In Defense of Funeral Selfies

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 09:29 AM

This week, Fast Company writer Jason Feifer started a tumblr called Selfies at Funerals. Feifer’s reposting selfies posted by teens on Twitter or Instagram. It’s probably worth pointing out that, in fact, most of the pictures are actually taken before a funeral or after one. With a couple exceptions, these are pictures of kids in suits or dresses, taking a self portrait, usually in their homes.

It's obvious how you're supposed to feel about this. You're supposed to laugh at the kids. The joke is that they're so relentlessly narcissistic that even the death of a loved one is just another chance to post their pictures online. Gawker published a clickbait piece grabbing the photos and appending commentary:

“ 'Selfies at Funerals' is the last tumblr you see before you die because your body will simply shut down once it realizes it's being forced to share the same plane of existence with the kind of people who think it's completely normal to snap selfies at funerals and upload them to social media sites with the caption ‘love my hair today, hate why I'm dressed up’ and the hashtag "#funeral.”

And the Atlantic Wire published essentially the same post, although in their version, they captioned the photos with snippets of poems about death. It's supposed to be a really funny juxtaposition, but instead, it feels cheap, snotty, and curmudgeonly.

Here’s why.

First of all, to state the obvious, don’t tell anyone how to grieve. Especially children.

With that out of the way, let us, for a moment, give these kids absolutely no benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that the only reason they’re posting these photos is because of their runaway narcissism. Maybe they’re entitled to their narcissism.

When you go to a funeral, you probably wear a suit or a dress. You make sure that you look as good as you can. Is this because you think that the dead person can see you? Or is this because grieving is a strange ritual, and we’ve arbitrarily decided that we’re all going to dress up when someone dies? Sort of narcissistic! If we had proper respect for death, we’d all sit in our homes, alone, in sackcloth. Instead, we dress up really fancy and then have a catered party in a room with a dead body. Someone should probably start a tumblr called Adults In Suits Eating Hors d'oeuvres Near A Corpse. I’m sure it’ll do gangbusters.

Second, I don’t actually believe this is strictly about narcissism. Personally, I don’t take a ton of selfies. The word itself makes my skin feel funny. But I suspect that for a lot of young people, a selfie is more like a public diary entry than it is a chance to show your friends how hot you look. Imagine that instead of taking photos at funerals, these kids were posting photos of themselves sick in the hospital. It’d be a way of sharing their current state of being with their friends. Mocking those kids would probably seem idiotic and kind of cruel.

Lastly, lets assume I’m wrong about all of this. Assume there’s a right way to grieve, and we, as adults, always follow it. Assume none of us have ever thought about something inappropriate at a funeral, or flirted at a wake. Assume our conventions are the right ones, and these kids are callow narcissists. Even then, I’m exhausted by the practice of mining social networks for supposedly ignorant or narcissistic utterances by children and then publishing them online for adults to judge.

Yes, the kids are speaking publicly, and in doing so they’ve somewhat disavowed their right to privacy. But is this the kind of adult you wanted to be? A person who is completely astounded that the younger generation doesn’t share their values. A person who has no curiosity about why young people might do things in a new or different way from you.


More in:

Comments [22]


In my opinion the author reveals some of his own narcissism in that he thinks you dress up for a funeral in order to look 'good'. You dress formally for a funeral to show that it is a serious event, to display a respectful formality fitting the passing of the deceased. You dress importantly because the person was important to you. You don't 'dress up' to 'look as good as you can'. It's not about looking good, it's about looking serious and formal.

Dec. 10 2013 06:28 PM
scallywag from nyc

Then that too may be part of the kick of going on Jason Feifer’s tumblr page, selfies at funerals, as one is forced to reckon with the (il)legitimacy of self, of others, of death and of course society’s very own legitimacy in an age where one’s sense of self is open and instant fodder for the world to instantly see and sham at the narcissist’s own risk.

Nov. 05 2013 10:04 PM
Matt from Iowa

All of the narcissism labels and calling kids selfish, while potentially true, should lead to the bigger point.

