Another day, another wildly misjudged celebrity selfie—this time, by NBA player Danny Green at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.
While this latest image is a change from the recent avalanche of famous people in photos—all of which have either fallen into the leaked nude or contrived charity shot category—it didn’t take long for Green’s apparent nonchalance to start ruffling feathers. Sure, we may want to share a snap of ourselves with others on a particularly great face day, but at a site commemorating the persecution of 6 million people, captioned with a “lol”?
It seems our penchant for selfies in inappropriate places is an infatuation that can’t be tamed. Funerals, memorial sites, the location of an attempted suicide: The barrier of social acceptability has been well and truly destroyed, with respect being keenly traded in for a handful of Facebook likes.
But why do people do it? Do they really not look around them when they hit the shutter, or is it all part of a ploy to attract more attention? “Documenting yourself in a place is like stamping a passport,” says Selfies at Serious Places' creator Jason Feifer. “It’s proof that you were there. And it’s become so habitual that I think we sometimes don’t consider how in conflict it feels with a place we’re in.”
“I really do think that most of the people on my Tumblr didn’t mean disrespect,” he adds. “They just weren’t thinking about how this photo and this place don’t really go together.”
It’s a fair point. The heady combination of smartphones and real life make for an endless stream of digitally documented blunders—the vast majority of which are captured on camera, posted online, and then hastily deleted some time after the descent down crap creek has begun. Danny Green clearly didn’t mean any harm by sharing his snap, but his lack of self(ie?)-awareness definitely didn’t do him any favors.
But these images aren’t simply fun and games, argues Jean Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic. “This type of inappropriate self-focus and attention-seeking is typical of someone with narcissistic personality traits,” she says. “People high in narcissism like to be the center of attention and are focused on their own desires, so don’t always take the perspective of others.”
Taking a photo of oneself for the purposes of public distribution is already fairly high in the narcissism stakes , so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the backdrops of these images veer toward the insensitive. Says Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford University psychiatrist and author of Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the e-Personality, “Cyber narcissism [is] a personality trait that we have been practicing online since the beginning of the Internet.”
“Social media is a narcissist’s dream,” he says.
Indeed, it’s not only homages to the dead that serve as great location fodder for socially unaware snappers: Scenes of major physical distress can also provide the perfect background for your badly thought out close-up. “An 11-year-old pupil was hit by a car in an accident that left him comatose for weeks and with lasting neurological damage,” recalls one high-school teacher who declined to be identified. “The next day, selfies from the scene were circulating in class.”
“It’s horrifying to think that the first thing entering the minds of those kids when witnessing such an accident was how best they could document it on social media.”
Yes, the vast majority of these images aren’t intended to shock or provoke, but there is an increasingly blurred line when it comes to the parameters of what’s acceptable to photograph. When the neurologically damaged are deemed as a suitable photo background, we have a serious problem.