December 11, 2013
The selfie seen around the world. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)
The selfie seen around the world. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Selfie-gate is one of those nontroversies that makes me see why people hate my profession. Of course, I’m talking about all the clutching of pearls over the self-made photograph of Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt with President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron at yesterday’s memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela. Some have been going on about the appropriateness of it all. Others have zeroed in on the stern look of first lady Michelle Obama as the power triplets hammed it up for the camera. But as with most nontroversies, there is no there there.

During question time, Cameron made light of the nonsense over the impromptu photo shoot, telling Parliament, “When a member of the Kinnock family asked me for a photograph I thought it was only polite to say yes.” Turns out, the Danish prime minister is the daugther-in-law of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Cameron added, “In my defense, I’d say that Nelson Mandela played an extraordinary role in his life and in his death in bringing people together.”

Let’s not forget that yesterday’s event was not a funeral (that’s on Sunday), but a memorial service where people were reportedly dancing, singing and cheering throughout event. The celebratory spirit that evoked the selfie and riled the world was confirmed by Roberto Schmidt, the photographer who captured the moment of frivolity and felt compelled to put the photos on context.

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. . . .

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.

Schmidt said one more thing that I agree with 100 percent. “[I]t makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities,” he wrote, “instead of things of true importance.”

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.