Every so often, when it’s late and I’m procrastinating and everything else on the internet is suffused with vitriol and poison, I’ll type “funeral selfie” into my Twitter search bar. Pages of smiling, duck-faced teens dressed in black and surrounded by either flowers or caskets or actual cadavers stare back at me. And in this dissonant madness, I find peace.
Back in 2013, there was an uproar over the swelling funeral selfie phenomenon. Its hashtags trended on Twitter, Tumblr’s pages flowed with mournful teens, and at its apparent peak, even the president himself succumbed to the funeral selfie’s indecorous allure. People were furious. But as our collective outrage inevitably moved on to fresher sources of fuel, the funeral selfies quietly continued. I know—I’ve been hoarding them for years.
Bored? Stressed? Tired? Quivering with rage? Just search for funeral selfies on Twitter and all of that vanishes into a dark abyss. None of that matters—just like how the deaths of these teens’ and twenty-somethings’ loved ones don’t, in the grand scheme of things, really matter. The funeral selfie is—and will always be—Twitter in its purest and most perfect form: simultaneously grim, carefree, and willfully inappropriate.
Trashy Arby's mirror selfie but who cares. 💁 I loved my outfit for papaws funeral and I know he would have as well. 💕 pic.twitter.com/0fwum04IMb— Tay Tay Love ❤️ (@Love5530) March 9, 2015
You may cringe at what seems like a flagrant disregard for the gravity of death, but funerals are insane, absurd practices. If social media is supposed to reflect the world around us, striking a hyper-sexualized pose next to your dead grandmother’s bloated corpse is about as honest as it gets.
Our modern, socially accepted grieving process is a stunt in its purposeful, pointed sadness. Not only must you feel sad, you must look sad, too—forcing you into a collective, public display of mourning to ostensibly make sense of that which most of us have barely even begun to grasp. If we act this way, say this thing, and wear these colors, we’ve mourned correctly. We’ve paid our approved (if not spurious) respects, and only then can we begin the process of moving on.
when UR the only one at kyles funeral home but U still have to take a selfie bc its necessary pic.twitter.com/04CiPmZxNc— veronica (@ronica_g) October 14, 2014
MY FRIEND TOOK A SELFIE AT A FUNERAL AND DIDN'T REALISE HIS DEAD GRANDMA WAS IN THE BACKGROUND I CANT BREATHE pic.twitter.com/miv4HjSwLuFebruary 26, 2015
Cousin selfie before the funeral. pic.twitter.com/yR9cGizwXy— Colton Hahne (@ColtonHahne275) January 28, 2015
But real, actual grief doesn’t follow a prescribed set of rules. It’s messy and capricious and wholly specific to the person to whom it clings. If a teen wants to experience his sadness by posting a series of open casket selfies on his timeline, his grief is no less valid for it In fact, it’s probably one of the most honest things on the internet today.
And that is where the appeal in these bits of modern detritus lie. Though the photos are almost wholly affectation, if that’s how you experience your entire life, who are we to say that the sentiment isn’t real.
Post funeral selfie. Obviously. pic.twitter.com/qx5i0NNBlA— Jay Coleman (@VelociraptorJay) May 26, 2015
With modern death practices, we’ve sterilized what’s actually happening as much as possible, and these photos are its inevitable conclusion: Self-involved humans with more life left to live than any of us, openly mocking us as we grapple with our own looming mortality. A wonderfully bizarre (and often necessary) reminder to just calm down and stop taking ourselves so seriously. Everything is going to be fine.
And even if it’s not, take comfort in the fact that, sure, we may all die one day, but then again—so will these teens.