Kids are what they were taught to be.

This didn't happen in a vacuum. They learned to be this way. They are a more selfish generation (especially the 8-13 y.o.s who grew up with FB) because of a confluence of events that promoted this behavior.
You can't address the "problems" cited in this story without first looking at your own generation's contribution to the current situation. Did we equip the next generation to be able to deal with the changes in human communication that we created? Did we care about the outcomes of our inventions, or were we ourselves selfish? What were the precipitating factors?
And equally important, we've all got to ask ourselves "is this as big of a deal as we think it is?" Every generation has something they see in "kids these days" that they just think is insane.
Perhaps the way we communicate (as a species) is shifting, and examples like funeral-selfies are just the early returns on that shift. Perhaps selfies will be the new grief currency (I'm pretty sure that taking photos of the dead has been around for over 100 years). Perhaps those who are shocked (SHOCKED!) by the things young people do, are just clinging to an old paradigm.
Just another way of looking at things. That's all.

Nov. 03 2013 01:00 AM

When my granddad died, family members took pictures of him in his casket, and then they took some of my grandma standing beside his casket. That seemed like a horrible idea — a breach of decorum bordering on macabre — but I wasn’t going to tell my elders what to do. If that's what they wanted on that awful day, then fine. I didn’t take any pictures and I’m not in any of them.

At my granddad’s funeral, OTHER people were taking the pictures, and those pictures weren't immediately and publicly shared on the Internet so anyone (strangers included) could approve of my granny's funeral attire and/or express condolences at a distance. Those pictures are extremely private. They are not shared because it’s no one else’s business.

Funeral selfies rarely depict anyone crying or holding a tissue or any other telltale signs of outward emotion. They’re more often a document of “stiff upper lip, and hey, isn’t this dress fabulous?” They're photos of people making duck faces, throwing gang signs, and using hashtags like "tagsforlikes."

I fail to see the mental health benefits of repressing grief in favor of superficial content that furthers one’s online identity.

Funeral selfies rarely document the actual funeral. Although the boy who took a selfie and accidentally had his grandma's corpse photobombing comes to mind, funeral selfies are carefully calculated pictures of the bereaved offered up for compliments and support. Even that would be fine if these images weren’t made public, visible to total strangers, easily pilfered for reposting when a random Tumblr user decides to lampoon them.

The issue isn't grief. No one's saying, “Don't feel bad.” No one’s saying, “Don't seek support from friends, family, or professionals.” The issue is the incessant need to visually document and publicly share images on the Internet for the approval of others, regardless of the occasion or decorum. Ignorance of boundaries leads to awkward, public oversharing, and the public reaction to it is exactly what these people should expect.

A telltale sign of narcissism is doing something wrong and complaining about how everyone else reacted, rather than acknowledging one’s own role in the problem. “I can’t possibly have done anything wrong.” If family and friends aren’t going to teach people how to behave respectfully, then we can’t act surprised or offended when the public (i.e. the village) says something instead.

Nov. 02 2013 12:41 PM

This editorial, and the sanctimonious comments, would have more gravitas if the pictures in question didn't mostly feature people mugging, making duck-faces, or acting goofy; and if the tags they posted with them weren't things like "#tagsforlikes."

Also, it's not like I snuck a camera into the bathroom at a funeral home and am shaming people who are in there laughing. These people posted these photos publicly, to social networking sites. That very act is narcissistic in itself. Narcissism isn't necessarily bad, if you're at a party. But it doesn't quite work everywhere.

This editorial and the supporting comments are evidence of how there is no concept anymore of "inappropriate behavior," and I imagine you're raising kids just like this. It's the same thinking that says "every opinion is valid and must be equally respected."

Unless of course you disagree with it yourself, then you slap a label on it--like calling other web site's articles on this "clickbait."

Nov. 02 2013 11:37 AM
Terri from Iowa

Thanks for the article. Chances are very good that this is a great kid, and if he's at a funeral it probably was a rough day for him. As the parent of teens, I hope other adults would give my kids the benefit of the doubt. This generation of teens I know are compassionate, and are far from narcissistic.

