Obama Selfie and Fake-Translator Outrage Entirely Misses The Point Of Mandela Service
It's official: Nelson Mandela's memorial service is no longer about Nelson Mandela. First, there was the outpouring of rage over that "funeral selfie" by President Obama. Then, there was general hilarity over photographs of a stern-looking Michelle Obama looking as though she felt Barack was flirting with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt. As we pointed out, the First Lady could well have been reflecting on Mandela's death. (Ya know, the reason they were all there in the first place?)
The whole thing, according to Fox News, has created an "international incident." Which is a bit of an exaggeration. But it's fair to say that a lot of commentators weren't at all pleased with the president's behavior at the Mandela service.
On Wednesday, in an AFP blog titled "Selfie," the press photographer who took the viral shots of the Obamas defended the First Couple's actions at the service. SparkNotes for those who don't want to read his post below: They didn't do anything wrong, and all of the attention given to these trivial images has diminished the hundreds of photographs also taken at the service.
Anyway, suddenly [Thorning-Schmidt] pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the US president. I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed – I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa.
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have. At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place. The AFP team worked hard to display the reaction that South African people had for the passing of someone they consider as a father. We moved about 500 pictures, trying to portray their true feelings, and this seemingly trivial image seems to have eclipsed much of this collective work.
"He has no real clue about sign language," said the executive of the British Deaf Association. Added Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the first deaf women in South African Parliament: "He cannot sign. Please get him off."
"It was horrible," a sign-language interpreter told the Associated Press. "An absolute circus: really, really bad. Only he can understand those gestures."
The South African government said in a statement that they haven't yet figured out exactly what was going on, due to their "demanding schedule" of, you know, organizing the state funeral.
In short: everybody seems to be missing the point of a memorial service. Specifically, one commemorating the man who was the dominant force in overturning South Africa's apartheid, served as the country's president, and was a humanitarian of our times.
Can we get back to mourning (or celebrating, or reflecting, or doing anything not involving the term "funeral selfie") Nelson Mandela's life now?