Teens! Teens are the worst. I say that as someone who was once a teenager, even if I was more of the sullen, awkward variety than one who was blessed with early puberty and athletic abilities. And I thank the Internet gods every day that I didn’t have Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and — oof, can you imagine? — YouTube back in the late ’90s and early ’00s. My online self-expression then was limited to an Angelfire account and an anonymous Diaryland blog. If I were a teen nowadays, I can certainly see myself posting even more about myself than I do now. So when the newest one-joke Tumblr, Selfies at Funerals, made the rounds on Twitter yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for those whose pictures were screencapped from their Instagram feeds so that adults could laugh at them.
I certainly felt a little uncomfortable looking at the pictures yesterday, before I started to feel a little weird that the blog itself existed. I mean, of course teenagers are doing this sort of thing. You can’t keep them from shutting up for a damn second, those damn kids, so who should we be surprised that they’re so attached to their phones at a funeral and are broadcasting their grief online?
And, on the other hand, adults are, well, just as narcissistic as those who are ten-plus years younger than them. I mean, hi, I make my living publishing my thoughts on the Internet, and much like the majority of my professional colleagues — and some who joined in on the sharing of Selfies at Funerals, primarily on Twitter and Facebook — I am in desperate need of a visible and widely recognized byline. There isn’t much of a difference, in my eyes, between a 14-year-old posting a picture of him or herself on Instagram and a 30-something in Brooklyn publishing movie reviews and political commentary or a young Manhattanite writing personal essays about life in New York City. Let’s not pretend this Tumblr is proof that there were simply more narcissists born after 1995.
Meanwhile, there’s the uncomfortable practice of judging people and their grieving practices. Look, I happen to hate it when a celebrity dies and then everyone I know rushes to Twitter to compete with each other for who can be the saddest. How many people in my Instagram feed posted pictures of Lou Reed on Sunday? So many. How many of them had a personal relationship with the man? None. But there was an underlying narcissism on display in their performance of grief: “This famous person I didn’t know meant so much to me.” Just because they weren’t posting a selfie holding a vinyl copy of Transformer doesn’t mean it wasn’t a tad bit self-serving.
And while it’s super-weird to post a picture of your face in front of your grandmother’s corpse, perhaps we can get a moratorium on making fun of kids who are simply expressing their grief, albeit in ways we might find disrespectful? Considering how many Lou Reed jokes I saw over the weekend, too, it’s pretty obvious that adults can be just as disrespectful when it comes to death; the entire existence of the Selfies at Funerals Tumblr is proof of that, as well. I don’t buy that this is a comment on millennial narcissism (hosted on a platform that promotes narcissism, no less); it’s actually a rather pathetic exercise in making fun of teenagers and represents a lazy generalization about the psychological makeup of a very wide-ranging group of human beings. I mean, let’s give them a break, shall we? Because, after all, it’s shitty enough being a teenager. Most of us know this — which is why we’ve grown up to be such attention-grabbing adults.