The selfie epidemic is contagious. You will catch it if you have a camera-phone. Nobody is immune from it - from Narendra Modi to Barack Obama to Sonam Kapoor and yours truly. We have all clicked our own pictures eating, posing with family or celebrities or near monuments and during important moments. We document it for posterity, delete it if embarrassing, share with friends and family who are far away, post it on social media for FB likes and retweets. Momentary vanity or embarrassing moment, it is a thrill that you want to relish or keep forever.
Danish Prime Minister became somewhat of an Internet sensation when she clicked a selfie with President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Sitting beside the trio was Michelle Obama looking very disapproving. The incident evoked a lot of debate on what is appropriate behaviour on taking selfies, especially for celebrities and heads of state and government.
US President Barack Obama (R) and British PM David Cameron pose for a selfie with Denmark’s PM Helle Thorning Schmidt (C) at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. This incident evoked a lot of debate on what is appropriate behaviour on taking selfies especially for celebrities and leaders. Pic/Getty Images
Closer home, Narendra Modi got into some trouble when he clicked a selfie after he voted because the BJP election symbol was prominently displayed near the voting booth. FIRs were registered against him for “manner in which the symbol, lotus, of the BJP was being displayed by him... thereby displaying to the public election matter by means of television in areas going to polls today.” Clearly not much happened to that case as Mr Modi is now in Race Course Road and wherever he goes people get selfies clicked with him. He is the prime minister and who wouldn’t want to be clicked with the Prime Minister of India?
But it’s not as simple as that. At a press interaction dubbed as Diwali Milan on Saturday at the BJP headquarters in downtown Delhi, several journalists got their pictures clicked with the prime minister. Though technically not a selfie since a selfie has to be clicked by one, these pictures are self-portraits with a VIP. Is it appropriate? That depends on what you define as appropriate behaviour for journalists. There are some who would not hesitate in accepting a government flat by a chief minister or prime minister through some quota but will not be clicked shaking hands with him. So long as an image of propriety can be maintained, a ‘proper’ distance from the celebrity shown — not necessarily practiced — it is ‘okay’. The same way as music and dance critics enjoy vacations and cozy dinners with artistes, or movie critics get all expenses paid vacations from PR agencies of stars. So long as nobody posts a picture and it is not written about, it is kosher.
Here I must mention that I did get a photograph taken with Mr Modi. Just as I did with Dr Manmohan Singh when he was the prime minister. But there was no Twitter to post it then.
On Wednesday, CNN’s star anchor Anderson Cooper scolded a Sun News contributor for asking him to take a selfie near the scene of the Ottawa Parliament shooting. “No, I will not take a photo with you on a day where someone was killed,” Cooper said. “It seems wildly inappropriate.” The reporter then tweeted “Anderson Cooper exploits Ottawa shooting by flying to Ottawa, but has decency to criticise me for asking for a photo?”
The selfie and self-portrait appropriateness rules for journalists are not up yet. For politicians and celebrities, it’s still a hit and miss. At the infamous Madison Square garden journalist versus bhakt incident, there were several people clicking selfies — with Rajdeep Sardesai doing his stand-upper in the background — and then either stood mute when the scuffle broke out or engaged in sloganeering against him.
Celebrities are nowadays posting selfies or self-portraits of cleaning streets and picking up garbage. The #SwachhBharat movement is as much about personalities, marketing, hashtags and the Internet, as it is about cleaning India.
Does posting a selfie with a broom mean that the celebrity will never litter again? Nope. It is unlikely that the celeb will pick up his dog’s poop or sweep the street in his neighborhood once the cameras leave. Does clicking a selfie with the PM mean that Mr Modi is going to grant every film of Sonam Kapoor’s a tax-free status? Err, nope. Does it mean that journalists will not be critical of Mr Modi and his government just because they have clicked a picture with the PM? Nope. It is just a selfie. A selfie doesn’t a spine break.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash