By Rupert Dreyfus
You may find it hard to believe but I’ve never been photogenic. In fact if you take a look at my old family photos then you’ll see that most of them would’ve given the Elephant Man a reason to go on living. The main problems are that my eyes are so narrow they’d make superb letterboxes for gnomes and my pale, lumpy complexion is similar to the sort of porridge that Tibetan monks live off over in Mongolia or wherever they’re from. If you didn’t know anything about me then you’d presume that my Mummy was a glue sniffer when she spat me out. But she wasn’t; I’m just totes weird-looking.
Strange, then, that I’ve mastered the art of the selfie and have even become famous for them across the internet. But the cold, hard truth I have to live with is that it isn’t a real talent. If you’re prepared to dedicate enough of your life to the cause then anyone in the world can become exceptionally good at taking selfies. The best advice I can give you is to be brutally honest with yourself: study your face in the mirror as if it’s your last chance to study Holy Scripture before facing the electric chair. Once you’ve worked out what your worst features are then the next step is to find ways of hiding them.
For me this meant buying a selfie stick and routinely taking what the industry calls a high angle selfie. To laypeople this means the camera is slightly looking down on your face when you snap a photo. This helps to make your eyes appear bigger than what they are in real life. I also discovered that bleaching out your face with a flash airbrushes over those annoying pockmarks. There really is a solution for every facial flaw – you just need to be creative.
One thing to bear in mind, though, is that it’s a competitive industry. There are lots of peeps out there who, just like me, really believed that they were going to be famous by the time they left school. I never thought about what I was going to be famous for, but it doesn’t really matter these days. You can be famous for pretty much anything. You only have to watch reality TV to know this much. A lot of those peeps are famous just for walking round their living rooms with fake tans and designer mullets and occasionally scratching their bums in front of a camera which is fantastic if you think about how far the human race has come since we invented the television. I actually think it’d be great to be one of those peeps. I’m perfect for reality TV. I’m the epitome of a normal person. I’m so normal that I could write a bestselling book about it – like a lifestyle guide on how to be flawlessly normal. It’d sell millions and millions, and everyone would ask for my autograph. Anyway; I didn’t get an opportunity to be famous like that so I turned to the art of the selfie instead which, for a lot of folks out there, is the next best thing.
Another must is setting up a profile on Rate My Face dotcom which is the main hub for selfietainment. It’s a place where all selfie enthusiasts go to upload their photos. Every day for the last six years I’ve been uploading selfies. Even when I slipped in to a coma after falling off a twenty metre high balcony while trying to take a wealthy selfie, I still managed to maintain my selfie profile. How the flips did you achieve this? I hear you ask. Well, I had arranged with my cousin Saul that if anything should ever happen to me then someone should step in and take a fake selfie of me as to keep my profile active. Like you don’t already know but Saul is an A-list YouTuber called Cereal Filler who knows the importance of keeping up with the internet. He uploads a vlog a day about cereals from all over the world and has, like, a kazillion subscribers or something.
So Saul took these totes cool fake selfies of me. And even though my immediate family were by my side, telling Saul to stop being disrespectful, he still managed to snap some wicked selfies. Meanwhile I was hooked up to a life support machine, oblivious to everything going on around me. I only know all this because Saul told me about it when I came back round after sixty-two hours in the twilight zone. I also later discovered that those coma selfies were actually some of the most popular selfies on my profile. They got over ten thousand thumbs up and three thousand comments which were mostly complimenting me for making the most out of my hospital environment.
I’ve really loved my life as a selfie enthusiast but I think my most recent hunt for the greatest selfie ever in the whole wide world is going to be my last. You see, peeps, what’s really important with selfies is what gets captured while you take them. A healthy selfie as we call them in the industry is just you gazing into the camera with not a lot else happening. These are low value clickbait selfies. But a wealthy selfie will have something bigger going on over your shoulder like a car crash or a street fight or a drug deal. Celebrity selfies are also considered a wealthy selfie because celebrities will always mirror your enthusiasm for a selfie so for a brief moment it looks as if you’re bestie mesties. These are medium value clickbait selfies.
But it’s what we call stealthy selfies which get the most attention. Stealthy selfies are those selfies which put your life in serious danger: natural disasters; terrorist attacks; falling off a cliff edge. These are high value clickbait selfies and guarantee that everyone will know your face – even if they struggle to remember it at a later date.
