Two weeks ago, an Iowa man committed the wedding faux pas seen — quite literally — around the world.
A single photo, posted first to Imgur and later to Reddit, seemed to tell the entire story: A woman in a coral dress with one hand clamped over her tearful face; a man on his knee in front of her with arm outstretched, grinning broadly; and in the background, sitting down, upstaged, an actual bride and groom — the bride’s head tilted, grimacing slightly.
“Any girl’s wedding nightmare,” read the caption on Imgur, which has since been viewed more than 2.5 million times — and been labeled, in various corners of the Internet, as “selfish,” “blood-boiling” and “so ----ing rude.”
Except, as is so often true on the Internet, this one 960-by-690-pixel picture did not, in fact, tell the whole story. The “wedding guests” rudely upstaging someone else’s wedding are actually the sister and future brother-in-law of the bride. And according to the New York Post, who spoke to the Iowa family over the weekend, it was all the bride’s idea. That’s not a grimace you’re seeing — she’s trying not to cry.
Are we surprised by any of this, really? Misplaced shaming is now such a deeply entrenched practice of Internet culture that it seems passe to even note it anymore; better to shrug and “meh” and move on, amnesic, to the next presumed faux pas, the next “terrible” picture.
Which is horribly ironic, when you think about it, because in the process of policing other people’s etiquette, we’re committing gross breaches of etiquette ourselves. The man proposing, in that photo, didn’t “upstage” the bride — but the wedding guest who took the photo and unceremoniously uploaded it to Reddit most definitely did. (No small surprise, then, that the uploader in question has since deleted his account from Reddit.)
“The sharing of the photo is a psychological reflection of the person taking the picture, not the photographed,” the psychotherapist and cultural theorist Aaron Balick wrote of online shaming earlier this year. On one hand shame is a natural human practice: We do it to enforce cultural norms and to identify ourselves as part of some superior “in group.” But there’s something new, Balick argued — something “frightening” — about the addition of social media.
“(We’ve begun) seeing other people and other things as a representation of ourselves rather than as full subjects unto themselves,” he writes. And as smartphones and social networks become more prevalent, they’ll keep allowing us “to take and distribute photographs of others and share them with friends and strangers without pausing to think that that other person has feelings, and more importantly, without even bothering to ask them for consent.”
We can hope, of course, that incidents like this one will nudge future shamers the other way: that the accumulation of all these misplaced shaming narratives will eventually encourage people to pause, think, say — “eh, maybe this is OK.”
More than likely, though, we’ll all move on to the next thing.
“It was sad to see,” the woman in the photo told the New York Post. “I guess if I didn’t know the whole story, then I would feel the same way as some of them.
“However, I wouldn’t voice my opinion about it because it’s none of my business.”