The internet was pissed earlier this week when an Alabama teenager posted a grinning selfie taken at a concentration camp where an estimated 1,000,000 people were killed during World War II. “Princess” Breanna Mitchell’s Auschwitz selfie, which included a blushing emoticon, a very bad sweater, and a single white earbud (that somber guided tour has the sickest bass lines) prompted headlines ranging from “Smiling selfie at Auschwitz leaves a poor taste” to “Stupid Insensitive Bitch Takes Ugly Selfie At Auschwitz.”
Breanna, after wisely making her Twitter account private, said she had no regrets about taking a selfie in a serious place. “I talked to a Holocaust survivor in ninth grade at school… and it’s just the only thing that’s ever interested me [about history],” she said during an interview to digital TV program TakePart Live. But the internet does not forgive your Selfies in Serious Places quickly. Even when you don’t call yourself “Princess” and post things like this:
Another teenager with firsthand experience of serious selfie backlash is Chris Canning. Canning rather unfortunately posted a photo of himself grinning at the National September 11 Memorial in New York to his Twitter account on July 10, captioned, “Selfie at 9\11 memorial! #NY #GroundZero.” Today he found another five minutes of fame by explaining WHY, WHY DID HE DO THAT?
“It’s a very emotional place, obviously,” Canning, 18, told ABC News today of the controversial snapshot. “This was my first time in New York City, I wanted to capture a special moment. My family is still in Florida, I wanted to send them a photo like, ‘Look where I am.'”
“It’s a touching place with such history and memory… you feel all these emotions there. You feel sorry for the people that were lost in the towers and the lives lost trying to save the people there, protecting the city,” Canning said. “We created the two biggest man-made waterfalls for such remembrance. We built a great memorial, I believe.”
I’d say more people took issue with his grinning face of these kids than the photo actually being taken. And while I am also curious as to why the selfie needed to be posted to Twitter instead of just, you know, sent to his parents, he does have some fair criticisms of his selfie critics.
“Who’s to say that I wasn’t there alone? Or that I was just too shy to ask someone to take a photo?” Canning told ABC. Though this wasn’t the case here. “I don’t want a picture of just a memorial, I want a picture of myself and the memorial. I wasn’t taking a selfie out of disrespect.”
I’m not here to defend either of these kids’ selfies. If I’m offended enough by pink terry toweling, so I can only imagine how the families of Holocaust victims feel about that particular composition. But it seems like much of the hate is being directed not at the intent but at selfies in general. As Canning not entirely stupidly asks ABC, “After all, a selfie is just a photo you take of yourself, right?”
As long as famous monuments exists, people are going to take photos of them. They’re probably going to take them on camera phones, and they’re probably going to include themselves in the frame. But, teens! If you absolutely must take a photo of yourself holding your grandmother’s ashes, in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or at a concentration camp where 1,000,000 people were killed, just make for goddamn sure that you’re not giving a big stupid grin or blatantly self-serving duckface. Because the internet is NOT HERE FOR THAT.
For the record, the 9/11 Memorial Museum is totally cool with your selfies. But yeah, maybe don’t post them to Twitter.