Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Elegance Is Refusal: The Loss of Class in the West

Something bothered me about President Obama participating in taking a picture of himself and the female Prime Minister at Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I'm no fan of President Obama, but I'm also not one who desires to ridicule our President. I too am unconvinced Michelle Obama was upset with her husband for "flirting" with the Prime Minister as others have conjectured. Truthfully, nobody--including me--knows what was going on in the minds of those in that soccer stadium as the President of the United States, the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Great Britain, and Michelle Obama waited for the funeral of Mandela to conclude. We don't know what the President was thinking, nor do we know what the First Lady was feeling, not to mention the two Prime Ministers. For that reason, it is impossible to assign motives to any of them with complete accuracy.

What we do know is what the President and the Prime Ministers did. We observed their actions. Their deeds communicate much more than their thoughts. They took a selfie picture of themselves at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

After a few days of reflection, I realized what bothered me. These three leaders of the free world seem to possess no class. Class, according to the dictionary, can be defined as "stylish elegance." Coco Chanel once said, "Elegance is refusal." Class involves the ability to say no. President Obama and his two friends possessed no class when it came time to take a selfie.  They might plead ignorance to the fact that even pop culture considers selfies at funerals the height of distaste. What I find inexcusable is the absence of internal and personal systems of control within our western leaders that would lead them to resist the frivolous urge for a selfie.

Ronald Reagan, whether you agreed with his politics or not, was a President with class. He restrained himself in public. If stylish elegance is the ability to refuse then it must be said the photograph taken at Mandel's funeral was neither stylish, nor elegant, nor classy. Why the lack of class?

It's difficult to say. It is an axiom, however, that democratic leaders only reflect the character of her people. America seems to have lost it collective understanding of what it means to be a classy people.


Bob Cleveland said...

I'm wondering who there is, today, to teach class to young people.

The report cards I have from the 40's and 50's all show a grade for "deportment". says deportment is "How you dress, speak, look and carry yourself is all part of deportment or demeanor." Report cards now don't seem to include that, so I'm guessing they don't teach it.

My parents .. my family .. taught that to me. Families today don't seem to have the influence they used to, in children's upbringing.

That sort of leaves churches. And I have to wonder how good we are at doing that, now.

Wade Burleson said...

Great point, Bob.


Have not heard that word used in a long time.

Unknown said...

Well stated!

Kristen said...

A little context makes this whole thing a little more understandable:

Obama's Funeral Selfie: This is Why Context Matters

This wasn't at the type of solemn church event which we normally think of when we think "funeral." Calling it a funeral is perhaps a bit misleading, actually, as it was a stadium memorial event with music and dancing. Here's a picture of how some native South Africans were dressed for the event:

Dancing Through Tears, South Africa Bids Farewell to Mandela

And it's worth noting that it wasn't Obama who took the selfie; it was the Danish head of state, and perhaps it would have been undiplomatic of Obama to refuse. Also, my understanding is that Michelle Obama was not actually angry; the pic just caught her at a non-smiling moment.

I'm reserving judgment on this one, folks.

Wade Burleson said...


You make good points. Arguing it was the Danish Prime Minister's idea doesn't take away culpability from the accomplices.

Lawrence Williams said...

Kristen, you make more than good points. You bring proper perspective to the discussion. Your first link shows that Proverbs 18:17 needs to be applied. Thanks for the post.

Kristen said...

Lawrence - Thanks! Wade, it seems to me "accomplices" is a somewhat overly critical word given the circumstances. If you look at my second link, it becomes quite clear that no one was viewing this as a solemn occasion, and it would probably have been considered rude and holier-than-thou if Obama had said, "No, I won't let you take our picture because this is supposed to be a solemn event."

I think it could be interesting to ask oneself, "How much more of the benefit of the doubt would I be giving if this had been a President I had voted for?"

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Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken that is Obama's hand also holding the phone taking the picture. That makes him a participant.

Kristen said...

Yes, Obama took hold of the end of the camera and participated in the pic. So what? Since the locals were wearing funny hats and oversized neon-colored glasses, with laughter and silliness, this clearly was not a solemn funeral service, but a joyous memorial celebration. Maybe it's not the way we would have done it in the US, who are we to judge them by our cultural mores? Obama, as far as I can see, was merely following the long-standing good advice: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."