David Cameron, Barack Obama and the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, may have been caught out being less than graceful at Nelson Mandela's memorial service by taking selfies, but at least they got one bit of etiquette right. They didn't arrive at the service after the deceased. At the funeral of a friend of mine, I turned round to watch the coffin being brought into the church only to spot my therapist scuttling in behind it. My psychological wellbeing has been greatly improved ever since.
Top xeno-psychologist Roy Hobbs explained today that “To argue that when certain people do in fact act like total wankers they are at the same time being totally cool by not parking a 40-vehicle motorcade, a fold-up eco-bike and the Danish Embassy’s State Skoda in a football stadium when the crowd is already singing the first verse of ‘Let’s kill some Zulus’ - though that might admittedly actually upset some people - and then to also assert that such crassness could also refreshingly take the sting out of global grief was an act of intellectual flexibility, meme-plaiting, non sequiturs and treble-standards with which only a Guardian writer would start his analysis.”
You could argue that world leaders have a duty to be statesmanlike at memorials and that hatchet-faced solemnity is the order of the day. You might even wonder how much any of them really cared that Mandela had died. Most of them would probably only have met him a couple of times at most and in the ordinary run of events you don't go to memorials of people you've only met twice.
Political gossip columnist Emma Bradford praised the G-13 celebs as “Extraordinarily sensitive, given the circumstances. President Obama in particular has risen to the occasion splendidly. Having never found time to meet the world’s most popular black man in the scant five years of his globe-trotting Presidency, Big O’s appearance today at a globally televised funeral says it all, really”.
But world leaders have to do what world leaders have to do. And if it means jetting halfway across the world, both to represent your country and to show you are important enough to be invited, then needs must.
Henry Brubaker at the Institute of Studies seconded that emotion by explaining that “It was an act of diplomatic time-management genius for Queen Gertrude, The Big Number Two and the Big Number One to visit the funeral in person.
They could simply have paid tribute by dispatching proxies such as a drone Lego X-Wing Fighter, by sending an over-flight by the Royal Air Craft, or simply by allowing American Consular staff to be murdered by Soweto businessmen and going back to bed; blaming their televised murders, rape and dismemberment on critical reaction to a You Tube trailer for the racist film ‘Pearl Necklace.’
Getting censorious about Obama, Cameron and Thorning-Schmidt having a laugh is to miss the point. If they had laughed the whole way through the service, then it would have been a misjudgment. But they didn't. They were serious when required, which is the way it should be. A memorial is a sad time, but it's also a time to remember the fun bits of the dead person's life. Irreverence is not the same as disrespect. I'm not sure that Mandela would have taken a selfie at Obama's memorial if the positions had been reversed, but I'm fairly sure he would have seen the funny side of Obama posing at his.
“Actually,” chuckled Tom Logan “in life Nelson Mandela was well known for his terrific sense of humour. You only have to remember his promises upon his historic release from Batman Prison during Antiques Roadshow of a better life for every South African when the ANC came to power to realize what a natural genius he had for comic timing and the delayed punch-line. I’m sure he’d get a giggle out of three leaders of the Free World acting like students in Wetherspoons at a Freshers’ Weekend Hos ‘n Bros pub crawl sending their shiny, happy smiles to Facebook.
A memorial should celebrate and reflect the life of the deceased. Remember Margaret Thatcher's funeral earlier this year? Everyone at St Paul's Cathedral behaved with the utmost solemnity. But was there ever a more joyless, soulless service? Thatcher left this world into a public emotional void. Compared with that, Obama's selfie could almost be construed as an act of love.
Nikki Hollis observed today: “If only the mourners at the Thatcher planting had loosened up a bit and sung a couple of verses of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina,’ let off a few party poppers like the SAS at the Iranian Embassy and passed out trays of post-Soviet Russian vodka shots it wouldn’t have been such a snooze.
And how right that Guardian writer is. After all, what does the very word Obama mean to most everyone if not the world’s latest and widest-used synonym for an act of love?”
Picture from here.
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