Step away from the distorted perspectives from talking heads on 24 hour news networks, folks. Everything being reported about this “international incident” over the supposed President Obama funeral selfie (good LORD, people) is nonsense and wildly inaccurate and downright ridiculous.
First of all: it was NOT a selfie. Not at all. President Obama did NOT take that picture. It was actually Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt who snapped a selfie with her phone, and both President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron leaned in to be in the photo, most likely at her request.
Secondly, this was NOT taken at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Nelson Mandela’s funeral isn’t scheduled until December 15th you know, FOUR DAYS FROM NOW. This particular event was a memorial celebration that lasted over four hours and involved a huge amount of joyous music and dancing, a much more relaxed occasion for everyone participating.
Even if we take politics out of this and I’ll confess to being firmly in the pro-Obama court the way this story has been reported is insane. Hasn’t anyone wondered how the Danish Prime Minister would have reacted if Obama had refused to be in her photo? What about the fairly standard posed official photographs taken at such events? Is the Danish Prime Minister’s selfie all that different from a posed shot where she is standing stoically shaking President Obama’s hand?
The Associated Press photographer that took the photo blogged about it here, and has some interesting and smart insights to the furor.
“Anyway, suddenly this woman pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the US president. I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa…
“I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have. At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place. The AFP team worked hard to display the reaction that South African people had for the passing of someone they consider as a father. We moved about 500 pictures, trying to portray their true feelings, and this seemingly trivial image seems to have eclipsed much of this collective work.”
That last line is the kicker, here. Instead of focusing on the amazing accomplishments of an incredible man that changed the world in remarkable ways, the press and many individuals have focused on this single moment where politicians acted like human beings.
I think, frankly, they are allowed. After all, this year’s Word of the Year is selfie — we all do it. And there is nothing inappropriate about this particular selfie.