Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Above, via the Agence France-Presse, is a photograph of President Barack Obama, of the United States, taking a “funeral selfie” with David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Helle Thorning Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark. Meanwhile, in Michelle Obama’s dour expression, we see congealed centuries of humanity’s growing distrust of the modern condition, the mask itself of power’s profound alienation from the mechanisms of meaning.

Nearly a quarter-century ago, neoliberal ideas guy Francis Fukuyama took to the pages of The National Interest to pronounce the “end of history.” Reprising the Hegelian prognostications of Alexandre Kojève, who in the 1930s proclaimed a “universal homogenous state” of liberalism, Fukuyama trumpeted the political rise of the “West” and the “Western idea” of democracy. Unbeknownst to Fukuyuma, his dead-on-arrival tripe is much better suited for pop cultural analyses, e.g. of the selfie — itself a far more properly Western idea than democracy or liberalism.

That was all basically throwaway setup for this paragraph, from the Fukuyuma piece, where we replace “Western,” “West,” and “democracy” with “selfie”:

The triumph of the selfie, of the selfie idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to selfie liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world’s two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high selfie theory and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist selfie culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants’ markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

Alright! Be sure to let us know how you feel about all this. (Also, did you notice that Fukuyama rhymes with Obama?)

The Latest

The Editors

The Editors divide their time between Kinshasa, Brno, Goa, and Tikrit. They are fabulous and they will always be at the party you weren't invited to.

14 replies on “Today in ‘End of History’: Obama Snaps Funeral Selfie at Mandela Memorial”

  1. Mandela made it to a very ripe old age after an astonishing life. The stadium event was more of a celebration of the man than a “funeral”. Indeed, in the West, a life well lived, no matter the age, is often more of a celebration at death than a traditional mourning and service.
    However, this would not have happened in a church or cemetery, where a more traditional abidance of funerary decorum is followed.

      1. “…let us know how you feel about all this”: I think the editors should find out what was actually occurring in this photo, instead of assuming what other press said is true. It looks, to me at least, like it’s a camera, not an iPhone, and the lens is pointing away from the group. (I believe she’s getting assistance taking a photo. Look at their facial expressions.) Do some journalistic investigation and get back to us.

        1. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re actually asking with the intention of getting an answer:

          Most heads of state don’t use an iPhone (surprise!) due to encryption issues (incl. POTUS). The white marks visible in the center of the case look consistent with the Blackberry logo.

          They are also pretty clearly not assisting in the taking of a normal picture. (Wouldn’t the lens be visible, rather than a smooth phone-back?)

          1. I believe I see a round lens facing outward. Maybe you can obtain a better photo than I can. Schmidt has her mouth open, not smiling but concentrating, and Obama is biting his lower lip, a look of concentration and not his go-to smile. I think she’s taking a photo. Find out, hyper, and don’t take for granted what everyone else has. Break some news.

  2. It is a three handed shot with Obama pressing ze button. It must be his Blackberry. It is always nice to see heads of state having fun. How often do they get together surrounded by dancing diversity?

  3. Really…this is what her face says to you? “we see congealed centuries of humanity’s growing distrust of the modern condition, the mask itself of power’s profound alienation from the mechanisms of meaning.” I was thinking more like ‘sad’ – or is that too simple a word now?

  4. Why does the “truth” of the image matter? Is it okay to find new meaning in a picture? I argue that is what art gives us, new perspective, and that the reality of the image and our concept of it are both valid.
    In this case, criticism of those involved isn’t useful because of what we don’t “know”, but the abstracted impression is something to explore.

Comments are closed.