Monday's horrific fire at Notre Dame cathedral, reportedly caused by renovation work, thankfully did not result in any human causalities - but the devastation at the loss of such an iconic piece of history was felt around the world. Naturally, people took to social media in order to pay tribute and mourn the damage faced by the 856-year-old structure. Naturally, a wave of criticism followed on those very same platforms.
It's a phenomenon we've all witnessed in the digital age, in the wake of a tragic event or the death of a beloved celebrity: people post about their own relationship with the subject at hand. We mean, how many A-listers posted photos alongside Karl Lagerfeld after he passed away back in February? In this case, our feeds have been filled with photos of our friends (and celebrities and influencers) on vacation, smiling in front of the monument, recalling memories and feelings of awe.
In response, the now-familiar argument arises: You are making this event about YOU. You're humble-bragging about your trip to Paris, or that time you studied abroad, just to cash in on the likes. At least according to plenty of people on Twitter.
congratulations to everyone who is taking advantage of a sad event to remind us that u have Been To Paris
— jamieloftus 🏂 (@jamieloftusHELP) April 15, 2019
the most advanced possible move is to make Notre Dame burning down about you
— cavity survivor (@ByYourLogic) April 15, 2019
thinking about posting some pictures of my trip studying abroad so i can make this about me
— bailey (@doyalikebaileys) April 15, 2019
But such criticism raises some questions: IS there a right way to mourn "in public," when operating within a society conditioned to seek connection on the internet? And are those selfies really deserving of such cynical analysis?
To answer the latter, no, I don't think they are. The vast majority of #NotreDame hashtagged photos, I'm sure, do not come with a hidden agenda - even on an unconscious level. For a generation raised online, sharing on social media is a form of comfort. When you feel affected by something, it's nice to be surrounded by people who understand. You feel less alone, at least. Even when it comes to the loss of a loved one, friends and family gather, share happy memories, comfort one another. Of course, a building isn't a person, but it can act as a literal touchstone in people's lives. Hell, I feel a sense of loss when a bar I went to in college closes - now multiply that by nearly nine centuries and millions of people. There's bound to be a cloud of collective grief. One that you're allowed to take part in.
Now, as for the "right" way to pay tribute? It depends. If a natural disaster or horrible event destroys an area, and worse, incurs a death toll, the wrong way to address the tragedy is with a photo of you on the beach that time you visited. You know, read the room.
But when it comes to a beautiful relic with so much cultural, artistic, and religious relevancy to people around the world, sharing a happy moment there just helps to keep the memory alive, and gives people the chance to feel like they were a part of something bigger than themselves.
Post the photo, share the memory, and try not to judge how other people choose to grieve.
[Photo via @alesyaplastinkina]