Nov. 01 2013 08:31 PM

this is spot-on and really well-written.

Oct. 31 2013 04:29 PM

The comments to this article are atrocious. With the advent of such accessibility to taking and sharing photos, people are going to document their life. Their WHOLE life. Not just the good bits. Taking pictures at funerals, or after a breakup, or in a hospital, is not 'narcissistic,' 'inappropriate,' or 'stupid.' it's a coping mechanism, and an attempt at normalcy even during trauma. Don't police how people process grief. Asking for, and needing attention is not a bad thing, it is HUMAN. We NEED attention in order to survive and thrive. Funeral selfies aren't about 'who cares if grandma's dead, look at how hot i am.' Funeral selfies are a way from getting support from people who aren't able to be there in person with you, and about documenting a moment in your life no matter how terrible it is. I swear to god, no one knows the first thing about psychology.

Oct. 31 2013 10:40 AM
Mom of 3

I'm more concerned about someone who starts a tumblr that encourages kids to post selfies in the first place. Kids under 18 shouldn't be putting photos of themselves online for the public to see and an adult shouldn't be encouraging it. The whole concept of posting selfies is narcissistic and we see kids becoming more and more concerned about their looks, but if this web site is devoted to kids posting pics of themselves, then kids are going to post pics and that could lead to problems down the line.

Oct. 31 2013 09:22 AM

I took a "selfie" in the bathroom at the restaurant we went to for the wake. I had sat through a service where my 39-year old mother had giggled the entire time while I shared a somber face with the rest of the procession. My mother then proceeded to dominate the conversation at the wake with people she barely spoke to. I felt she had disrespected her father considerably.

I had respected my grandfather, and I understood why he picked up smoking again, but to refrain from going into too much detail, remembering that "selfie" brings me back to that wake. I've never uploaded it; it sits on my old computer, un-accessed for quite some time. I wanted to remember who I was at my grandfather's wake. I dressed up (something I don't do often) and that was important to me.

I agree that it is fundamentally narcissism, but the desire to contain one's own emotional state is true of everything from pictures of yourself to your comments online. When you remember yourself, do you want to see a tired face of mourning, or a smirk of self-satisfaction? Does your comment portray someone who was devastated, composed, or even smug? The saying "funerals are for the living" comes to mind when discussing idiotic behavior like this.

There was no reason to go to the restaurant after the funeral besides seeing my mostly estranged family. I respect death, but I don't respect parties, and after the service I was just an idiot in a suit.

Oct. 31 2013 06:31 AM

Agreed, re: "public diary entry". Perhaps what we’re actually looking at is the evolution of a new visual language, as cameras and digital images become ubiquitous.

Oct. 30 2013 07:28 PM
fermata from planet earth

What's wrong with showing a little respect for the family of the deceased? Is it "sanctimonious" to teach that value to your kids? I feel this is reflective of a larger development among digital natives -- lack of empathy. They might think it's okay to engage in this behavior, their friends might think it's okay & funny... but what about considering the feelings of someone else? That's something important to teach kids, regardless of context. A kid who thinks it's funny to take pictures of himself making goofy faces at grandma's funeral is the same one who's going to do the same thing in the middle of class and other inappropriate places. Where does it end.

Oct. 30 2013 05:25 PM

Mmmmmm, nah. It's narcissism and attention-seeking behavior.

Oct. 30 2013 03:40 PM
David from Brooklyn, NY

I live like two doors down from a funeral home. I walk by it when I go to the subway. Somewhat frequently, I walk by and there's a family standing there, waiting to go inside.

Many times, I'm surprised that everyone's not more morose. Yet, then I'm like, who am I? I'm not part of their family. I don't know the situation. I don't know the deceased. Some families specifically want a more positive funeral. And they just seem happy to see one another after so long.

I definitely think we need to give some space when it comes to how people react in these situations.

