Tonawanda News

Columns

December 15, 2013

DUVALL: Presidential selfie a nonstory

Tonawanda News — When is a picture not worth a thousand words? Apparently when it’s taken by the president.

I found the kerfuffle over the presidential selfie during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service a particularly egregious non-story.

Boil it down to an over-simplified point and it sounds bad: The president of the United States was taking selfies at a beloved world leader’s funeral.

If that’s what happened I think we would all be fairly appalled.

Of course, that’s not at all what happened.

President Obama was attending a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. He was seated near British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The Danish PM at one point asked Obama and Cameron to smile for a photo. Michelle Obama is to the president’s left and the expression on her face looks unamused.

Finger-wagging Republicans pounced on the cheap sound byte and people who already dislike Obama piled on with faux outrage and embarrassment. 

Let’s clear up a few things: First, the president didn’t take a selfie. By definition a “selfie” (which is a word now, I’m told) would require the person in the picture to also take the picture. He wasn’t. He was posing for a photo, something people (especially presidents) do all the time.

Also, our president is a middle-aged man. Sorry, but no middle-aged man in the world would ever utter the sentence “wanna take a selfie?” He was being polite.

Next thing to consider: The first lady was just caught in a bad moment. She wasn’t tut-tutting her selfie-serving hubby. It’s a childish narrative and serious leaders don’t deserve to be reduced to some ridiculous Lucy and Ricky sitcom stereotype.

Finally, there’s some context necessary for the event itself. There were serious speeches and moving tributes to the great anti-Apartheid crusader. There were also many moments of levity. South Africans sang and danced. This was all parts a celebration, not some dreary funeral with a bunch of red-rimmed eyes. 

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