Facebook is ruining parties: Forget about photos and have fun!

Posted: January 14, 2010 in Social Media, Society

It used to be that only celebrities had to worry about intrusive photographers. With the rise of Facebook however, we are all becoming victims of the voyeurism of others.

Last summer I attended an excellent party in the Wiltshire countryside. As with most good parties I invariably became drunk, performed ridiculous actions and then was swiftly taken home – with a change of clothes, in this case.

When I awoke the next morning – with the usual mixture of hangover and regret – I was shocked to find that photos of the party had already been put on Facebook. I am not against photos being taken at parties. I have come to expect it at the early stages of a party, when everyone is sober enough to feign a pose. But when the party is in full swing! Now, that I object to.

The problem with a photograph is that it can never fully capture the moment. It can record visual data with great accuracy – sometimes too much accuracy! – but there is a lot more to a good party than visual data. Because of this the photo is always out of context and is rendered meaningless. (Tabloids and gossip rags thrive on this by the way, inventing scintillating stories to go with each picture.)

In most cases this isn’t a problem, as we can imagine the context more or less accurately for ourselves. It will never be the same, but it will be close. An example is a photo of someone who has just hit their thumb with a hammer. We can easily imagine the pain that person must have felt, and it will probably be quite accurate. With a party however, things are different.

A good party is full of chaotic energy and, like a theatrical production, is different every night. One of the best parties during the Middle Ages was the festival of the Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night featured The Lord of Misrule – generally a peasant – who reigned over the celebrations. The hierarchy was reversed and, for a day, chaos and revelry ruled.

A modern party needs the same sense of anarchy. Alcohol provides the usual means. As people loosen, social boundaries slowly disappear. Things begin to happen in the party world that would never happen in the everyday world. Often they happen within a game, where the rules of the game replace the rules of society. Twister is a great example – can you imagine people doing that in any other setting? Party games are as liberating as they are ancient, originating in the Roman and pagan festivals that came before Twelfth Night.

The everyday world and the party world should co-exist in a kind of balance. When the balance is disturbed, bad things happen. When the Roman festival of Saturnalia – the forerunner of Twelfth Night – was shortened by Caesar Augustus, it caused huge revolts among the people. Euripides recognised the need for balance in his play, The Bacchae. In trying to repress the worship of Dionysus – the god of wine and ecstasy – the young king Pentheus brings ruin to his city, his family and himself.

For many, keeping this balance is the secret to a good party life. For others, it creates a difficult tension between reality and fantasy. I believe that this tension is a good thing, however. It can make you aware of the fantasy in your everyday life, and when the worlds blur. Once you get used to the tension, you can see the world as a kind of theatre.

Some believe that the everyday world and the party world should be kept separate. That, just as the Twelfth Night festival ended on the stroke of midnight, so all parties must come to an end. With light heads, the revellers must make their way home in the darkness, for the dawn brings the return of the ‘real’ world. This has long been the conventional thought on the subject. I am not so convinced.

By bringing elements of the party world into the everyday world, we can become aware of how we play roles in life – from the ambitious office worker to the reckless party animal. We can see how these roles – while important – need not dominate us, and that we can have fun with them.

Transporting elements of the party world into the everyday world also gives us an opportunity to subvert the rules (social conventions, etiquette etc.) of the everyday world. In doing this we can emphasise the above point – about the roles we play – and have fun at the same time. The whole process allows us to increase our understanding of what constitutes reality.

At this point you might say: “Surely that is what Facebook photos of parties are doing – bringing elements of the party world into the everyday world.” But Facebook photos of parties are not elements of the party world; they are just photos (visual data) of the party world.

Photos of the party world (or of anything else) are static. They do not convey the dynamic energy of a party. They are objects of the everyday world, which is also static. As objects they become open to judgement by the social and moral standards of the everyday world.

By taking elements of the party world and turning them into objects of the everyday world, photos undermine the mystery and the reality of the party world. They ridicule the dynamic chaos (aka fun!) of a party by making it look stupid and even offensive. They are, in short, an unfit representation of the party world and should be abandoned altogether.

Perhaps the best argument against Facebook photos of parties is that in order for the photographer to satisfy their voyeuristic urges they need to stay sober. Now what kind of party is that! Next time you go to a party, leave your camera at home. You might end your days like Pentheus if you don’t. Forget the photos, unwind and have fun.

