Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dancing with my selfie

Nelson Mandela's memorial service was an important occasion of international import. Yet with all the possible news to cover, the media went wild over Obama's selfie with David Cameron and Denmark's very attractive (blonde) Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt. Thus ensued a tidal wave of thinly veiled snark about "angry black woman" Michelle Obama who was pictured looking serious, or (if you're a pro journo looking for clickbait)a  pissed off wife. Nearly everyone got it wrong and not just about Michelle Obama. Yes it said a lot about our bias, but no, taking the selfie was not disrespectful in any way. Funerals are not somber events in Africa. Surely the media saw the parties in the streets when Mandela died. They apparently do not mourn death there as we do. They celebrate the life of the person who passed. As for the misconstrued photo, let's let the photographer explain the selfie:
I’d been there since the crack of dawn and when I took this picture, the memorial ceremony had already been going on for more than two hours. [...]

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 later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.

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. [...]

I confess too that it makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities, instead of things of true importance.
I was especially disappointed to see my hero Charlie Pierce jump onto the scolder bandwagon.
Truth is there were many world leaders enjoying themselves at the service. Including this guy:

This is why, as much as I support freedom of the press, I can't get too exercised over the WH Media's alleged lack of access to every waking moment of Obama's day. They're not really giving us some great hidden truth from behind the scenes. It's all about finding the clickbait to invent outrage and drive traffic. Just not seeing what civil society gets out of that.

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Blogger Marcellina said...

Thank you, Libby. This is the first I've seen the photographer's take on the picture, I appreciate it being put into perspective.
Even without that, I failed to see what the big deal was.

1:05:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Think the photog's story is getting some play today but that won't stop the Obama bashers from snarking on this forever. They had to have something since the handshake was too easily rebutted.

9:58:00 AM  

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