Julie Huff
The Silhouette

Facebook news feeds are littered with selfies. We see them on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. They’re everywhere. I’m not sure why people feel the need to catalogue their image at every turn, but one thing is certain: selfies have become an internet phenomenon. Some argue that selfies are no more than a narcissistic attempt for people to cry, “hey, look at me!” without actually saying the words. They’re attention-grabbers. But selfies have hit a new low.

Jason Feifer, a Brooklyn-based senior editor of Fast Company, has created a tumblr blog called “Selfies at Funerals.” Care to guess what it’s about? Yup, that’s right. Feifer compiles images of teenagers taking pictures of themselves at funerals. Often, teens are seen with “duck faces” or posing for the camera with various hash tags such as “Love my hair today. Hate why I’m dressed up #funeral.”

The blog first came to public attention last October and has since created a barrage of media uproar. Many are upset that teens seem to show such little respect for the deceased. The selfies indicate that rather than mourning the loss of life, teens instead place themselves at the forefront of a somber event by highlighting their blatant vanity and narcissism through a self-taken photo. Indeed, many feel that funerals are not an appropriate occasion for any picture, let alone a selfie.

Feifer has been accused of attempting to mock funerals and their attendees, namely teenagers, but in fact his tumblr seems to have had a slightly different effect: rather, the selfie-taking teens have become the target of mass criticism and disapproval. Teens have been attacked for what many consider their conceited and egotistical behaviour.

In an interview with CBC Radio, Feifer challenged the public’s outcry and defended the pictures, saying that he never meant the tumblr to be a cultural critique. He stated: “I don’t think this is a condemnation of a generation. I don’t intend it to be. It certainly is an observation of the way this generation is using social media. They’re also the first to do it – they’re the first to have it – and I really strongly believe that if my parents’ generation, my grandparents’ generation, had been the ones growing up with these tools, with this amount of technology and ability to share, they would have done very similar things.”

Some defend the selfies. Mortician Caitlin Doughty claims that they may be the only way teens know how to express their deep sense of sadness and mourning. A hundred years ago, family members commonly took pictures with caskets propped unceremoniously on a wall. Today, the ever-changing world of technology constantly alters the way we communicate, and selfies have become a universal way to interact with others. Moreover, she suggests teens take the pictures out of boredom. They are forced to attend the funeral of someone they don’t know, and retreat to the bathroom to take pictures of themselves when they find that their boredom has become all-consuming.

But enough with the excuses. Regardless of whose funeral we are attending or our relationship with the deceased, there should be a universally understood level of respect owed to the dead. Not only are funeral selfies disrespectful of the deceased, but they are also offensive and hurtful to their loved ones. Have teens become so desensitized that they are completely unfeeling in regards to death?

But I can’t help thinking that perhaps teens don’t mean the selfies to be offensive. They are just so used to taking pictures of themselves wherever they go that they don’t stop to think about what affect a funeral selfie may have. Yet teens seem to know that there is something wrong with the pictures – if they didn’t, one example of a funeral selfie wouldn’t ask, “This is a funeral selfie, am I going to hell?” Or worse still, snapping a shot with the deceased behind them; “My friend took a selfie at a funeral and didn’t realize his dead Grandma was in the background. I can’t breathe.”

The maelstrom of media backlash will hopefully soon come to an end (and the funeral selfie phenomenon along with it) due to Feifer’s decision to end the tumblr when what he considers the ultimate selfie was taken: On Dec. 10, 2013, Obama took a selfie along with the Danish and British prime ministers at Mandela’s memorial service. Granted, the occasion wasn’t a funeral per se, but you get the point.

While social media has quite clearly changed our lives in regard to the ways in which we express ourselves, funeral selfies are a selfish, conceited and disrespectful way to portray our feelings. I argue that these selfies show the world how much teenagers care about themselves rather than the person whose funeral they are attending. After all, a funeral is meant to be a day that celebrates the life of the dead, mourns their passing and provides an opportunity for their friends and family to say goodbye. Surely teens can give the attention to others for one day. Although maybe unintentionally, Jason Feifer’s blog uses an occasion we are all familiar with to illustrate a cultural phenomenon and cleverly critique society today. While not all funerals are somber events, the fact that the tumblr elicited such a remarkable reaction from society and the media shows that proper “funeral etiquette” is universal. So next time you’re at a funeral, think twice before you decide to whip out your phone and snap a quick pic. You never know who might be behind you.

[Dedicated to JWF for his unfailing support and encouragement – thanks a million times]

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