Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Dec 12, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. We'll get started at 2. In the meantime:

By now, many of you know that President Obama was caught taking selfies with the British Prime Minister and the Danish Prime Minister at Nelson Mandela's funeral. See the selfies here and Alexandra Petri's take here.

The reactions to this seem to take on one of two perspectives:

1) This is inappropriate. It is always inappropriate, in any circumstance, to take a selfie at a funeral (which was technically a memorial service, as many have been wont to point out.)


2) This is not so inappropriate. Mandela was 95. The South African culture values celebrating life rather than straight mourning at funerals. This was keeping in line with that.

What are your thoughts? (How much are your thoughts predicated on wanting to avoid Michelle Obama's death stare?)




Not a topic, but a giveaway. The main character of my novel, Stray (and upcoming sequel, Burn) is having a birthday on Sunday. In my world, all characters' names are based on their birthdays, so I know when everyone's birthday is, even the minor cameos. But that's besides the point. What's on the point is that to celebrate Lona's birthday, I'm giving away three signed and personalized copies of the book. To enter? Go on Twitter, Tweet me your favorite novel (bonus points for favorite sci-fi novel) and use the hashtag #Stray. I'll choose winners next week.

I go with 2: just fine. Nelson Mandela was a man who was full of joy and loved life. I can picture him doing the exact same thing! And as you note, the point of the service was to celebrate his spirit and achievements, so a celebratory photo is not so hard to fathom. Even a selfie. Besides, selfie is the official word of 2013!

Sticklers are further pointing out that it wasn't Obama taking a selfie. He was just participating in a selfie taken by other world leaders.

Perhaps the best criterion would be, what would Mandela have wanted? Or, if it had been a memorial service that Mandela were attending of some other leader, would he have been inclined to participate in such a selfie? (I'm guessing yes).

This is why there's so much difficulty in applying the Do Unto Others aspect of the golden rule. Because Mandela might, indeed, have wanted others to joyously take selfies at his funeral. But -would- Mandela have done it at other people's funerals? I don't know about that. He probably would have been thinking about whether those deceased world leaders would have wanted celebration or crying at their funerals. It's so complicated.

I thought I was pretty media savvy because I've stopped believing the promises in ads, but now I'm finding a whole new frontier of naivety. I'm reasonably computer literate, but I never think to question those viral social media stories that pop up. Waitress not getting tipped, annoying woman on a plane, whatever. I'm not especially surprised when they turn out to be untrue, but I believe them by default. Am I just getting old and gullible, or does a new medium mean I have to relearn everything about being a media consumer all over again? Also, I certainly don't friend/follow any of these people, I only hear about it when it gets broader media coverage--should I be distrusting the original poster, or the media outlet that highlights it? Has NPR essentially become my elderly aunt who has only just gotten around to forwarding me the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe?

These are really good questions to be asking. I think a lot of people were taken in by the "waitress receives no tip from bigoted family" story. And why not? The waitress was willing to use her full name, and her picture. She appeared to have a receipt that backed up her story. There was no reason not to believe her, until the family came forward and said, "Wait a minute. We did leave a tip."


If there had been big holes, on the other hand -- if the waitress had refused to provide her name, or if the story was forwarded without idenfitying characteristis of time and place -- then you probably would have been far less likely to believe her.


I don't think it's bad to believe reasonable things by default. I think that's part of remaining a compassionate individual. But I would also refrain from forwarding these things, or from taking them to be symbolic of bigger things. And if it turns out you were right all along, refrain from saying, "I told you so."

if you gave us your twitter address so we can tweet our novels at you. Or is it in there and I'm just too much of an old curmudgeon to see it?

Oh right. It's @MonicaHesse. Thank you!

Is that....I'm not a shut in. My surgery did not go as planned but the upside is that my recovery was much faster. I'm already back to work. All those plans I had....ruined. No learning Italian. No catching up on great Netflix series. Sigh. I'm writing my Panda novel though. Some great ideas you just don't give up on.

That's great news, mostly! Even better news would have been if you somehow still got to take the planned six weeks off from work, but as a healthy person.

I think it was tacky, but can't muster much outrage. I also think that there was a somewhat raucous atmosphere at the stadium, so the world leaders in question may have felt a little more relaxed about etiquette. Those pictures of the Obamas, Bushes, and Clintons hanging out together were pretty interesting, though. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that AFOne flight. I did wonder where everyone slept, though. That was a long flight.