So when holiday season came around I researched the most dangerous place I could visit in the entire world in order to snap a quality stealthy selfie. Turns out it’s this place called North Korea where everyone dresses like it’s the nineteen sixties. They also have these things called dictators which I think is a type of dangerous wild animal. The country looked totes brills so I decided to book a weekend break through a North Korean tour guide. They also sorted out my visa and all the boring technical stuff you need when you go on your jolly hollies.
Fast forward a couple of months and I’m arriving at this train station in North Korea. As I depart from the train I notice how grey and depressing everything is; a bit like my home city Preston but with less lighting. There’s nobody around except for a handful of tourists who I later find out have also booked through the same tour guide as me. We’re all standing at the platform, wondering if we’ve got off at the wrong stop.
I remember trying to make some light-hearted conversation with everyone. ‘So anybody know what a dictator is?’ I ask the others as I start handing them my business card which includes my most successful selfie plus all my social media links.
But they all shake their heads and pretend they don’t understand me.
Just as we’re all beginning to get a bit worried, this funky North Korean fella in an olive green military uniform shows up. He’s chain smoking cigarettes and introduces himself as Hwan. He then begins to read a list of names from a sheet of paper. He sounds really uptight, like he’s involved in hard crime or something. I’m relieved when he finally reads out my name because then I know that I’m in the right country.
‘Bruno Smithson,’ he says, awkwardly.
‘Yo, bro,’ I reply as I hand over a business card. ‘That’s me alright. Although I’m better known as Selfie Smithy.’
‘Okay,’ he says in this way cool accent. ‘We are very glad that everybody make it. Welcome to North Korea, home of the free people. I must tell you few laws so that you do not end up causing trouble in our great and free nation. Please do not talk to the local people; they have nothing to say to you. Do not leave my line of vision; I even have to authorise all trips to the restrooms. And no photography without my written permission.’
Was this some kind of sick joke?
‘Excuse me please,’ I say as I wave my hand at Hwan. ‘Over here, bro. Are you seriously suggesting that I can’t take a photo without your permission?’
‘That is correct.’
‘But I’ve only come to this place to snap some wealthy selfies – perhaps even a stealthy if I hit the jackpot.’
‘What is this selfie stealthy that you speak of?’
‘It’s what we call a high value clickbait selfie,’ I tell him. ‘They get the most thumbs up action on Rate My Face dotcom.’
‘I do not understand what you talk about. All I can tell you is that you must ask for permission before taking any photo or we will confiscate your camera and interrogate you.’
‘That’s just not fair.’
‘You are in North Korea now and you must do as the free people of North Korea do which means no more selfies.’
I decided not to argue any further. It was easy to ignore this sort of thing anyway and I don’t know what interrogate means so it could’ve turned out to be kinda fun.
Hwan took us to a cranky minibus which drove us down this long, empty motorway for three solid hours. It went on and on forever, and then finally this post-apocalyptic city came in to view. I think they’d based it on the latest Mad Max movie which, if you haven’t seen it already, is totes topsballs. I haven’t seen it either but I watched a review of it on YouTube which means that I’ve sort of seen it. Anyway; this is the capital city, Pyongyang, which I think is named after a Japanese video game. Pyongyang is basically a row of tower blocks with missing windows and flickering lights. I turned and saw that the other peeps on the minibus were staring out of the tinted windows, pointing at the naked trees and wonky street lamps as if they were on a wildlife safari.
By this point I was bored stiff so I sneaked a wealthy selfie when nobody was looking. I had to turn off the flash which means that my poor complexion was visible. That didn’t matter, though; I managed to get Hwan’s head in the background which was mega totes.
Finally the minibus pulled over slap bang in the middle of the capital. First thing that struck me were these massive posters everywhere. They all had the same image of some tubby kid with a banging flattop and an even banginger karate suit. He was literally everywhere so he must’ve been really famous – like North Korea’s answer to Justin Bieber except with an underactive thyroid problem.
Hwan continued to give us some more top tips on how to behave ourselves in Pyongyang. It sounded like a yawn orgy so I didn’t pay it any attention. I didn’t know whether it was all some type of prank. I was half expecting a camera crew to jump out at us at any minute and Hwan would burst into laughter, telling us that we’ve been stitched up by MTV. But this never happened. Instead we were supposed to obey these really strict rules like don’t pick your nose while looking at a poster of the tubby kid with the flattop.
‘Follow me,’ Hwan said as he began to walk. ‘And remember: no photography without my written say-so.’
Nobody said a word. Instead we followed behind our tour guide while looking at all the Mad Max buildings. It was mega creeps. There weren’t many peeps out on the streets either except for these skinny fellas who seemed quite anxious. They were smoking cigarettes and looking at us as if Hwan was importing us to the local zoo.
