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December 11, 2013

Alongside the Grace and Poetry of the Mandela Memorial Tribute, a Mirror of Our Lesser Selves

Desmond Tutu Mandela Tribute

If Tuesday, and the international tribute to honor the passing of Nelson Mandela, was an opportunity for passion, for poetry, it clearly gave and gave. There was Desmond Tutu drawn into himself in deep reflection and mourning perhaps.

Pienaar Mandela Tribute

There was this fabulous photo of former Rugby captain Francois Pienaar reprising his historic handshake with Mandela simply by virtue of appearing in the stadium in his Springboks team jacket.

Karzai Mandela Tribute

And there were volumes of more subtle and challenging images, two of which I tweeted.  About this, with the ambiguity of Mandela’s role as an insurgent in mind,  I mused about the centrality of Karzai in the picture and how it layered in the moral complexity of the “terror war.”

ANC armed wing Mandela Tribute

Stronger still, the irony here was too much to process, these men former members of the armed wing of the African National Congress. With Obama framing Mandela alongside King and Ghandi, clearly the West  – as I discussed Monday night in regards to Mandela fist, and all those farewell newspaper and magazine covers –  has shown itself more than conflicted about Mandela’s “aggressive side.”

Dancing in front of soldiers Mandela Tribute

But ambiguities aside, transformation on the scale of the collapse of apartheid yielded poignancy everywhere. I couldn’t begin to wrap my arms around it.  As I also tweeted: we should have it that people always dance before the military.

Kids on train Mandela Tribute

And what better inspiration that these young people, BornFrees, on their way to the ceremonies, assuming the person of the man who sheparded their parents out of the old system.

With all that poetry and equality in the air, then, was it really too much to ask for sanctity to carry the day?

When it finally hit home to me yesterday that “the Obama selfie” was not just a passing flash on the social media radar, I really was crestfallen.

Obama Selfie Mandela Tribut

As some recompense, after all the toxic buzz finally worked its way through the media sphere, this post at Mashable parsed out most of the visual and contextual liberties taken in this racist visual brouhaha. But then, the question remained why the photo went viral — and sucked up all that oxygen — at all. Putting it that way, what you didn’t get from that one viral image, but what comes reeking to the surface in the Daily Mail’s consequent and shameless edit is a more damning riff on the original innuendo.

Obama Selfie series DailyMail

You’d have thought from this follow-on compilation of milliseconds that Michelle, who enjoyed the Danish PM’s company just as much at other points in the afternoon, had just walked in on Obama having sex with that woman. (And if you can stand it, you might take in the entire DailyMail visual review – many of the pics reproduced below — for the way the edit, on this otherwise reverent occasion, runs from pervasively uncomplimentary to decidedly mean.)

BHO GM SA tribute

Perhaps the worldwide grace bestowed on a black African leader ultimately generated too much tension below the surface? In a festival– as opposed to a funerial almosphere, clearly the suggestion of Obama interacting with a blonde female peer while the First Lady’s attention remained fixed on the festivities was just too irresistible for some.

Of course, I’m not so naive as to think that small-mindedness, dish and the pitched daily battle for cheap clicks wouldn’t also characterize such a day.

Bono Theron Madela Tribute

Yes, there had to be cheesecake (though cheers to Naomi Campbell, who had the real relationship with Mandela, for keeping a low profile).

Export Laura Bush Mandela Tribute

Yes, photo edits would inevitable take some librarians apart.

Obama Castro Mandela Tribute

And you could expect – the rainbow comprised as much by the revolutionary’s revolutionary comrades — that political correctness would send some hysterics up in arms.

Human nature being what it is, the mix of egos and characters tossed together inside that stadium would have provided curiosity enough.

Sarko Holl SA

All that said, if a profound delineation would have ever emerged between tabloid culture and our highest nature, yesterday would have been that day.

(photo 1: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images. photo 2: AFP/Getty Images caption: Springboks: South Africa’s rugby captain Jean de Villiers and his predecessor Francois Pienaar were among the mourners. photo 3: Peter Dejong / AP caption: karzai VIPs and dignitaries stand up for the start of the memorial service. . photo 4: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images caption: Members of the MK, which was the armed wing of the African National Congress, sing and dance during the Nelson Mandela memorial service. photo 5: Roberto Schmidt / AFP – Getty Images caption: People dance in front of soldiers playing in a brass band during the memorial service. photo 6: Mujahid Safodien / Reuters caption: Two men dressed as Nelson Mandela travel on a train at Johannesburg’s Park Station on their way to the memorial service. photo 7: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images. photos 8 – 11: as identified. photo 12: AP caption: Giving his condolences: President Obama kisses Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel during the memorial service. photo 13: Ben Curtis / AP. caption: Actress Charlize Theron waits with musician Bono for the memorial service to begin. photo 14 & 15: as identified. photo 16: Reuters caption: Audience: Italian prime minister Enrico Letta (above left), French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy (below left) and his successor Francois Hollande (below right).)

  • Confused in SA

    Why is Charlize Theron “cheesecake”? She was born/raised in South Africa, and has spoken highly of Mandela over the years.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      Because in this case, the camera is less discerning of good works, or nationality and character, than it is drawn to beauty and celebrity. That same superficiality, by the way, was what fueled the selfie. If you see Theron and/or Bono with more depth and context, that’s to your credit. But it’s a context the viewer — in the instance of the Obama images, especially — is left to supply on their own. Thanks, by the way, for the question.

  • glennisw

    The photographer of the “selfie” shots writes of what he experienced:

    http://blogs.afp.com/correspondent/?post%2FSelfie

    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.

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