Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The obsession with the selfie

There was a time when one's photograph was taken by others, at their desire and initiation. Very occasionally on a special occasion or at an exquisite location one might take the initiative oneself and request of another that they capture the moment for posterity, which complete strangers are invariably very happy to do. Cameras were carried on holiday, to celebrations or commemorations, especially where one's children were the focus of attention. Only photo-journalists would take their cameras everywhere just in case.

But mobile phone-cameras and iPads have made everyone a perpetual photographer, eager and equipped to capture every visit to Sainsbury's.

Yesterday there was a memorial service for Nelson Mandela: it wasn't a funeral; it was a celebration of a life well lived. There were moments of reflection and mourning, but an awful lot of joyful singing and dancing. During this, it appears that President Obama and David Cameron were content to snuggle in to the neck of Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who evidently wanted to capture the moment for her grandchildren father-in-law probably not her presence at the memorial service, but the honour of being sat next to the leader of the free world (when has a prime minister of Denmark ever been pictured with a president of the United States?).

It has caused something of a stir. Certainly, the First Lady appears none too pleased. But a selfie at a memorial service presents a curious sociological tension. One might expect it of a teenager, but from a mature adult and senior politician? Yet surely a refusal by either Obama or Cameron would have been an unacceptable snub? Pope Francis has it about right:

You get down wiv da yoof when asked, if only because it is part of the Christian vocation to be all things to all people: it builds bridges and dispels stuffiness. Would the Pope have laughed off Helle Thorning-Schmidt's request, or would he have acquiesced diplomatically?

The self is a curious obsession. It is nothing new, of course: we have battled against the inner egotistical, avaricious and narcissistic parts of our being ever since we became conscious. It is a daily struggle to control selfish thoughts and overcome the inclination to selfish action, and all religions exhort the development of the self-discipline to die to the sinful passions and desires of the flesh that, in fact, is the root meaning of 'jihad'.

We forgive the first-person obsessions of our families, friends and those celebrities we like. We deplore such expressions in our critics, colleagues and the rich and famous of whom we are jealous or whom we despise. But the self-consciously insensitive politician offends more, for some reason. Is it that we expect a superior self-knowledge and self-awareness? Or is it that we envy them their different perceptions and experiences?

Or is it that our eyes intuitively sting at the sight of an introspective consciousness whose identity ought to be selflessly representative of a people, and whose thoughts and concerns ought to be with the third-person plural?


Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

Or is it that the heart sinks at the shallowness of those who rule us?

11 December 2013 at 11:21  
Blogger John Thomas said...

"the leader of the free world " - I bet Israelis have a different way of describing Obama, after the recent sell-out ...

11 December 2013 at 11:32  
Blogger Ramzi Nemo said...

Perhaps a more charitable perspective would note three heads of government wanting to demonstrate their--and their people's--unity in celebrating and giving thanks for President Mandela's life: Don't you find more troubling, Your Grace?

11 December 2013 at 11:40  
Blogger Corrigan said...

"Sell out", John? Is that Hebrew for "The US hasn't done what we told them to"?

11 December 2013 at 11:55  
Blogger Dreadnaught said...

From what I hear the event was poorly attended a raucous shambles. Even the ubiquitous 'signer' for the deaf was simply waving his arms around and faking the illusion.

The booing of Zuma and the bucketing rain just about summed it all up as the desperate last squeeze of the Mandela lemon.

So they took a selfie - they were probably bored rigid and thought all semblance of dignity had deserted the occasion so why shouldn't they.

If you can fake 'sincerity' you too can be a politician my son.

11 December 2013 at 13:05  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

My avatar is a "selfie" at the mirror...just got my smart phone and didn't figure out it has a camera and both sides.

That's right, Corrigan, Obama has been sloppy with complying with my instruction and those of my fellow Elders. You better watch it or I'll gore you with my horns, kick you with my hoofs and bitch-slap your ruddy goyishe punim with my tail.

11 December 2013 at 13:17  
Blogger Brian Gould said...

Ramzi Nemo

I followed your link to the New Yok Post selfie story, where I noticed this halfway down:

The craze includes not just celebrities at their worst — average people have also become viral phenomena.

One of the most notorious came in The Bronx in May, when Bahsid McLean, 23, murdered his mom, Tanya Byrd, then posed with a picture of her severed head.

For the New York Post, Bahsid McLean ranks as an "average person". The telling detail.

11 December 2013 at 13:20  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Looks as if there was a carnival atmosphere there to me. Perhaps that's what SA wanted ?

What do we expect from our PM? I would answer that saying, " wisdom firstly, resolve, respect for the people and hence an ability to listen to them, plus a dash of dignity, but not stuffy".

Presumably Cameron factored that this will make him appear "one of us", who knows?

It certainly makes him look shallow, and as silly as the Danish PM. He has never appeared to me to be a fully mature man, not to the incredibly high standard necessary for a PM anyway.

11 December 2013 at 14:32  
Blogger Mrs Proudie of Barchester said...

@David Hussell

"It certainly makes him look shallow, and as silly as the Danish PM. He has never appeared to me to be a fully mature man, not to the incredibly high standard necessary for a PM anyway."

I'm on the edge of my seat, David - if you think that about Cameron what on earth will your judgement of Milibandwaggon be?

11 December 2013 at 15:05  
Blogger DAD said...

She is Kinnock's daughter-in-law.

That just about sums it up.

11 December 2013 at 16:07  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Mrs Proudie,

DAD has given the answer, I merely need to concur.

Thanks, DAD.

11 December 2013 at 18:21  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Mrs Proudie,

Mrs Proudie,

More haste, less speed, as they say no doubt in Barchester.

The Millipeede thingy ?

Oh well, lets's think now, I know,

Much worse !

