Feature

Obama’s ‘selfie’: What does it reveal?

A “selfie” of the president and the leaders of Denmark and Great Britain at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service lit up the Twitterverse.

“There are times, as a politician, when you have to put on your most serious face,” said Frances Robinson in WSJ.com. After natural disasters. When declaring war. But not, apparently, at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Instead, said John Kass in ChicagoTribune.com, President Obama used the “somber” occasion to flirt outrageously with Denmark’s sexy, blonde prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, grinningly leaning in for a three-way “selfie” with her and British Prime Minister David Cameron. A cringeworthy photo of the three posing for their self-shot lit up the Twitterverse last week—not least because it showed a furious Michelle Obama next to the trio, glowering as her adolescent husband snapped “a memorial to himself.” The behavior of our narcissistic president was so inappropriate that “Selfies at Funerals”—a Tumblr account devoted to mourners’ egotistical self-shots—admitted there was no way to top it. “Our work here is done,” declared the Tumblr, promptly shutting down.

Oh, stop making a big deal out of one goofy selfie, said Carla Hall in LATimes.com. Mandela’s four-hour memorial was a carnival-like occasion, filled with South Africans singing and dancing, not “a somber funeral in a cathedral.” So in this festive atmosphere, three diverse world leaders—a white conservative, a black liberal, and a woman—put their heads together for a lighthearted picture. “Frankly, I think Nelson Mandela would have been charmed.” It’s also ridiculous to assume that Michelle was scowling with jealousy, said Roxane Gay in Salon.com. FLOTUS was probably just bored. Poor Michelle—no matter what she does, she’s caricatured as an angry black woman, especially when her husband is smiling at “an attractive white woman.”

Still, the president has definitely earned the award for “Selfie of the Year,” said Kyle Smith in the New York Post. He beat some stiff competition, such as the woman who posed in front of a suicidal man preparing to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, and “a guy making a mock-horror face while photographing himself at Auschwitz.” Obama wins because in one fleeting moment, the president captured all the things that make the “selfie” the symbol of our age: its solipsism, frivolity, inappropriateness—and most importantly, its ability to show “the most powerful man on Earth looking like a dork.”

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