The death of Nelson Mandela brought leaders from around the world to a tribute gathering at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg. Three American presidents attended, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Mainstream media focused heavily on Obama, and particularly the evocative speech from the first black president of the United States in memory of the first black president of South Africa. The most pervasive images of Obama include silhouette shots of him leaving the stadium dressing room and the jumbotron broadcasting him to the crowd.
Oh, and the selfie. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took the opportunity to grab a photo-op with the president and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Michelle Obama looks less than impressed, and the world’s political blogs strongly criticized Thorning-Schmidt, the London Times saying Obama (not so much Thorning-Schmidt or Cameron) tested funeral etiquette. CNN provides a snap-by-snap re-enactment for us to consider the moment in a slightly wider context, but condemns Obama all the same. Although the New York Daily News reported Michelle Obama, “beside her selfie over flirty ‘Bam,” the First Lady was not upset about the photo. The Obama family defended the moment saying that the stadium had a carnival feel, that the tribute was a celebration, and even that Mandela would have been pleased with the atmosphere. David Cameron comically defended the selfie as a show of non-partisanship because Thorning-Schmidt is former Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law.
The selfie has now taken on a life of its own, the tragic consequence of “going viral.” For those of us interested in presidential studies, these images might give you a few insights into the carnival atmosphere the Obama family described, and the event they shared with the Clintons and Bushes.
George W. Bush, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Barack Obama before dinner on their way to South Africa on Air Force 1.