2016 has been a divisive year, but one photo brought virtually everyone together over the weekend.
No, it was the adorable photos of Michelle Obama and President George W. Bush embracing. That image made at least one writer lose his mind.
It was this photo of young people with their backs all turned, taking a selfie with Hillary Clinton.
2016, ya'll. pic.twitter.com/M0AZceVagQ
— Victor Ng (@victomato) September 25, 2016
Upon seeing the photo the collective internet exploded in annoyance and rage at the self-absorbed millennials who could not be bothered to turn face the influential person in their midst.
The heaping scorn is epitomized by this faux letter at the beginning of a CNet article:
Dear famous person,
If we want to be seen with you, we’ll turn our backs on you.
Please don’t be offended.
It’s just that your fame isn’t enough for us anymore.
We need to attach ourselves to your fame, so that we can post the resulting picture to Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
That way, we achieve our own sort of mini-fame. Which could be the maximal fame we ever attain.
I’ll admit there is something disconcerting and unsettling about the photo: Dozens of millennials all seemingly consumed with contorting themselves so that this moment is captured and is captured with them at the forefront.
But perhaps our disgust with those selfie takers goes a bit deeper. Maybe we are just sick of our own self-absorption and pride.
In introducing the topic of pride in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spoke of it as the “one vice of which no man in the world is free, which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and which hardly any people … ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.”
Pride claws at every heart, but few want to admit it. Even more than that, few have any tolerance for it the lives of others.
Again, Lewis wrote: “There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”
If that is indeed the case, I’m afraid it speaks very poorly for those of us in non-millennial generations so off-put by their apparent prideful self-obsession.
Not only are we to blame for creating the millennials perspective (everyone gets a prize, you shouldn’t have to face things which make you uncomfortable, helicopter parenting, etc.), we all suffer from the same sins. Millennials are just more visual with it.
No, you probably wouldn’t find a group of GenXers all turned taking a selfie of Sec. Clinton, but during or immediately after the event, you’d be forced to read all about it on Twitter.
Perhaps Baby Boomers wouldn’t hold their phones to capture the photo just so, but they’d be on Facebook as soon as they got home, assuming everyone who has ever met them is dying to know their thoughts and feelings about the event.
While previous generations spilled gallons of ink and typed out miles of text, Millennials are a visual generation. Instagram and SnapChat dominate their communication. Therefore, there sins, as it were, are on display for all to see.
Yes, despite some millennial protestations to the contrary, it is silly to take a selfie at that moment. But I’m not sure it’s that much sillier than sharing an unending stream of photos of your kids on Facebook when relatively few of your friends care.
Is it more self-aggrandizing than promoting your tweets or live-tweeting an event using the hashtag to place your opinion in front of more people?
How much worse is it than me writing this piece as if my opinion on the topic is worthy of an audience outside my own brain?
I don’t know the answer to those questions because I don’t know anyone’s true motives, sometimes (especially?) my own.
For those selfie takers, that may have been the highest honor they could bestow on Clinton. After all, they aren’t gazing down at their phone scrolling through their social media or texts. They are involved in the moment with the former secretary of state.
While I understand the inclination to hurl proverbial stones at the selfie generation, this may be a time when we have to consider our own hearts and say, “Let he who has no self-obsession cast the first tweet.”
UPDATE: As it turns out, those self-absorbed millennials who could not be bothered to turn their faces to the former Secretary of State were actually just following a request from Clinton. She asked them if they would take a group selfie.
This is even more evidence that this event reveals more about its interpreters than it does about its participants.