In Defense of Funeral Selfies

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This week, Fast Company writer Jason Feifer started a tumblr called Selfies at Funerals. Feifer’s reposting selfies posted by teens on Twitter or Instagram. It’s probably worth pointing out that, in fact, most of the pictures are actually taken before a funeral or after one. With a couple exceptions, these are pictures of kids in suits or dresses, taking a self portrait, usually in their homes.

It's obvious how you're supposed to feel about this. You're supposed to laugh at the kids. The joke is that they're so relentlessly narcissistic that even the death of a loved one is just another chance to post their pictures online. Gawker published a clickbait piece grabbing the photos and appending commentary:

“ 'Selfies at Funerals' is the last tumblr you see before you die because your body will simply shut down once it realizes it's being forced to share the same plane of existence with the kind of people who think it's completely normal to snap selfies at funerals and upload them to social media sites with the caption ‘love my hair today, hate why I'm dressed up’ and the hashtag "#funeral.”

And the Atlantic Wire published essentially the same post, although in their version, they captioned the photos with snippets of poems about death. It's supposed to be a really funny juxtaposition, but instead, it feels cheap, snotty, and curmudgeonly.

Here’s why.

First of all, to state the obvious, don’t tell anyone how to grieve. Especially children.

With that out of the way, let us, for a moment, give these kids absolutely no benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that the only reason they’re posting these photos is because of their runaway narcissism. Maybe they’re entitled to their narcissism.

When you go to a funeral, you probably wear a suit or a dress. You make sure that you look as good as you can. Is this because you think that the dead person can see you? Or is this because grieving is a strange ritual, and we’ve arbitrarily decided that we’re all going to dress up when someone dies? Sort of narcissistic! If we had proper respect for death, we’d all sit in our homes, alone, in sackcloth. Instead, we dress up really fancy and then have a catered party in a room with a dead body. Someone should probably start a tumblr called Adults In Suits Eating Hors d'oeuvres Near A Corpse. I’m sure it’ll do gangbusters.

Second, I don’t actually believe this is strictly about narcissism. Personally, I don’t take a ton of selfies. The word itself makes my skin feel funny. But I suspect that for a lot of young people, a selfie is more like a public diary entry than it is a chance to show your friends how hot you look. Imagine that instead of taking photos at funerals, these kids were posting photos of themselves sick in the hospital. It’d be a way of sharing their current state of being with their friends. Mocking those kids would probably seem idiotic and kind of cruel.

Lastly, lets assume I’m wrong about all of this. Assume there’s a right way to grieve, and we, as adults, always follow it. Assume none of us have ever thought about something inappropriate at a funeral, or flirted at a wake. Assume our conventions are the right ones, and these kids are callow narcissists. Even then, I’m exhausted by the practice of mining social networks for supposedly ignorant or narcissistic utterances by children and then publishing them online for adults to judge.

Yes, the kids are speaking publicly, and in doing so they’ve somewhat disavowed their right to privacy. But is this the kind of adult you wanted to be? A person who is completely astounded that the younger generation doesn’t share their values. A person who has no curiosity about why young people might do things in a new or different way from you.