The opening shots of American Selfie: One Nation Shoots Itself recall a gone age of innocence: an unmasked multi-racial crowd frolicking around The Bean, Anish Kapoor’s shiny piece of Chicago public art that works like a fun-house mirror, reflecting distorted images. iPhone cameras are out, pointed at their owners. “I guess I’m a narcissist, a little bit,” one young man concedes. A woman, waxing philosophical, observes that the selfie proves “that you’re actually doing things and you’re living and you exist.”
American Selfie, a snapshot of the country from September 2019 to July 2020, is not unlike the grotesque reflection in that fun-house mirror. Here is Trump’s walled and fractious America looking inward at itself, with nowhere left to go empire-wise, the awful reckoning historian Greg Grandin describes in The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America finally at hand.