You know, I bet all of the ex presidents get along pretty well. Regardless of their political differences, they're part of a pretty tiny club. Only two or three other living people at any given time can understand what you've been through. I bet you feel close to them.

I don't think that the President's "selfie" falls into the recent category of people posting inappropriate selfies at funerals. I think Gawker or Jezebel had a compilation and in those cases, it was clear that the self-photographer was immature, seeking attention, and actually at the funeral home. In this case, I would also look at the behavior of the attendees at the memorial. Even during President Obama's speech, there was dancing and singing and it just sort-of looked like general partying. I think the atmosphere really does inform whether it was appropriate or not. The attention paid to it is overblown.

The photographer of the pictures depicting the selfie-taking wrote an interesting blog post last night that was all about context -- about what you saw on happening on camera, and what you didn't see that was happening off camera. He barely thought about the photos, apparently, and was surprised they received the attention they did.

What's he supposed to do when a leader of an ally says "Hey! Let's take a selfie!" Frown her down? I would have, but I don't have to consider future relations.

Someone needs to write Miss Manners for the appropriate response in this situation. I'm sure there is one, and she has one.

Aren't there multiple bedrooms on Air Force One?

I think so. When I was reporting a story about JFK's death, there was an anecdote about confusion over the presidential bedroom on the flight back to Washington from Dallas after the assassination. i.e. Johnson went to use it (and it technically did belong to him at that time), but Jackie walked in, still thinking of it as Kennedy's, and a moment of awkwardness ensued.


How big is that plane, though? I've never been on it.

I've heard that the selfie wasn't taken during a particularly solemn moment & that others were dancing about and celebrating. Maybe my reports were wrong. But if they were right, I see no problem with it. Re: MO's death stare: my sister says that MO always looks serious because of her strong jaw line. I think she has BRF. I don't think she was shooting daggers at the picture takers but that the camera just caught her in a moment of reflection where she looks mad but probably isn't.

A BRF definition, for those of you not familiar with the term.

The few times I've seen Michelle Obama in person (couple state dinners, inaugurations, etc) I've never thought she had an angry expression. I do think that people sometimes go out of their way to find her with an "angry" expression, just because we love to see world leaders displaying "regular" emotions.

Just think of the firestorm that resulted from Kate Middleton, aka the Duchess of Cambridge, supposedly playing with her hair at a state event. The woman probably stood ramrod straight and at perfect attention for two hours, and then for two seconds tried to get her hair out of her face. And that, of course, is the moment that we turn into a GIF.

I interpreted the selfie thing as faux-rage (fauxrageous?) reactions. I rolled my eyes at this so hard, they may have gotten stuck. Did you see the hashtag #feministselfie a while back? It gave a whole new enlightening spin on selfies. In a nutshell: for people who are typically marginalized or devalued, a selfie is a radical act of making yourself visible. Interesting stuff.

Yeah, I read that (which I thought was kind of forced) and then I also read the backlash to that, saying, "This is NOT a feminist act, this is still about girls feeling forced to perform for the male gaze."

I haven't been chatting in a few weeks (my bad!). Have we talked about how social media is making live tv cool again? For years I -never- tuned into a live show, even if that meant just starting it 30 minutes late so I could zip through commercials. Now I tune into Scandal and Walking Dead live because half of the fun for me is the shenanigans on twitter.

We haven't talked about it, but it's true. You can't even wait 15 minutes to start a show (in order to fast-forward the commercials) because everyone else will leave you behind.

Oh, INDEED. I hope I'm not the only one who remembers this gem:

Thank you for bringing this (back) to our attention.

Asking for a friend--what happens if he did not put #stray in his tweet about his favorite novel? Will you actually see it?

I'll see it. But I'll deduct a quarter of a point.

Did you read the hyperbolic column reacting to Obama's selfie with the hottie Dane? The comment about Michelle's death glare was probably accurate, though.

What was the comment? That she was jealous of the Danish Prime Minister? Puh-leaze.

I heard this on a national TV show where someone was explaining was a "selfie" is. Someone then asked what you call it when another person takes a photograph of two people. No one on the show knew. FIY. It's called a "photograph".

Oh, don't tell me this. No no no no.

What's BRF?

Did you read my response? In which I linked to a BRF definition? Do you people listen to anything I say?

What would you do if you wake up tomorrow and realize you are an 18 year old girl and being Monica Hesse is a dream you are given to dream?

Oh man. So exciting! I'd have a whole decade more time than I thought I had.

Actually, I think about this sometimes: If you were given the ability to go back to another point in your life and live it again, would you? Plus side: A chance to do better and avoid the mistakes you made the first go round. Minus: So many heartbreaks/lean years/cruddy apartments/stupid fights to have to navigate through again.

In the 1963 anecdote, what did Johson do? Seems like he should have graciously acceded to her, in view of the horror she had just gone through. If he was a glassbowl and kept it for himself, maybe the conspiracy rumor about his involvement is true after all!

Well, of -course- he graciously acceded it to her. It was a horrible,  confusing day, and people were probably doing a lot of things without thinking.

The appropriate protocol is to ask a wife if it is appropriate to take a "selfie", as you call it, with her husband. Then, after the wife has given her response, it is then appropriate for the woman to slither away and never return.

Dear god, if someone asked me whether it was okay to take a photograph with my husband, I would assume that he must have been hit with a heavy object and was currently unconscious on the floor, unable to communicate. Because that is the only explanation I can think of for why someone would ask one grown adult for permission to do something with another grown adult, rather than asking the selfie participant directly.

my favorite interpretation of Michelle's face and the whole switching seats things was that it more like separating kids at church who are playing around too much. This seems much better, and more likely, than the jealousy narrative.

What seems even more likely to me is that President Obama got up to go give a speech or to greet someone else, and Michelle Obama slid over one seat to make it easier for him to return. I've done the same thing for friends returning from the restroom in movie theaters, or whatnot.

To be fair, the national TV show where they didn't know what it was called when a person takes a photograph was Kathie Lee and Hoda. It is cold in Manhattan, and they have been hitting the warmed cider a bit earlier than usual. I expect any day know they will look into the street and wonder what those horseless carriages are called.

Oh, Hoda. Oh, Kathie Lee.

Someone should go on and tell them that taking a picture of another person is called a "You-ie." With a straight face.

Since I work for a Guvmint agency, I was unable to go to Ubran Dictionary to see the BRF definition. They block that because, well, because. So it isn't that I don't listen to you, I hang on every word, I just can't follow your directions.

You'll have to Google it. It uses a non Post-friendly word, which is why I linked to it in the beginning rather than spelling it out. The last two letters stand for "Resting Face."

Getting any comments on this aspect of the memorial? I must admit I let out a laugh when first hearing about it, but it was sad that the deaf community couldn't participate as they should have.

It's just a completely stunning story that gets weirder with each new bit of information. Sad, yes, but mostly just...weird.

Did you see this article in support of the Oxford comma? So funny!

A few people had forwarded it, but I hadn't had a chance to read yet. I will after the chat!

BRF = "rhymes with twitchy" resting face.


I think about this too, a lot, actually, and my answer has for several years been "no freakin' way". I had some rough times after college, but my experiences - good and bad - made me who I am today, and I really really like that person. Sometimes I also think about what was the most life-changing decision I've made up to this point (age 33). Hands-down, deciding where to go to college. The relationships I formed there, and the experiences I had (both in and out of the classroom), have guided me and shaped me in ways I couldn't have imagined wildly when I was 18. I do wonder what would have happened had I gone elsewhere...

You would still be you, of course, but that "you" would be a completely different person. That's why I'm never sure how to take it when people say things like, "If I'd gone to Brown instead of University of Oklahoma, I never would have met my wife!" Because I always think, "Yes, you would. Your wife would just be a different woman. Because you would be a different man. Because living in Oklahoma for four years at a state school is going to make you value different things and have different experiences than living in Rhode Island at an Ivy League school."

You're always you, even when you are completely different.

I would hate to live in your world. Unless I were reading this in Hax, of course.

We'll just assume something got lost in translation.

affluenza was allll over my twitter feed this morning. did you see that news story? and what did you think? my tweeps were out.raged. about it.

I saw it, but didn't have time to absorb more than cursory details. Someone else sent in a link a bit ago -- I'll see if I can find.

Can't believe the judge decided jail time wasn't warranted.

The news story in question.

I'm not on Twitter, so if I send you my nomination via email, would you still please consider it for the giveaway? Thanks.

Oh, man, I wish I could, but the method I'm thinking of using for randomly selecting the winners involves all of the responses being on Twitter. Another day, another giveway.

This is key. Which is worse, memorial service selfie or embarrassing OTHER world leaders who want him to join in by refusing on the grounds that they're doing something "inappropriate"?


I sent you a tweet!! Only the fourth tweet of my life (35 but newish to twitter and only using it to follow authors and athletes) but a free book is nothing to sneeze upon! Approx how many favorite novel tweets have you received?

Thank you! I haven't checked recently to see how many I received. A few dozen? Many recommending books I've never read, and can't wait to.

Favorite SciFi series is Zelazny's Amber series. Should have been a movie or miniseries. Probably filmable nowadays with the CGI improvements.

It does, alas, as I answered before -- but I'd really like to read this series.

I'm sorry, if our Cupcake has to stop and spell out everything, she will only get through a couple of posts. It's not her responsibility to Google for you.

Oh, I know you all know how to Google yourselves. I try to take it as a sign of endearment. Sort of like how a sandwich your mom makes is better than an identical sandwich that you personally make. I'd like to think the Googles that I provide are somehow more satifsying.

Why (and when) did selfies become a bad thing? I travel by myself and love trying to take pictures of myself with something in the background. Sooo much better than stopping someone and asking them to take a picture of me!

I think that "selfie" has a particular connotation of self-awareness and preening added to the process. What you are doing doesn't sound like something that would perjoratively be described as a selfie. Your photos sound more like, "Hey, there are the pyramids! And I am here with them!"

As opposed to: "Hey, my lips are pouty and I am sticking my butt out!"

I would choose to live my life over if I had that choice knowing what happened in life, I have no regrets, because I have always realized that given what I knew when I made the decisions, I made the right decisions. If I had known outcomes ahead of time, I would have definitely made different decisions. Yet, the bad outcomes do not keep me up at night because I still believe I always made the best known available decisions. I am actually writing a book about this. Let you know if I ever finish it.

Please do -- I'd read it.

Most of the do-overs I want have to do with spending less money. Mostly because I want that money now to spend on something else. Does that say something bad about me? Otherwise, I am too afraid of the butterfly effect to want to change any of my past choices or actions. If anything, I'd bring back family/friends we lost too early, but I don't think that counts as changing something I did.

No, that doesn't say anything bad about you. It probably says that you are getting wiser with age, and that you now realize it was ridiculous to spend all of that money on an Xbox, when you could have kept it to spend ON AN XBOX ONE.

Back around 2000 I was commuting from Arl to Chantilly to work at an internet start up (went belly up of course) and a friend gave me his cassette tapes (old tech) of the audio books of the Amber series. They were ready by Zelazny himself and to this day I can still hear his gravely voice reading the stories. I keep thinking I need to read the books too, but I can tell you that the audio books were fantastic. I've not really listened to many audiobooks, have you? Despite that experience, I still much prefer to read books instead of listen to them.

I have trouble with audio books because I don't process information aurally nearly as well as I do when reading something. But I love trashy crime audiobooks for long car trips.

whoa, am I an old fuddy-duddy. Immediately knew what it is from the context, but I've never heard it before. First time, so thanks for helping me learn! , course, might be b/c I don't tweet....

Happy to help.

They should unblock the urban dictionary at government offices. I have had times when people have called me or spoken to me where I needed a translator like that to know what it is they just said. It makes a big difference if they are praising you or condemning you and you have to know or find the public lingo.

It's true. Sometimes the sites that workplaces assume must be time-wasters are actually very useful.

reminds me of an error in an agency-wide e-mail that warned joggers on the army post on which I worked not to stand under the golf course sprinklers to cool off, because the water pumped therefrom was "affluent."

That water was too good for those joggers.

(I can't even figure out what the correct term in that situation was supposed to be).

There is a crucial distinction between a picture of oneself and a selfie. A picture of oneself with something interesting going on in the background is fine. A selfie screams of a desperate need for attention. My cousin, mid-20s and beautiful, is constantly posting pictures of herself, usually taken in her car, presumably because her seatbelt hits at just the right angle to make her cleavage more apparent. The other day she actually posted the what I think is the holy grail of selfies--herself at the gym in the full-length mirror, abs flexed, makeup and hair perfect, leg cocked just so. I wish someone would tell her how ridiculous and desperate she looks, but we're not close enough for it to be me.

Yes. This. The difference between a picture of oneself and a selfie.

Although, you know, in 20 years your cousin might like to have record of the time when she had really good abs -- and more power to her.

That's all we have time for today. I'll be here next week. The week after that is December 26, and I'm not sure whether I'll be in the office or not. We'll sort out a definite yay or nay for the chat at that point.

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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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