Blog Post

Kim Selfies

Link to the project:

Kim selfies is an online photo booth application which predicates itself on the fetishization and subsequent emulation of Kim Kardashian in American pop/Instagram culture. Using Kim Kardashian as a figurehead of what might be called the “selfie resurgence” of the early 2010s, the project intends to incite a performance from the user in which the common practice and paradigms of selfie-taking is cast in a different light. At the most basic level, the Kim Selfies project takes the form of a game which challenges the player to replicate themselves as closely as possible to a given image of Kim Kardashian. To do so, the project uses the player’s webcam to take a selfie of the player and subsequently algorithmically compares the taken image with the given image of Kim. Based on the results of the algorithm, which basically measures the likeness of the two photos, the player receives a score for their image. This score corresponds to how well the player emulated the image of Kim Kardashian, which alludes to the current trends in selfie-taking on social media platforms such as Instagram. The project is only accessible through browsers which support the HTML5 user media API, which does not include Apple’s Safari web browser.


The purpose of the Kim Selfies project is to force a moment in which the user is brought into a state of mimicry of another constructed self identity. The project attempts to address and elucidate the obsession and emulation of certain celebrities characteristic of the current cultural moment. Articles such as this one support the claim that our culture is very interested in using those in possession of fame as a role model of sorts for the ways in which we construct our own images and online identities. For the purposes of this project, I chose Kim Kardashian as a figurehead, but from a theoretical standpoint, the platform could use the images for a wide array of celebrities. My decision to go with Kim Kardashian was motivated in part by the following video:


In this we see Kim taking pictures of herself in the car on the way to her sister’s trial (her sister served 3 hours of jail time for the crime of driving under the influence [source]). Hardly model citizens, these are the individuals that we follow, retweet, and mention the most on social media, and subsequently these individuals become the faces that corporate America chooses to brand their products.


The rating system also has its roots in my opinions of the current state social media; in the current social media climate, we see likes, fav’s, and retweets valued above all else. I can honestly say I have heard the question, “Why did my instagram get only 5 likes?” uttered out loud more than just a few times. This compulsion to receive validation and only publish things that people will respond positively towards is partly relied on in my project; I expect users to want to “please” the platform, i.e. receive a high score, even if nothing relies on them doing so. there is one caveat in this approach: the fact that the ratings are algorithmically generated rather than user-generated distances the platform from other forms of social media. However, as the platform currently stands, it does not support the interaction of multiple users, which perhaps distances the platform from the concept of social media and pushes it more towards the realm of a “How Kim am I?” tool.


This project merits the designation of “video game” if taken on the terms that Alexander Galloway sets out for us in the first chapter of his book, Gaming, in which he asserts, “video games are not just images or stories or play or games but actions.” In the Kim Selfies game, the operator’s body is part of the diegesis, as is the image of Kim Kardashian superimposed on the operator’s body. The reception of the score is also part of the diegesis, as the machine is parsing the images supplied by the operator in order to deliver some sort of score. While the project does not have a reward system in the strictest sense of the word, it uses the algorithm’s output to motivate users to obtain a higher score. In doing so, the mechanical elements of the platform motivates the operator to temporarily alter their bodies in order to attain the most resemblance to a goal image, that is, an image of Kim Kardashian.


The algorithm itself has a few drawbacks which I particularly like. First, while the algorithm is set up to ignore colors, it is not able to normalize the skin tone of users, which means players who happen to have a skin tone that contrasts more with Kim Kardashian’s will automatically receive lower scores than a player who has a skin tone closer to Kim’s. I am drawn to this breakdown because it mirrors both America’s indiscrete preference for whiteness, especially when talking about celebrities. Another point of resistance I foresee has to do with the pictures of Kim Kardashian on the platform. Theoretically, in order to get a very high score, the user would have to mimic the situation Kim Kardashian is presented in, which means having access to certain things that only comes with a certain level of social status or fame. For example, take the following picture:


In order to get a relatively high score given this picture, the user would not only have to position their body like Kim’s but also gather two makeup artists with the proper tools. This situation could only present itself to a player having a substantial amount of privilege, which means that the algorithm by default favors those with the means to replicate Kim’s situations more accurately. This also mirrors the correspondence of privilege with social capital retention on social media.


Drawing on ideas of adopted identity, I feel inclined to draw on Kara Keeling’s ideas concerning the function of the digital regime of the image and its role in the process of identification through difference. By using this platform, I hope that the user will ponder the functioning  contemporary identity as represented through digital media by grappling with and ultimately emulating the image of Kim Kardashian. This image is described aptly by Keeling herself as containing an “affective and communicative organization of perception saturated with the workings of capital.”


Kim Selfies creates a tension between the image of Kim Kardashian and the mirrored selfie image. Through this tension the user is brought to consider more closely the implications of an action that, without the overlay of Kim's face, is characterized by a feeling of fluid and accurate self-representation. Here, with the addition of Kim Kardashian, the selfie taker encounters a form of self-representation and is forced to reconcile Kim's identity and image with their own.


To build the Kim Selfies project, I used the HTML5 ger user media API. This allowed me to access the webcam using the Web browser as an intermediary. As Safari does not yet support this feature, the platform does not currently work with Safari. I also used an external javascript library called resemble.js, which can be researched further at this link. the rest was built as a standard, static web page, relying on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for basically all of the functionality. Here are some screenshots of me using the Kim Selfies platform:





Reflecting, I wish I created the project using a server so that I could enable a multi user experience. This means that users would have the chance to sign in and keep track of their scores. It also means that a leaderboard could be kept with the most accurate Kim emulators shown as the cream-of-the-crop. Additionally, I think it might be better and evoke more of a social media feel if the rating was user based rather than algorithmically based.


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