It was just a selfie, not a mark of disrespect

  • People
  • Thursday, 12 Dec 2013

This combo picture shows the selfie of (from left) David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama that has gone viral around the world.

Outrage over the US president having a laugh with British PM and Danish PM at Nelson Mandela service misses the point.

DAVID Cameron, Barack Obama and the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, may have been caught out being less than graceful at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service by taking selfies, but at least they got one bit of etiquette right.

They didn’t arrive at the service after the deceased. At the funeral of a friend of mine, I turned round to watch the coffin being brought into the church only to spot my therapist scuttling in behind it. My psychological well-being has been greatly improved ever since.

You could argue that world leaders have a duty to be statesman-like at memorials and that hatchet-faced solemnity is the order of the day. You might even wonder how much any of them really cared that Mandela had died. Most of them would probably only have met him a couple of times at most and in the ordinary run of events you don’t go to memorials of people you’ve only met twice.

But world leaders have to do what world leaders have to do. And if it means jetting halfway across the world, both to represent your country and to show you are important enough to be invited, then needs must.

Getting censorious about Obama, Cameron and Thorning-Schmidt having a laugh is to miss the point. If they had laughed the whole way through the service, then it would have been a misjudgment. But they didn’t. They were serious when required, which is the way it should be.

A memorial is a sad time, but it’s also a time to remember the fun bits of the dead person’s life. Irreverence is not the same as disrespect. I’m not sure that Mandela would have taken a selfie at Obama’s memorial if the positions had been reversed, but I’m fairly sure he would have seen the funny side of Obama posing at his.

A memorial should celebrate and reflect the life of the deceased. Remember Margaret Thatcher’s funeral earlier this year? Everyone at St Paul’s Cathedral in London behaved with the utmost solemnity. But was there ever a more joyless, soulless service? Thatcher left this world into a public emotional void. Compared with that, Obama’s selfie could almost be construed as an act of love. – Guardian News & Media

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