Selfies, funerals, and context

By Craig McDermott, cross-posted from Random Musings

 

I'm a little late to this, mostly because once I looked into it, I realized that it was a ginned up controversy and not actually a big deal.  However, somebody I respect a great deal has joined the "Whatever Obama Does Is, By Definition, A Scandal" camp and is wondering why I haven't commented on this.  So here it is. 🙂

In November, the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary named "selfie" as its 2013 "Word of the Year".

OED's definition:

a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media 

In the U.S, "selfies" are generally associated with teens, Kardashians, and Kardashian wannabes.

Most of the time it's used by "fluff" media types such as TMZ, People magazine, and the like.

This week, the word was all over the "serious" MSM and on the lips of pundits across the political spectrum.

 

On Tuesday, world leaders gathered in South Africa to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

The biggest news to come out of it, in the American MSM anyway, was that President Obama took a "selfie" picture with his cell phone at the service.

Across America, angst meters pegged at maximum and pearls were clutched, tightly.

Based on the first reports, I thought that the President had taken a selfie at the memorial service of one of the greatest men of the second half of the 20th Century, something that was shallow, disrespectful, and utterly inappropriate in the context of a memorial service.

Regardless of who did it.

At the time I first heard about it, I wasn't in a position to look deeper into the matter.  At that time, my reaction was surprise –

Surprise, at the idea that any American president would be so disrespectful; and

Surprise, that it was Barack Obama.  He just doesn't seem like a "selfie" kind of guy (of course, if the birthers had spent the last five years insisting that Obama was a Kardashian, instead of a Kenyan, maybe there would have been more credibility to this story… 🙂 )

 

Then, when I had time available, I began to look into the matter.  I was motivated by the facts that I was *really* surprised that Obama would do something like that which he was alleged to do, and also that the people denouncing him the loudest were people who hate him so much that if he were to cure cancer, the common cold, and male pattern baldness, they would denounce him for not doing enough.

First, the picture of the taking of the self-picture.

 

Picture courtesy TheGuardian.com, credits: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

The first thing that struck me about this picture that was at odds with the initial reports was that the President wasn't the one taking the picture; his neighbor in the seats was.

Still, I supposed it was still inappropriate for the President to participate in a campaign-style moment with some random strangers.

Of course, the two other people in the selfie were unfamiliar to me, they weren't exactly "random strangers".

The man on the far left of the picture is David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England and the woman in the center is Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark.

Well, even if the President wasn't the one taking the picture, and the other people were his peers, the behavior was still inappropriate for such a somber occasion.  Right?

It would be…if it was a "somber" occasion.

However, South African traditions, like those in many other cultures, hold that funerals are as much about celebrating the lives of the departed as they are about mourning their deaths.

So, to sum up:

No context – President Obama behaving in a disrespectful manner, acting like a Kardashian at a memorial service for one of the most respected people of all time.

With context – President Obama wasn't the one taking the selfie, it was more a "teamie" as other world leaders were part of it, and it fit in perfectly in the context of a celebration of Nelson Mandela's life.

I suppose things could have been worse – one of the words that was up for consideration as the Word of the Year was "twerking".

 

On a positive note, the President's speech from the service –

 

 

 

 

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