Obama's Selfie At Mandela Memorial: Why We Can't Jump To Conclusions

So everybody's going crazy about a series of "selfies" taken at Nelson Mandela’s memorial in South Africa Tuesday. In the shots, President Obama and Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt are chumming it up with their buddy David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the First Lady, seated about a foot away, appears to shoot her husband the look of death.

Michelle’s attitude has been described as “unamused,” or “unimpressed." Gawker proclaimed that the president is “in the doghouse” for his “too-friendly” selfie, while the New York Daily News charged that the president and Thorning-Schmidt showed a “total lack of propriety” at the event. Rush Limbaugh also criticized the president for what's been called a "funeral selfie," but, you know, what else is new?

It’s easy to see why the pictures are causing such an uproar. Michelle Obama does look pissed off at her husband, and not just in one or two of the pictures taken today — in all of them. Plus, insofar as it's possible to gauge the tone of a conversation from a picture, it does look like there’s something flirtatious going on between the President and the Danish Prime Minister.

In one shot, Thorning-Schmidt gives Michelle the exact look you’d expect her to give if Michelle had, say, called her out for flirting with her husband. Eventually, Michelle switches seats with Barack, thus creating some distance between him and the prime minister.

And, by the way, what were they doing taking selfies at such a solemn event, anyway? Isn’t that a bit, you know, disrespectful?

Yes, the outrage is understandable, but let’s all just calm down for a second. First of all, as only a few have pointed out, a memorial is not a funeral. What’s more, this particular memorial took place at a stadium, and involved a whole lot of people being jovial and celebrating Mandela's life. Like these folks, for example.

In other words, it wasn’t strictly a “dress in black, keep your head down” kind of event, though of course some mourners chose to go about it that way.

But most commentators are conspicuously ignoring another picture from the event, which shows Thorning-Schmidt and the First Lady engaged in what appears to be a friendly, cordial conversation.

More importantly, what can we, lowly denizens of the Internet, possibly know or conclude about a conversation that took place in another country just by looking at a couple of pictures? Michelle could be upset; she could also be spacing out, or tired, or thinking really hard. Maybe, just maybe, she’s reflecting on the death of Nelson Mandela.

As anyone who’s ever paused a DVD knows, it’s easy to assume that someone is feeling some emotion by capturing them at the right, or wrong, moment. Oh, and Obama wasn’t the only U.S. president to mark the occasion with a corny photo:

Yes, the First Couple is fascinating to study, but as much as we’d all love to know the juicy details of their relationship, we don’t and we can’t. We certainly can’t come to any sort of judgment just by looking at a couple of pictures, so let’s resist the urge to draw conclusions based on a couple of (admittedly entertaining) photographs. Also, this.