Yesterday, celebrity and Cash Money Records recording artist Paris Hilton issued a simple tweet commemorating the 11-year anniversary of her invention of the selfie. At this point, the story has been told so many times, but why not recall when, pn the crisp evening of November 19, 2006, Hilton held out first her right hand and then, later, switching the orientations of her body with Britney Spears’, held out her left hand, pointing the cameras not outward but instead toward their own faces. The resulting photographs were the first recorded photographs taken by a person of themselves in the history of humanity, an Epic Of Gilgamesh of the flip-phone era.
It was an unusually productive creative period for both artists. Hilton was several years out from her dramatic debut as Paige Edwards in the film House Of Wax, and just a month removed from the DUI that resulted in the suspension of her driver’s license. Spears, meanwhile, was a new mother, gaining headlines primarily at the time for driving with her baby sitting on her lap; just earlier in the month during which she co-invented the selfie, she had filed for divorce from former back-up dancer Keven Federline. Spears and Hilton were, at the time, authors of rich, evocative lifestyle brands, built largely upon their ability to 1) be famous and 2) show up places, and so seizing the means of production and merely filming themselves was a natural step in their commercial and creative evolution, even though its ripples are felt throughout pop culture to this day.
Of course, genius is often misunderstood. Many on Twitter began “pointing out” other possible inventors of the selfie throughout history, including Dave Attell:
To Bill Nye:
To George Harrison:
To Frank Sinatra:
To some photographers trying out the crew selfie in 1920:
Before summoning the Library Of Congress for some 200-year-old celebutante:
All of these people deigned to point a camera at themselves, make a proto-duckface, and commemorate their outfit for all eternity through the magic of photography. And yet: Are any of these truly a selfie? Were any of these people two Red Bull and vodkas deep at an L.A. nightclub being DJed by Wilmer Valderrama? Had any just filed for divorce from their back-up dancer, or were any about to enter the Century Regional Detention Center?
They were not. The history of the selfie begins whenever Paris Hilton says it did. Happy 11th birthday, selfies.