Since Mandela's funeral, huge media focus swivelled giddily to the related scandals. Firstly that the sign-language interpreter of the ceremony was 'making it up' - he's now saying that he was hallucinating and hearing voices and alternately that it was a schizophrenic episode. The second was 'that selfie.' The one of David Cameron, the Danish prime minster Helle Thorning Schmidt and Barack Obama sharing a grinning selfie on an iPhone while Michelle scowled at the sidelines.
The media predictably erupted at the lack of respect shown by these world leaders as the photo quickly went viral (including capping a particularly prescient tumblr.) The photographer, Roberto Schmidt, recently posted on the AFP blog detailing the story behind the photograph and taking apart a lot of the preconceptions around it; the funeral was largely a cheerful and celebratory event where the selfie didn't feel out of place or disrespectful at the time; Michelle wasn't scowling it was just a coincidence of the timing as the other photos in the sequence show.
This defence is important but irrelevant next to the photo's purpose - the fact that the media coverage of Mandela's funeral focused on the Selfie and the hallucinating signer. The meme-bomb mega-tonnage of this photo provides a neat distraction from all the unresolved hypocrisy of these relationships. Stories examining the difficult histories that various world leaders have had and have with Apartheid South Africa and Mandela are largely glossed over by the Kansas City Shuffle of photo memes.
A few weeks previously, this photograph of David Cameron had a similar viral mega-tonnage, at least around Britain. Following an article in the Guardian, the photograph of Cameron delivering a speech heralding an age of permanent austerity from a golden lectern at the Lord Mayor's Banquet sparked predictable outrage.
Again, the story and the photo provided a neat distraction from what he was actually saying. The conversation around the event steered from 'David Cameron is telling us we'll be living under austerity forever' to 'David Cameron delivers lecture on austerity from a golden lectern' - a subtle but important shift in the perception of the event. A kind of inverted nudge-based Kansas City Shuffle.
Are these traces of a new weapon against public discourse? Accelerating difficult political manoeuvres into satire where no serious debate can be had. Of course it attracts attention to the subject of austerity or the difficult politics around South Africa but at the same time it shifts a controlled debate into short-lived outrage and satire where nothing effective can happen. The worrying trend of outrage-baiting that has infected social networks and the mainstream press is a troubling sign of a weaponised Kansas City Shuffle.