Sex and racism in Obama photo stir

President Obama poses for a camera-phone photo with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. What's more scandalous: the selfie or the media's reaction?

US President Barack Obama's friendly photograph with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela's memorial service has one columnist writing that the US president acted like a "hormone-ravaged frat boy on a road trip to a strip bar".

The New York Post's Andrea Peyser had a look at the newswire photos of the event and contends that Mr Obama was too jovial and flirty in his interaction with Ms Thorning-Schmidt, a "Danish hellcat" who "hiked up her skirt to expose long Scandinavian legs covered by nothing more substantial than sheer black stockings".

And won't somebody think of the poor first lady, Michelle Obama?

"Michelle frowned and looked as if she wanted to spit acid at the man she married, a good-time guy who humiliated her in front of their friends, the world and a blonde bimbo who hadn't the sense to cover up and keep it clean," she writes.

Mr Obama owes the world an apology, she concludes: "President Obama has some 'splaining to do. To the woman he married. To his daughters. To the people of South Africa. And to the scandalized folks here at home."

OK… While Ms Peyser's column was over the top, even by the Post's standards, the rest of the media weren't too far behind. The memorial service "selfie" photo exploded across the Internet on Wednesday, and it supplied plenty of fodder for the chattering class.

CNN turned to Elaine Swann, who runs an etiquette academy, for her take on the matter. She writes that the circumstances of the selfie were important in considering its appropriateness:

Start Quote

The fact is, the Internet didn't know what was happening between the two, and decided to fill in the blanks in the lowest way possible”

End Quote Kayla Epstein The Guardian

Roberto Schmidt, the photographer who captured the photo told the Today show that he shot the picture during a jovial, celebratory portion of the service. He said people were dancing, singing and laughing as they celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela. Michelle Obama, he said, had been laughing along with the trio seconds before he snapped the image.

Her judgement: "President Obama's behaviour was appropriate for that particular occasion, for that particular culture at that precise moment."

The Guardian's Kayla Epstein writes that the real embarrassing performance during the memorial service was that by the media:

It essentially turned a memorial service for one of the greatest modern leaders into a soap opera. And like any good soap opera, it divided the female players into sexist archetypes: in this case Thorning-Schmidt played the blonde, ditzy seductress and foil to Michelle Obama, the jealous, shrewish wife. …

The fact is, the Internet didn't know what was happening between the two, and decided to fill in the blanks in the lowest way possible. It just couldn't accept as normal that two vibrant and smart women sat shoulder to shoulder with two of the world's most powerful men. Instead, the media chose to imagine that Thorning-Schmidt clearly like to hit that, and Michelle Obama was about to fly into a jealous rage.

Racial bias, particularly the characterisation of Ms Obama as a woman scorned, drove media reaction to the selfie, writes Salon's Roxane Gay:

More than anything, the response to these latest images of Michelle Obama speaks volumes about the expectations placed on black women in the public eye and how a black women's default emotional state is perceived as angry. The black woman is ever at the ready to aggressively defend her territory. She is making her disapproval known. She never gets to simply be.

A picture's worth a thousand words. A presidential selfie, it seems, is worth at least as many columns.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Seriously, it's only the racists in America that even CARE about what President Obama was doing during the funeral. Bush Jr. humiliated America FAR more during his reign…I think conservatives are desperate to make our current President look bad for the 2014 elections.
    That's one BIG downfall of our democracy - elections, constantly. All the time, never ending elections.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Wow, this is a really stupid, media contrived non-event. The real "event" was a celebration of an amazing life lived and lost; Mandela. I feel most sorry for the Danish PM, no matter what her merits, many will only associate her with this "selfie" incident nonsense. The Obama's and PM Cameron are likely used to this lowest common denominator hype.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Mourning great people in Africa is always celebration, joy, music and dancing. Obama's mood of celebration with people in his immediate vicinity is acceptable in African culture. The media has always been irresponsible. It is the media that destroyed the image of black people all over the world for nearly 200 years. They will never stop; this time they have descended on a black president.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    This is one of the sillier stories. So the American President was caught smiling at the Danish PM - big deal!!! If he had scowled would the press have been any happier? We don't know what they were talking about so we don't know the context behind this photo. Let it go!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I think this is VERY important NEWS!
    The fact that the Brit MP's are lining their grubby little pockets and there is some sort of fracas in Syria and some strange guy has been seen making weird hand jesters. Then there is some French thing going on in some remote part of Africa.
    Thank god for this Andrea wots her face and her worrying story!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19. one else is laughing and whooping it up in the photo

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I don't take issue with Mr. Obama's behavior, but I'll bet all of these comments defending him would be completely different if it were George Bush who was captured in this photo. He'd probably be labeled a male-chauvinist pig, a detriment to the rights of women everywhere, a reckless cowboy who treats women as objects, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    A number of people are still commenting that this happened at a funeral. It was not a funeral, it was a memorial. Still poor behaviour, but there is a difference, mainly in the content of the service that might allow some to feel it permissible to take a selfie. Now, let's all move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    No body cares. Its only media caring for media to promote modern radio/TV propaganda originally invented by BBC.

    While the real news that a more potent Alqaeda is being made and supported by US, France & UK in Libya and Syria with far reaching consequences into the future is being overlooked by these same medias.

    These propaganda outlets like BBC are the real dangerous war criminals in our world

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Would the media please grow up and get done to reporting what really matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Hahaha! Youse guys are kidding, right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Incredible how folks get all ginned up about a moment between leaders. And what? The Danish PM needs to look like Fido to be taken seriously? Grow up all you find fault with just about everything! Isn't life short enough as it is? Aren't there real issues out there to speak about? Really, this Andrea Peyser,-whoever she is-is probably a real bore at parties! Her opinions mean nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    What an excruciating manufactured "scandal" to keep seeing on the "news"...

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    How dare the Danish PM be an attractive woman! Seriously, the nerve of some people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Perhaps he's joking about his latest drone victim count, or a new torture technique.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I don't know what is more ridiculous; writing articles condemning a man who shared a joke with a woman who sat beside him or using the same event to launch a polemic on racial stereotypes. Seriously, there is actually quite a lot going on in the world right now. Please focus on that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    You mean Presidents and Prime Ministers have a little playful fun to go with all that arm twisting, pontificating, and investigating? Shocking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    With current technology it was very easy to get that perfect shot of Michelle looking sternly. But was she really as upset as Andrea ( and the media) wants us to believe? Or did someone go through the hundreds of photos to find the one that would make a good gossip piece. I'm not defending Obama's poor funeral behavior but I'm also not going to assume a story based on "the perfect" shot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Feh. The comments about sexism certainly ring true, but taking a selfie at a funeral is still inappropriate, and they do look like frat boys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Do I like the Obamas? Not particularly; but am I going to attempt to draw ridiculous, ill-informed conclusions based on a photo? No. How ignorant and immature!


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