Self-promotion and the death of egalitarianism

The writing on the digital wall is clear.

Image: Instagram

If the egalitarian ideals of our ancestors were to be one day overrun, who could have predicted that it would be by the humble acai bowl and bikini?

Valencia-filter in tow, young Australia forges a new Instagram-worthy spread for itself, far distanced from the aesthetically displeasing “jolly swagman” of its past.

Half the population is currently on Facebook, but the social media site’s heavy integration throughout society has the potential to ruffle more than a few opposable thumbs. Current studies conclude that narcissistic tendencies are the driving force behind many innocent “selfies”, statuses and blog posts. A quick scroll through any social media feed will soon satisfy this theory. A coy smile in front of a “brekkie” bowl translates into a glimpse at a perfect lifestyle. An ad-worthy bikini shot paired with ‘on-fleek’ accessories exudes self-indulgent luxury. “Going for a run” no longer entails old trainers or smelly sweatshirts; it’s a time to show off your latest Yeezys – brand tagging and all. These exhibitionist expressions that favour self-importance and a #treatyoself lifestyle not only seem to increasingly squeeze themselves into our everyday lives, but are also at odds with our heritage. The urge to promote oneself over another, to demonstrate what is desirable and to filter out what is not, contradicts our unique historical tendency to revere the underdog and get behind the ‘battler’.

I grew up listening to these tales of folklore, the ones that idolised the anti-hero, or took pity on the supposedly classless criminal who stole a loaf of bread for the poor. It’s been drilled into us to never ever stoop to the level of our colonial oppressors and brag about our possessions. Egalitarianism was born out of convict’s blisters with injustice and the convenience of promoting criminals to higher ranks in a small colonial society. But this sentiment of convenience is long gone, and the writing on the digital wall of its demise is clear. A society saturated with promotions of excess cannot pretend to still uphold such bush legends. The urge to advance oneself into the glossy wonderment is tempting, and there appears little resistance.

Perhaps no one can explain this better than enlightenment scholar Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Far removed from our dusty shores, Rousseau was fixated on the idea that the integration of bourgeoisie values would lead to greater inequality in society. These very same bourgeoisie values of wealth, vanity and self-promotion penetrate our social media feeds and subtly corrupt our once engrained egalitarian spirit. The desires that these lavish displays create, Rousseau theorised, would lead to greater separation within society.

Our greatest concern should be the silenced or forgotten half of these networking sites who cannot compete with the ‘all white everything post’. These photo-documented (and well edited) lifestyles leave little room for imperfection and aren’t forgiving to those who live on modest means. Social media isn’t populated by anti-heroes who snub the rich, but rather followers who are willing to validate homogeneity and wealth with ‘likes’.

The seemingly innocent ’selfie’ is not merely the antithesis of our traditional Australian identity, but a weapon of ongoing cultural and social self-destruction.