Machu Picchu & The Selfie Culture That’s Ruining It

I’m going to rant about selfies again. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Time To Read: 10 mins | April 14, 2017

Everyone’s got pet peeves, and I’ve been informed that, despite my best efforts, I am still a part of everyone.

I can’t stand people who chew gum loudly. This goes back to a stepmother I had for a few years when I was young. I remember nothing about her except that she chewed gum louder than a deaf garage band trying to torture Helen Keller. And since I hated her, to this day, I hate gum.

Then there’s Point Break. Any relationship between you and I is impossible until you’ve seen & fallen in love with this film.

And finally, there’s selfies. This is by far the most controversial of my peeves (no, liking Point Break isn’t controversial) because, in 2017, they’re everywhere. Even those I count as my closest friends can’t help themselves. And hell, as one of my friend’s pointed out recently, my Instagram account actually boasts 5 or 6 of the bastards – though in my defense, I was paid for all but one of those.

That same friend, when the subject was broached & upon seeing my hands clench in fists of rage, gave a sweet & innocent defense of the practice: “Maybe sometimes people like feeling cute, what’s wrong with that?”

I’m more than aware my stance on this makes me a curmudgeon to most.

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Because, really, what harm is anyone doing, snapping a quick photo of themself to show their friends?

In my mind, there are three factors that make selfies intolerable. The first is a completely lack of credible spontaneity; allow me to explain with a history lesson:

In feudal Japan, there was a powerful and respected tea master named Sen no Rikyu. Now, you’ve got to realize, this culture valued manners and appearance above all else, and the height of their customs was Cha-no-yu, the tea ceremony. It was highly ritualized amongst the nobility, and the most skilled and tasteful practitioners – like Rikyu — were practically celebrities.

Well, one of the more famous stories tells when Rikyu, tastemaker extraordinaire, visited a friend’s house. Rikyu, while waiting to be served, watched confused as the host ran outside and, in full view of his guest through a window, cut a lemon fresh from a tree.

Initially, Rikyu was completely charmed. The spontaneity made the gesture beautiful. But when the dish came out – Osaka rice cake, a delicacy in those days that was only ever served with lemon — he realized that the schtick had been planned. The host had intentionally kept no fruit in his household, solely so that he could go “spontaneously” cut one fresh to impress his guest.

Rikyu was disgusted and left immediately.

Herein lies my first problem with selfies: there’s no sense of spontaneity or candidness, and their sole function is to impress others. How often does someone take a selfie just for their own library, one that’s not intended to be sent to friends or posted on social media? That’s right – never.

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Of course, everyone posts to Instabook and Facesnap and the like, and obviously one eye is always on the ‘like’ count. I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

But when a post is so shamelessly intended for no other reason than being favorited by others, without even trying to appear spontaneous or casual or natural, it loses its appeal. We like to shit on the Kardashians for posting half-naked photos of themselves just to build their fame; what difference (besides nipples) is there if you post one of yourself, chin and torso twisted just so, in front of a fancy car?

“Quit being a dick. Everyone posts stuff on the internet to share with friends, it’s just for fun.” I know. Really, I do. I’ve been told this dozens of times and, frankly, I’m still surprised I didn’t end up bathing in one date’s martini after I started ranting on the subject in LA. But there’s more to it than the obvious showing off; the second part of my hate stems from the fact that it’s distracting from real life.

It took me an hour and a half to hike to Machu Picchu. You can take a bus from the town under the ruins, Aguas Calientes, but the line in the morning takes longer than the damned hike, and besides, two German guys had invited me to make the 1300ft vertical trek with them.

My new friends, who were in much better shape than I am, thought it a grand idea to bring along a bottle of overproof peppermint schnapps for the 6:30am hike. And I agreed with them for about 10 minutes, before the altitude and my liver tagteamed to drop kick my system. Surprisngly, it turns out liquor doesn’t hydrate your muscles as well as Gatorade.

I will say though, there are benefits to being out of shape – when hiking, you’re forced to stop moving more often, which in turn gives you time to enjoy the scenery. You athletic bastards just blow by everything; we fat kids drink in the details. And the schnapps.

But the views from the mountainside are nothing compared to the top. It is genuinely the most glorious thing you’ve ever seen. A massive stone village sitting on top of a mountain, just above the clouds, with jagged peaks surrounding you on all sides. My South American colonial history is, for lack of a better word, shit, but suffice to say the Spanish wiped out virtually every Incan city they came across except this one.

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Most textbooks claim that MP survived because its would-be destroyers couldn’t find it, but after having hiked up there myself, I suspect the conquistadors simply got exhausted of all the climbing, said “fuck it” and had themselves a stiff drink in the valley.

Speaking of drink, I took one last swing from the bottle before telling the Germans I hated them, then had a nice long sit down on a terrace overlooking the structures. If your life ever grants you the opportunity, go. It’s one of the Wonders of the World for a reason. It’s unbelievably huge and oversaturated, resplendent with neon green grasses against a sky that has no business being so blue. The pointed mountaintops surrounding you only add to the sense that you’re on top of the planet. It’s so grand and fantastical-looking that, at any moment, you expect the Beacons of Gondor to light on adjacent peaks.

There was, however, one blemish on the landscape: selfie sticks. Everywhere. I’m not exaggerating, hundreds of them, in the hands of at least one-in-five people.

And it’s not like these people were taking just one snap. I had ample time to observe the tourists while my body recovered from the exercise/alcohol combo – they’d pose for one shot, then check it, then do it all again half a dozen times. Now, satisfied, they’d walk 100yds to a different angle overlooking the ruins, and repeat the process.

Yes, they want to make sure they get “a good one.” The quantity, honestly, doesn’t bother me. It’s what’s going through their heads that makes me sad. Because when part of you is constantly calculating what picture will get you the most double taps on IG, you’re not properly paying attention to the majesty of your surroundings – you’re focused on leveraging it for a hollow benefit.

Machu Picchu’s considered one of the most stunning, impressive, and beautiful achievements in our species’ history. And instead of simply enjoying it with the wide-eyed wonder it deserves, there was one girl in particular who marched up and around a single terrace for twenty minutes and left. She spent the entirety of that time holding her selfie stick at a 45-degree angle, posing on top of an Incan ruin with her ass and chest pushed out as far as her anatomy would allow.

I said that there were three things that bugged me about selfies. The last one is that you look like a fucking idiot taking them.

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photo: if you can’t appreciate the view, go get a new set of eye glasses, and/or a soul. machu picchu, peru

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.
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1 Comment

  1. The Grinch

    I’m with you on this. I hate selfies too. Mainly because of the narcissistic factor.

    Reply

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