So what do you make of that ‘selfie’ from the Mandela Memorial? Personally the nearest I’ve been to an African funeral/memorial service was just ordinary a Mass at the windowless Catholic Cathedral in Abuja.
I’d never quite witnessed anything like the joy, the singing the dancing and the time taken anywhere else I’ve attended Mass (from Horsens in Denmark to Los Angeles). What in the old days at least used to take some Irish priests just 35 minutes on a Sunday, took 2 hours in Africa.
The Mandela memorial seemed to have all of that, and a whole heap of politics of the crowd thrown in.
Remove those technological accoutrements of the stage which force awareness of that little piece of Michelle Obama’s hair that’s just out of place, and put them in the round and the crowd will – in all its attention and inattention – begin to predominate over individual speakers
In more than one sense, the controls were off yesterday. Much has been made of the fact that Jacob Zuma were booed by the crowd. Well, despite the appeal to the crowd about the presence of ‘visitors’, he was not the only one to be so treated in what was at times akin to a pantomime of politics.
In some respects South Africa faces the same issues that a post Franco Spain did when it first voted for Felipe Gonzalez (and later when they voted the post Franco rightist Partido Popular back in). Democracy is not much use if the people feel they must behave themselves properly all the time.
Well, they didn’t behave ‘properly’ yesterday. And nor, once the normal controls and protocols were taken off, did three of the western political elite. And, apparently, it fell to the US President’s wife to put it all right again.
Which brings me back to whether our elites understand they are in a new world in which their behaviours are always under scrutiny. If you are Sir Phillip Green, you can get your secretary to forfend the enormous amount of time it takes to ‘engage’ online.
If you are the President of the US, you get derided if you don’t at least ‘affect’ engagement. Yesterday, though was a merely human response to a less than solemn occasion (this was a memorial remember rather than a funeral) caught by the unforgiving eye of citizen journalism.
Jennifer O’Connell writes that all of this points to an age of narcissism, when a ‘statsministerial’ selfie becomes the defining moment when the western world’s leaders had cleared their diaries, virtually at a moment’s notice, to pay homage to one of Africa’s greatest statesmen.
But perhaps Chris is closer to the mark when he talks about younger people (whose conscious sense of themselves has been shaped by the internet) “have closed the gap between self and identity”.
The privileged and alienated reserve of ‘the traditional stage’ no longer serves a useful purpose in an increasingly unpredictable political-world-in-the-round. And in those circumstances our authentic selves is pretty much all we have to get us through.
With all the risks and dangers that may bring. In plainer speak, it once again highlights the horizontal plain in which politicians are losing control over the way they are reported.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty