Forget the Mirror Selfie, the Belfie, and the After Sex Selfie. Get used to seeing the selfie taken in the proximity of or after a disaster.
Exhibit A: In January, Ferdinand Puentes posted images of the aftermath when the Cessna he was flying in crashed into the Pacific Ocean off of Molokai, Hawaii. The astounding image — of Puentes afloat with the plane's tail visible in the sea behind him — went viral.
Exhibit B: In mid-March, a US Airways plane in Philadelphia blew a tire and crashed while attempting to take off. All 154 people on board were fine — true disaster averted — but Twitter user Hannah Udren posted a selfie taken in front of the still-smoking plane, and her shot also went viral.
so my plane just crashed... pic.twitter.com/X51BLwa5PS
— skip (@han_horan) March 13, 2014
so yup pic.twitter.com/2WuLUWzpND
— skip (@han_horan) March 13, 2014
Exhibit C: Earlier this week, 19 students were stabbed in a terrible and violent incident at a Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, PA. One of the students, Nate Scimio — who was stabbed in the arm but managed to pull the fire alarm, which may have saved lives — posted a selfie from the hospital.
Exhibit D: Yesterday afternoon, all lanes on the 105 Freeway in Los Angeles were shut down because a man was threatening to jump off of a pedestrian overpass. As authorities arrived on the scene to talk him down, motorists stuck at a stand still left their vehicles and began posing in front of the traffic and taking selfies. In this image posted by Marcus Smith of KTLA, you can see a cluster of folks leaning in for a good group shot, as well as a man with his arm up in the air, getting a good angle on a selfie. While these folks were likely just documenting a rare view — a usually busy freeway with all cars stopped — the fact remains that it was because of a potentially tragic situation. As Death and Taxes points out, they were taking pictures right in front of a man's attempted suicide. Pretty sure you can see the man on the fence behind them.
— Marcus Smith (@MarcusSmithKTLA) April 11, 2014
Exhibit D: Also in California yesterday, later in the day, there was a horrific, deadly crash involving a FedEx truck and a charter bus transporting high school students. Ten people lost their lives. More than thirty were injured. Among the injured is 17-year-old Jonathan Gutierrez, who snapped a selfie from his hospital bed, wounds still fresh.
— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) April 11, 2014
One the one hand, one could argue that in the midst of a tragedy (or potential tragedy), turning the camera on oneself is blithely narcissistic and inherently myopic; instead of documenting the actual situation, it documents one's face in front of the actual situation (or the aftermath).
But the truth is, we're living in a Selfie Nation on a Selfie Planet. "Pics or it didn't happen" isn't just a phrase, it's a lifestyle. The go-to way to communicate. Friends and family are not tortured by wondering and worrying, as phones ring and ring with no answer — there's an upside to instantaneous messaging with an immediate visual. For a plane/bus crash survivor or a stabbing victim, it's a quick way to disseminate essential, vital information: I lived. I'm okay. The picture is worth a thousand words. Plus, there's an intense, compelling human need to share: Here's where I am. Look at what happened to me. Plus, the Disaster Selfie puts a human face on a tragedy that can seem abstract or distant, especially since we become desensitized to disasters. The words "bus crash" and a photo of twisted metal can't elicit an emotional reaction the way a photograph of a bandaged teenager can. That said, the macabre suicide shot? What the fuck. Not cool.