Half of the British public say it was unacceptable for David Cameron to partake in a ‘selfie’ at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, while only a third approve – but the selfie itself has taken off, either way
OED's Word of the Year 2013, ‘selfie’, received an unlikely exposure on Tuesday, as three world leaders – David Cameron, Barack Obama and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt – took an impromptu photograph of themselves during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. The Sun newspaper said they had “no selfie respect”, while others excused the behaviour, claiming the service was more of a celebration than the kind of memorial service British people expect.
But a new YouGov survey finds that people think this particular selfie was unacceptable, however popular the phenomenon has become.
For all of the participants, the trend is the same: around half say it was unacceptable behaviour for David Cameron, Barack Obama and Helle Thorning-Schmidt to be in the photograph taken by the Danish Prime Minister.
The Oxford English dictionary now defines 'selfie' as 'a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website'.
The photographer who cought the selfie in action, Roberto Schmidt, was surprised at the press's negative reaction, saying the memorial "was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid." This is reflected in the public mood, for although they also say the selfie was unacceptable, many more (80%) say a selfie would be unacceptable at a genuinely sombre event: a funeral. In contrast, 85% say taking a selfie is acceptable at a party.
And in several other everyday circumstances, most do say taking a selfie would be acceptable. They include riding public transport (68% say this is acceptable), while at a wedding (76%), visiting a tourist destination (89%) and dining at a restaurant (60%). The only other places where there is less selfie-acceptance are in the bath (46% oppose while 42% say it's OK) and while at work (45% oppose while 44% think it's fine).
Defending their decision to make ‘selfie’ the word of the year 2013, the editors of the OED claimed the term had evolved from a ‘niche social media tag’ into a mainstream word. The survey shows that this is indeed the case: when asked if they are familiar with the word, 77% say ‘Yes’ – including 43% who are very familiar with the word and another third (34%) who are fairly familiar.
Runners up for this OED's word of the year included the phrase 'bedroom tax', referring to the Coalition's controversial new housing benefit policy, and 'twerk', which describes a provocative style of dancing, notably popularised by pop singer Miley Cyrus.