I'm in a beehive, and there is a buzz, an actual buzz. There is that palpable feeling that surrounds a brush with greatness. She's there! It's really her. The Mona Lisa! The Mona Lisa.
But then, something unexpected: selfies. Selfies, in front of the Mona Lisa. My mouth is agape. My sensibilities appalled. Puffy-coated tourists from all walks of life and every corner of the earth haul out their lumbering iPads -- fluorescent statement cases flapping into the heads of onlookers. Gaggles of couples make duck lips in front slim rectangular devices.
I suppose the Mona Lisa invented the duck lip, so maybe it's an apt homage?
Either way, the message is clear: the Mona Lisa is no longer to be gazed upon, she is to be photographed, uploaded, filtered and Instagrammed. Proof that you were there. About eight in ten spectators are taking pictures rather than personally engaging with this masterpiece. My husband leans over and whispers: "That's not art, that's a celebrity."
I am ready to shed a tear for how ALL THAT IS GOOD AND PURE in this world has been lost. I am indignant! I am superior! I read an article! An ARTICLE that states the more pictures you take the more likely you are to forget the event itself. Let's make no mention of the fact I read lots of articles. Articles with studies that find the more selfies you take, the less people like you. People whose opinion matter. People like me.
I've scoffed, I've judged, I am fat with conceit. I'm moving on to Rome with the hopes that tourists there manage to keep their phone in their pants and retain a shred of their dignity. I'm gliding through the Forum, admiring thousands year old tablets that depict Senate meetings bursting with intellectual debate and nude warriors locked in battle, their sinewy forms clashing together with violent sensuality.
That's when it dawned on me; maybe I'm the one who has it all wrong. Imagine? Perhaps the selfie is not the fall of humanity. Perhaps the selfie, the endless need to photograph each moment of our life -- the meals, the museum visits and the otherwise perfunctory evenings with friends -- is the evolution of humanity.
After all, wasn't the Mona Lisa an effort to preserve something already existing? Leonardo da Vinci's attempt to say: "I was here, and so was she." That the very techniques he used to paint her: ubiquitous gaze, soft transitions, serene expression, were all in service of creating the most realistic interpretation of the moment? And what is more realistic than inserting your craned neck into the moment with eight glorious megapixels and uploading it right then and there?
Anatomical marble statues, expansive portraits and rudimentary cave drawings -- each one offers proof that: "I was here, and so was she." And so with every cocked head, bedroom eye and pouted lip, with each faux gang sign or historic artifact seen canted over someone's shoulder (sometimes both), we are finally able to achieve the quick and dirty of what our ancestors having been taking so damn long to do.
It is an entirely human craving to have proof we were there, and to validate that proof with endless witnesses in the form of friends or followers. A comforting reassurance we are alive, and we experienced this. Now more crude and prolific then ever before, but then isn't that the same as stick figure launching arrows at a buffalo carved into the side of a stone shelter? I caught that buffalo, I saw that Mona Lisa, I ate that goat cheese salad.
So maybe, just maybe, I've been a bit...myopic. It's entirely possible that my curmudgeonly outlook will cause me to miss out on a phenomenon that is not the nadir, but the apex. It will be no time before a particularly poignant selfie achieves the level of art, and that selfie will achieve the level of celebrity, and then we can all go take our picture in front of it.