Photo credit: Will Montague

  1. I agree with you that the whole social network thing has gotten out of control. Never understoof why people would like to live so transparent, being paparazzis one to another!
    On the other hand, I am one of those party (and everywhere else) photographers, but I treat the photos confidential. Wouldn’t ever post them anywhere, not because of the excesses documented, but just because of respect towards my friends and the other people involved.

    At the same time I wouldn’t say you have to remain sober to photograph… I like lomography (using old Russian film cameras) and available light (i.e. no flashes), and it’s just about integrating the camera as one further element of the chaos of a party – in my experience, that can be really fun. In the end, it’s about everybody being comfortable and having a nice time.
    The same is valid for photograohy in other occasions. There are people losing the greatest moment of a concert or a hike just to take photos to post somewhere afterwards. It’s just weird – but it doesn’t HAVE to be this way, in my experience. Finding a balance between documenting and experiencing is possible.

  2. tommellors says:

    Hi Fabian,

    Treating the subjects of photos (especially when they’re your friends!) with respect is really important and I’m glad you mention it. There’s a growing trend in the UK and elsewhere of seeing humiliation as a form of entertainment, and I think these “candid camera” shots which appear on social media sites are related to this.

    The idea of finding a balance between documenting and experiencing is appealing, and one worth pursuing if you really enjoy photographing experiences. Although I express my opinion quite strongly, I don’t want to stop people from doing something they enjoy – providing they’re respectful of others. I would like to go to at least one party with no cameras though, and see if people experience the party any differently.

    I’ve never heard of lomography, but it sounds like an innovative way to integrate the camera and the party, with its emphasis on spontaniety and freestyle. As an artistic method it might overcome the problem of photographs becoming objects of the everyday.

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad to have the input of a photographer such as yourself on this!

  3. Tom, despite my interest in photography, I would definitely join a “no picture party” movement. Sounds like an intriguing idea, to be sure. I would go even further and also exclude cellphones… “Let’s party like it’s 1989”, or something like that.

    As for lomography, its main idea is to not think too much before taking your picture, and, as you write, emphasize spontaniety. Unfortunately, it has become victim a bit to the hipster movement, because film nowadays is so “cool”, but it’s nonetheless a great idea.

    • tommellors says:

      “Let’s party like it’s 1989” sounds like a great idea! It also provides the perfect excuse for a night filled with classic 80s music – anyone for Nena?

      It’s a shame that lomography has become another ‘cool’, trendy movement, but as you say it is a great idea. There’s some intriguing about an artform that forces you NOT to think much, and just pushes you in. I wonder if it works best with people who have lots of experience taking well thought out photos.

      • While I can live with Nena, I certainly would dig out some metal pearls from the 80s, too… maybe even some early techno stuff from Frankfurt… but in the end, I was too young at that time. Mid nineties would be easier, but then the slogan gets trashed. So, let it be 80s, then! 😉

        As for Lomo & experience: For me it was the beginning of taking photography seriously, having fun. It’s just not intimidating. The camera is like a part of your hand, and people like it. So I liked to use it. I think there’s no experience required, but be prepared to encounter not too great results with the first few rolls. After you learn some basic quirks and tricks of the camera, everything will be fine!

  4. tommellors says:

    I’m sure we can dig up some olden goldies (or golden oldies?) from the 80s which we can all appreciate. We could also reinact the falling of the Berlin Wall. I know it sounds strange, but I’ve always wanted to do that. We could build a wall in a field and knock it down in the middle of the party – it would be like a Pink Floyd concert!

    Thanks for the Lomo advice. I’ll definitely try to remember it when I try Lomography for myself. It sounds like the perfect thing to experiment with while travelling.

  5. meandswoo says:

    There is nothing new under the sun, this happened for a brief time way back when Polaroid cameras were newly popular: probably even more of an intrusion than Facebook because people first posed and then stood around waiting for the photo to develop.
    Surely it’s because the parties are much more interesting in memory than in reality

  6. LucidlyLost says:

    In keeping with my recent fall away from reality into a permanent one-man party world, I finally disgraced myself on Saturday.
    What felt like the pinnacle of my world, at a friends party, actually saw me descend to being the most pathetic person there.

    Although my friends will not be shocked, and will be considerate, I am much more concerned by the strangers there. Due to their own drunkenness their memory of me may be fading already, especially if they return to the real world as you describe – unless any photographs emerge to display my image in the public domain for eternity.

    I know how the celebrities we both love and hate must feel!

    • tommellors says:

      I’m sure we all feel like that after a party! I’m curious to know more about your one-man party world. It doesn’t sound like a bad way to live life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s