hilarious, witty ramblings. Your writing is the very definition of “hipster” you profess to hate - sarcastic, negative, exclusive and condescending.

    Sadly, you are a typical online “journalist,” a title I bestow loosely. There’s no insight, no research, no experience backing up your writing. You try to be sensationalist, throw in a bunch of pop-culture references to seem more plugged in, then slap a bow on it and it’s somehow worthy of print. But you have the Internet, which somehow qualifies anyone with an opinion to post any random crap. Your piece is lacking one important element - a picture of a cat doing something funny! Please add now.

    Two minutes I. Will. Never. Get. Back. (Yes, intentionally ironic punctuation, dude).

    I beg the gods of journalism to please bring back the real writers who told stories that mattered.

    • Jimbo

      Ugh. Shut up, Emily. If you ever read this site you’d understand the content. You just wasted two minutes of MY life I’ll never get back. Also, lighten up. It’s funny :)

    • ishmaeldaro

      A few minutes of googling:

  • Dan Zupansky

    I enjoyed the article and agree that Canadian media doles out endless political analysis-rather than policy analysis or party track-record analysis. Canadian journalists are lazy and ignorant from years of being lazy and complacent. Thanks to the internet-there is anew playing field emerging and good content and serious journalism rise to the top. Thanks for the article-and it was humorous too.