Oct. 30 2013 02:28 PM

My only comment is in relation to the first point. "Don't tell anyone how to grieve. Especially children." While there is some truth to this, I think it is also problematic at the same time. I don't think American culture is very good at grieving. I think we're terrible at it. We don't entertain negative emotions well, but because of this, we end up swamped by them. If wiser and more experienced folks started teaching how to grieve, not demanding that people do exact steps or prescribing detailed actions to take, but explaining how grief works and how to work through it in a healthy way, I think we'd all fare better. Dealing with loss is difficult, not just loss of people, but loss in general, and I think our culture needs to find ways to face it and work through it in wise ways. Selfies may or may not be appropriate to the process, but how would we know when we aren't all that good at the process?

Oct. 30 2013 01:24 PM
Eric J

Good piece.

Also worth considering is why children and young teens are even dragged to funerals in the first place. They are frequently lacking in both the relationship and existential gravitas to have any sense of mourning; the most they have to contribute to such event is, well, a warm body.

Oct. 30 2013 12:59 PM

All you judgemental adults who happen to also have children run the risk of alienating your offspring with your sanctimonious attitudes. If enough of you fail to withold your superior judgements, we'll have another culture conflict like we experienced in the sixties, when communication deteriorated in both public and private spheres.

The biggest red flag I see is the word, "respect." What a loaded term. It means what you want it to mean and what I hear is a demand to be taken seriously from people who too often offer ample reason to take them NOT-seriously.

At any rate, don't say you weren't warned when your sitting somewhere in retirement, wondering why the younger members of the family visit so seldom. Who wants to hang out with a crotchety old fussbudget?

Oct. 30 2013 12:59 PM

I completely agree with the article. Whether or not you believe taking a selfie at a funeral is tasteless, the website making fun of these people is definitely tasteless--something that the previous comments failed to mention. If you're so disgusted by this generation's obsession with appearance, then there are definitely more constructive ways to respond than to make a website dedicated to shaming them for thinking they look good. While obsession with appearance is maybe an issue today another more damaging issue is how self conscious this generation is--basically due to the media constantly telling them what they have to look like and making them feel bad for how they already look. So really is it that big of a deal if someone thinks they look good and want to photograph it? Sorry I'm not writing down all my deepest thoughts and getting super introspective. Sorry that I enjoy looking good and appreciate being told that I look good. If you want something to be enraged about, be mad about something more harmful than a generation of people who occasionally feel really good about themselves

Oct. 30 2013 12:58 PM
Smarter than the Writer

Wow... This has to be one of the worst thought-out articles I've read in a while. The gratuitous use of "we don't know how they feel," and "there's no right way to grieve" red hearings is amazing. No matter how you grieve, no matter how you feel about a funeral, no matter how you know the person who died, you attend with respect. Which is the issue. I know we've always had problems with kids not have the same level of respect as adults, but that again is a red hearing. The absolute disdain these kids have for something so serious is mind-blowing.

Oct. 30 2013 12:39 PM
Jamie from Boston

"But I suspect that for a lot of young people, a selfie is more like a public diary entry than it is a chance to show your friends how hot you look."

That is purely what a selfie is. How "hot" do I look. If they wanted to keep a daily public diary kids should be encouraged to write about what they experienced in their day, give details about what they saw, how they felt, express themselves in ways that are not solely focused on whether they had a good hair day (though those are great days) or the angle at which they look the most thin. These "funeral" selfies and any selfie in general is a plea for society to accept them, a need for approval, and this is where we, as a community, become flawed. I don't think there should be a defense for these selfies at funerals, there should be people defending a child's ability to grow into a person who is not reliant on the number of followers they have, the amount of "likes" they receive, or the obsession (and I stress, obsession) with how they look.

Oct. 30 2013 12:38 PM

BRB. Gotta register the Flirstsies at Funerals tumblr.

Oct. 30 2013 12:17 PM

You flirt at wakes PJ? NOW I'm offended.

Oct. 30 2013 10:32 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Supported by

Embed the TLDR podcast player

TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

Subscribe to Podcast iTunes RSS