I decided to catch up with Hwan who was smoking two cigarettes at the same time. When I reached his side I said, ‘Yo, bro. When do we get to see the dictators?’
‘I am sorry?’
‘The dictators,’ I said. ‘I heard there are these crazy dictators in North Korea. I’m presuming that they’re some kind of lizard descended from the dinosaurs. I’d like your permission to get a stealthy selfie with one of them.’
‘There are no dictators here,’ Hwan said. ‘North Korea is a free society. The wise man Kim loves us all.’
That’s a breach of my consumer rights, I thought. But what I said is: ‘Who’s Kimmy?’
Hwan turned to me. ‘Kim is the greatest farmer in the Universe. If we ever see him, you must treat him with big respect or very bad things will happen.’
‘What does he look like?’
‘He looks exactly like a Greek God,’ Hwan said and carried on walking.
So Hwan took us to a hotel and we stayed there for the night. Well, I say hotel; it was this huge building where only two girls worked. We must’ve come out of season because there were no other guests. It was just me and a handful of tourists from the train station who weren’t really saying much – as if they were too scared to do anything without Hwan’s written permission.
Turns out my hotel room was also themed to the sixties which was totes fansballs times eleven. The North Koreans really love the sixties. I never got a chance to ask Hwan why this is but I reckon they all just enjoy the hippy stuff that happened back in those days. Some folks get really nostalgic about the hippies because they meant well but we all know that life would smell a lot worse if they had won the Vietnam War. And just like the sixties there wasn’t any Wi-Fi so they were taking their fashion sense just a bit too far in my opinion.
I spent the rest of the night watching television. Their televisions are retro madness. They only had two channels and they were both showing military documentaries with lots of folks waving at tanks. I watched one until I fell fast asleep.
The next morning I woke up to somebody speaking on a crackly Tannoy which boomed around the city. I don’t know what the person was saying but it was probably something to do with the lack of traffic. I put on my Donald Duck onesie and went down to the restaurant. There was only a handful of other tourists who were eating something out of a plastic bowl. I sat down with a Dutch couple and told them that I hoped Hwan was going to take us to see the dictators or I was going to sue the tour guide for telling big fat porkies. They pretended not to understand what I was saying.
After I’d eaten the nicest Pot Noodle I’ve ever had in my life, Hwan showed up. ‘Welcome to your first morning in the freest country in the world. Today we visit a large statue which the good man Kim built with his own bare hands. I must tell you that you mustn’t…’
…more crappy laws. I stopped listening and gazed out of the window. I noticed there was somebody dressed like a traffic warden in the middle of the street. She was doing all these well clever moves with her arms and legs. Crazy that there wasn’t any traffic out on the road, though. In fact there was nobody out there but her. It was then that I realised she was actually breakdancing like a pro so I sneaked out of the fire exit and crossed the road. When I reached her, she just carried on breakdancing as if I wasn’t even there. So I took my mobile phone and played us both a Fingered house remix by DJ Hashtag. I placed my mobile phone on the floor and began to dance with her. The traffic warden started to look really nervous and kept shaking her head at me. I just carried on doing the bootie bang bang until I heard somebody shouting my name. I turned round to see Hwan looking annoyed. He crossed the road yelling, ‘You must not interact with the locals! Especially while dressed like an imperialist rat!’
‘We’re only doing the bootie bang bang,’ I told him.
I noticed just in time that Hwan wanted to confiscate my mobile phone so I picked it up and turned the music off. I then slipped it into the front pocket of my onesie. ‘You’re not having my mobile phone and that’s final.’
‘You must come with me before one of the snipers on the roof mistakes you for an international saboteur.’
‘What the flips is a saboteur?’
Hwan told me it doesn’t matter and then led us back to the hotel restaurant, leaving the traffic warden to breakdance all on her own.
And that was to be the most fun I ever had in North Korea.
That afternoon Hwan took us to see this massive statue of Kimmy and his daddy. It was at the top of this whopping hill and there were all these North Korean peeps there, kneeling down as if it was the best thing they’d ever seen. I mean it was alright but it couldn’t have been the eighth wonder of the world or anything. It wasn’t even as good as that hilarious statue of Eric Morecambe we have back in the north of England. I actually told Hwan that they should’ve had Kimmy at least doing something fun like playing the Xbox One because then they’d get more visitors but he pretended to ignore me.
It was only the first full day but if I’m honest I was already looking forward to going home. I had been led to believe by the internet that North Korea was dangerous but it’s actually totes bores. I know it’s common for holiday companies to oversell, but this was taking the Mickey Mouse. I don’t even think there was a gift shop. I remember seeing this one shop which only sold plastic fruit but that was about it.