Will that do ? No, ah well, I'm in too relaxed a mood to be plain speaking tonight.

Sorry if that disappoints, Mrs Proudie.

11 December 2013 at 18:28  
Blogger Nick said...

I think this was a missed opportunity for Obama to show his diversity credentials. One can imagine the comments on PN if he'd given Cameron a quick peck on the cheek or even a flirty tap on Raoul Castro's posterior. It would have shown greater solidarity with the LGBT community and perhaps ameliorated some of Michelle's worries?

11 December 2013 at 19:59  
Blogger Mrs Proudie of Barchester said...

Dear dear David, of course it suits...I was just curious. I shall send you a muffler I have knitted myself, very good for keeping hot air in and cold air out.

11 December 2013 at 20:14  
Blogger Ezekiel Lamb said...

All Religion seeks to improve the "self" by its doctrine , it is both external and fleeting. Christianity {for those who receive it] is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit it is both internal and eternal

11 December 2013 at 20:31  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Your Grace,
This 'selfie' certainly seems to lack dignity but I actually like the idea of selfies. My family life passed me by without hardly a picture that I was in. An advancement that I think I approve of in the right circumstances. This however was inappropriate.

11 December 2013 at 22:27  
Blogger Roy said...

Your Grace asked:

when has a prime minister of Denmark ever been pictured with a president of the United States?

The answer is on most occasions that a Danish prime minister has visited Washington DC, probably every time an American president has visited Copenhagen, and at various meetings connected with NATO and certain other international organisations.

The current Secretary General of NATO is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister who got the NATO job partly because of the support of George Bush, whom he had met several times when Bush was the American president.

11 December 2013 at 22:40  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Happy Jack suggests this was a case of two silly men trying to 'take a nibble' from a rather tasty looking Danish Pastry. And, judging from Mrs Obama's expression, a look that could sink a thousand ships, she knew what was going on too.

11 December 2013 at 22:42  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Alcohol... {Hic!}

11 December 2013 at 23:35  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Alcohol is not... {Hic!}

11 December 2013 at 23:35  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

Alcohol is not the answer... {Hic!}

11 December 2013 at 23:36  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...


11 December 2013 at 23:36  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...


11 December 2013 at 23:36  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Inspector, Happy Jack asks, as he has many others, what is the question?

12 December 2013 at 00:59  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

Happy Jack
I see your friends are back in Marble Arch!

12 December 2013 at 02:42  
Blogger bluedog said...

Finally it has all become clear, Your Grace, more historic footage of the selfie emerges, and its time to drop the 'F' word. And that's 'F' for Flirt.

No wonder Michelle is looking po-faced. There she is, an African-American woman in Africa with her African-American husband beside her, and what does he do? He gets into some competitive attention seeking over a Nordic blonde whose real name is Mrs Kinnock. Surely to goodness Barry has more sense than to blow up his street cred flirting with whitey.

They've flown all that way and he misses the chance to talk earnestly with genuine Africans in click language, or whatever.

They'll never live it down.

Methinks that this display of social preferences points to Obummer being more white than he wants the world to believe.

12 December 2013 at 10:02  
Blogger The Explorer said...

Happy Jack @ 00:59

The thing is, HJ, if our esteemed Inspector had REALLY been as drunk as he's pretending, would he have been able to type it in the first place?

12 December 2013 at 11:12  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Explorer, Happy Jack says you'd be surprised what a drunken man can do on auto-pilot.

Hello Maria, Happy Jack looked and did not recognise anyone known to him. Jack hears Boris is issuing them train tickets for Gloucester. Jack wonders if any kind man in there might be able to offer them shelter.

12 December 2013 at 11:51  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12 December 2013 at 12:45  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

Happy Jack

Oh! The Inspector will be delighted to have some new drinking buddies I'm sure.

And the lovely, kind and accommodating Diane Abbot said she'd love to give a few of them a free spot by the roses in exchange for regular mulching. ;)

12 December 2013 at 15:15  
Blogger The Explorer said...

Buna ziua, Inspector.

(That's "Hello, Inspector" in Romanian.)

12 December 2013 at 15:20  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Explorer, Happy Jack says these expressions might be more useful for the Inspector:

"Voi avea un whisky mare și familia mea de 15 vor avea fiecare gin, te rog, Inspector."


12 December 2013 at 18:10  
Blogger The Explorer said...


I'm sure our good Inspector has alcohol reserves sufficient to deal with the situation.

12 December 2013 at 18:31  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

The selfie. Soon to be become as anti social as the autograph hunter of old. Won’t belong before these nuisances are met with scowls, and eventually to be wrestled to the ground and the hand held contraption booted down the street…

Inspector had his Christmas works bash last night. Came home the worse for drink. Had to listen to what other people’s grand children were doing on the big day. Had a bloody awful time. Couldn’t get the Guinness down quick enough. Then when it’s time for home, they have the damned nerve to ask you if you enjoyed it…

12 December 2013 at 18:32  
Blogger Happy Jack said...

Inspector, Happy Jack trusts there were plenty of photo's taken at said work's do.

12 December 2013 at 18:37  
Blogger Che Yeoh said...

Oh Lord it's hard to be humble,
When you're perfect in every way,
Each day I look in the mirror
For I get better looking each day;
To know me is to love me,
I must be a hell of a man;
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble,
But I'm doing the best that I can..

13 December 2013 at 02:01  
Blogger Len said...

When man rejects God he looks for some else to worship and after a long reflection decides 'self' is it.

So we have the cult of celebrity, people are killed for 'disrespecting' others, if one is injured (accidentally or not) then someone must pay,celebrities are the [only] news,reality shows [endlessly] and so on.........

15 December 2013 at 10:01  

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