Selfies at Funerals
I’m going to admit it: I’m totally fascinated by the on-going discussion of selfies at funerals kicked off by the Atlantic post this week, just in time for Day of the Dead. It almost feels like they created this trend JUST to have Halloween/Day of the Dead programming. I can just imagine writers covertly nudging teens in graveyards and whispering to them through their tears over their loved one’s coffin, “this would be an excellent time for a selfie, don’t you think?”
Not that I’m cynical in any way.
Image: Elvert Barnes via Flickr
The Atlantic article introduced the aptly named Tumblr site, Selfies at Funerals, which posts selfies taken on the way, at, or after funerals. I’m sort of enthralled that there are enough people doing this to build a site around it. I’ll admit that taking a selfie in general is the last thing on my mind, but especially at funerals. I mean, in Judaism, we don’t even look in mirrors while we’re in mourning. I can’t imagine thinking, “I would love to capture these swollen eyes and runny nose for the world to see.” Though no one looks very tearful in any of the images on those sites. I’ve personally never been to a funeral and not cried. So I think I may be on a different playing field.
Which is why I was glad to see Jezebel tackle this topic with a defense of the funeral selfie. Finally, someone was going to make sense of this for me. And I’m not being sarcastic when I say that Jezebel gave me a very different way of viewing the act of self-documenting your life by snapping a photograph at a funeral (which, when you think about it, isn’t that far off from writing poetry or non-fiction or blog posts about funerals).
The Jezebel article points out that we as a culture created our disengagement from death and subsequent inability to deal with mortality. The author asks,
Funeral homes come and immediately take our dead bodies away. Would these teenagers have the time to take a selfie in Japan, where after the cremation the family members gather around the bones and place them in the urn with chopsticks? Or in traditional Jewish culture, where the body is washed, purified with water, and dressed by men & women of the community? Or in Madagascar, where the whole family disinters the corpse, wraps the bones in new cloth, and dances with the bones to live music?
I don’t buy the whole argument since I have never prepared a body and yet understand the gravity of a funeral (and have since a young age). But I do agree, as I said yesterday, that I think on a whole, the vast majority of the secular, Western world is so squeamish in discussing death that we sometimes can’t even tell strangers the truth about our lives lest we distress them. We are disengaged; and cameras, computers, blogs, Twitter — they’re all ways of documenting, but they’re also ways of disengaging from the moment with the idea that you will revisit later. I am a notorious documenter; taking photos everywhere I go and thinking up how I want to write about it as I live it. Life is huge, messy, emotional, overwhelming. Taking that step back helps keep the world in perspective.
Or they’re just self-absorbed jerks.
I also liked the New York Times piece on selfies a few days ago, which sums up the trend thusly:
Rather than dismissing the trend as a side effect of digital culture or a sad form of exhibitionism, maybe we’re better off seeing selfies for what they are at their best — a kind of visual diary, a way to mark our short existence and hold it up to others as proof that we were here. The rest, of course, is open to interpretation.
The rest, I’m assuming, is context. Selfie on top of a mountain to mark that you got to the summit, okay. Selfie at a funeral… maybe not so much.
Of course, for all we know, the deceased who are being buried in those photos could be HUGE selfie takers (as grandparents usually are these days) and love the thought of other people marking their passing in that manner. Maybe they expressly asked their loved ones to take pictures of themselves at their funeral, and then don’t we all have egg on our face for judging another person’s dying wishes?
I am being only a little tongue-in-cheek because the conversation this week around selfies and funerals reminded me of Kathy’s post about live tweeting a funeral; something done with the widow’s permission and love, allowing people who lived far away to be there in spirit and know what was happening at the service. Social media is in the delivery room, marking the moment of birth. It seems fitting then on some end to have social media at the funeral, marking the death.
Though I sort of hope my loved ones leave technology at home for the shiva. Just be present in the moment so you can appreciate the totally awesome soundtrack I put together to mark the occasion.
How would you feel if you saw someone taking selfies at a funeral? Would you not care if people took selfies at your funeral or would you haunt them from beyond?
Happy Halloween, everyone.