"Funeral pomp is more for the vanity of the living than for the honor of the dead." -- Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Being the father of a 15-year-old, married for 22 years, and a person who passionately hates to attend funerals because they are so morbid, my first reaction to seeing President Obama's now infamous "selfie" moment at Nelson Mandela's memorial was to just laugh.
The picture is a classic. Taken by AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt, it caught a jovial Obama during the memorial service posing for a selfie with the attractive Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and boyish British PM David Cameron.
Schmidt's picture showed what some interpreted as a disapproving (and maybe jealous?) Michelle Obama in the background. It's a look that may have foretold a night of retribution that only a married man can truly appreciate.
As a MasterCard commercial would term it: priceless.
From a political perspective, those poor bastards in charge of damage control in the White House, who have been a bit preoccupied with website maintenance lately, must have suffered a momentary breakdown when the selfie suddenly became a hot subject too. I bet they even heard some griping from Michelle.
Seriously, was the memorial honoring one of the greatest leaders of our time the place to indulge in a fun moment? Probably not.
Oh well, maybe memorials should be more light-hearted, particularly of someone who has lived to their 80s-90s. Imagine a new trend where everyone took a selfie during funerals, even just to confirm they are still alive? At least funerals would be a little more bearable.
That Obama selfie was, in fact, nothing more than a moment of playful bonding among world leaders under tremendous pressure. It portrayed a needed sense of unity among allies that no formal portrait in the White House could capture. There was really nothing wrong with it.
Despite the outrage and mocking that took place, I think many Americans, particularly my age, enjoyed that picture. It momentarily allowed us not to think about the economy, the Obamacare problems, and other pressing issues that continue to deflate the Obama mystique in his second term.
Instead, it allowed us to relate to the president in a fun manner, making him more one of us.
Still, this whole selfie business is quite confusing to someone of my generation.
First, we never had cameras that allowed us to instantaneously reverse themselves and just shoot over and over again.
It was difficult, if not impossible, to reach out even with our Instamatics and Polaroids and take a decent picture of one's self. And the cost of the film and development was also a factor -- a bad picture meant wasted money. If we wanted a selfie, we fixed the settings of the camera and handed it to someone nearby to take or took the time to set up a tripod.
I bet Obama, age 52, just liked the idea that it could be done so easily. I have to admit that I've tried it a few times, but unlike the photogenic Obama, the result was unappealing.
Then, there's this bothersome narcissistic compulsion that has obsessed our children's generation to continuously take pictures of them. I've spent a lot of time enduring the sight of my daughter Hannah spontaneously taking her iPhone and shooting selfies no matter where she may be or what she may be doing. It gets annoying, very annoying.
But like it or not, the president showed that selfies are now an important part of the lives of all generations of Americans.
I'm kind of hoping that during the upcoming State of the Union address, House Speaker John Boehner pulls out his phone and takes a similar "selfie" with the president and Vice President Joe Biden.
Now that would be truly priceless, and a sign of unity this country needs.
Published in Context Florida on December 18, 2013