When we were travelling to our next destination I said to Hwan, ‘So when do we go shopping?’
‘We do not shop in the freest country of the world.’
‘What do you do then?’
‘Farm,’ he said. ‘We all just farm.’
‘But that sounds super dull.’
‘Farming isn’t dull; farming is freedom.’
‘That’s a mega lie,’ I told him. ‘Farming is something that old men with straw hats do because they were unlucky enough to be born in the countryside. Online shopping is freedom.’
‘Online shopping is not freedom.’
‘Okay then,’ I said. ‘Disneyland Paris is freedom. You can’t deny that, bro. You can do anything you like at Disneyland Paris.’
‘Can you farm?’
‘No need,’ I told him. ‘It’s all taken care of. All you’ve got to do is hang out with the seven dwarves and play mini golf. It’s mega freedom times fifty.’
Hwan muttered something about Kimmy knowing what’s best for the country and that was the end of that conversation.
So the next stop we made was at this amusement park which was also themed to the nineteen sixties. I don’t know if you ever went to Frontier Land in Morecambe before they knocked it down and built a carpark over it, but this amusement park was even more pooh than that. In fact I’ll tell you how pooh it was: it was soooo pooh that they didn’t even sell any hotdogs and candy floss. And you could tell the visitors weren’t impressed with it but they were all pretending to have a great time on these rickety rollercoasters shaped like caterpillars.
Hwan told us we could walk around on our own for an hour but if he caught us taking any photographs or talking to the other visitors then we would wind up in serious trouble. So I left the others and tried to avoid going on any of the rides. I’m not normally like that but the other tourists were also avoiding actually doing anything. Same with the locals; it was the worst party vibe I’ve ever known and I’ve been to some crappy parties on the internet.
Just as I was about to start sleepwalking I came across an arcade room which was monster totes. It had some old arcade machines with games like Out Run and Galaga bleeping and flashing away. There were all these kids with their parents hanging out together, hypnotised by these sixteen bit video games. They were trying to figure out what they were supposed to do because they’ve probably never seen a joystick before – let alone try to operate one.
I was just about to show this one kid how to shoot the enemy spaceships when all of a sudden Kimmy appeared through the entrance door. Even though it was night time he was wearing these huge designer sunglasses and a pair of tap dancing shoes. He must’ve been mega famous because everyone in the room began to bawl like babies. Some of them even fell to their knees and were reaching out to him with biro pens and notebooks, trying to get his autograph. It was all a bit overboard if you ask me.
Meanwhile Kimmy just ignored everybody and walked around the room, pointing and smiling at stuff while all these military officials took notes. He kept saying things which must’ve been hilariously funny because the military officials kept laughing at him. I got the impression that Kimmy was a stand-up comedian because no matter what he said, everyone fell about laughing at him. At one point he even did the Moonwalk which was totes megs times one hundred.
I decided that it was now or never. Hwan was nowhere to be seen and I was getting withdrawal symptoms from having not snapped a selfie of any kind for close to twenty-four hours. So I took out my mobile phone and began to move towards North Korea’s biggest celebrity.
‘Yo, bro,’ I said to Kimmy, about to offer him my business card. ‘Mind if I snap a selfie of us hanging out together? I promise to link your website in the description.’
But as he turned to me every military official in the building dived on top of me, yelling something in North Korean.
Before I know it I’m out cold. If I had known Kimmy was that famous then I wouldn’t have bothered with a selfie; I would’ve just asked for his autograph instead.
Next thing I’m waking up in a rundown campsite out in the middle of a forest which is way cool because camping was never on the itinerary. What isn’t cool is the fact that the campsite is enclosed in barbed wire and we’re all involved in some sort of miserable role playing game. There are all these skinny peeps dressed in rags, walking round and doing really boring tasks such as carrying massive boulders from one end of the campsite to the other for no reason whatsoever. Meanwhile military officials point guns at us and get all narky when we don’t move fast enough which is a bit tight if you ask me because the food here is totes mings.
But the mega bad news times a million billion trillion is that they’ve taken away my mobile phone and my business cards. It’s such a crying shame because this place would’ve been a great opportunity for a stealthy selfie.
Oh well. I suppose I’ll just have to try to enjoy the rest of my holiday and then when I get back to England I’ll warn my bestie mesties on Rate My Face that North Korea is totes poops and that I never did see any dictators.
© Rupert Dreyfus, World Book Day 2016