It shouldn’t have surprised me this past week after one of our radio interns clued me into the latest Instagram trend. Some recently-divorced folks are sharing selfies to celebrate the end of their marriage. Yes, like the two of them together. Big smiles. Pretty backgrounds. A celebratory scene, the whole bit. It’s as though both bookends of marriage are moral equivalents that should be filled with identical joy. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me, given our world, but the news felt like one more flower was added on top of the casket.
Before I unleash my measured critique of this harbinger of civilizational death, I have to express preemptive sympathy to those who have experienced divorce. This column is not a condemnation of anyone. Things happen. People don’t get along. Mistakes are made. I understand. I won’t judge those who make the thoughtful and usually painful decision to end a marriage. I don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes but my own.
Having said that, trying to understand the psychology of this phenomenon is difficult, to be honest, because some things are just weird to be happy about. We don’t typically celebrate amputations, maimings, bad report cards, fungal infections, killer tornadoes, diarrhea, or bankruptcies. There are some things in life, by their very nature, that result in grief, loss, discomfort, or pain. Divorce is one of them.
If a marriage is treasured, valued, and cherished — as all would agree it should be — then what in the world is there to celebrate when it ends? What I do know, is that a marriage that ends with frivolous mutual celebration became, or always was, devoid of the profound emotional, spiritual, and physical investment that makes the deep traditional concept of marriage so incredibly powerful in the first place. But, these particular (now-defunct) marriages weren’t that, not at all. They couldn’t possibly be, because nobody would terminate something that valuable with a celebratory smile.
A strange but not dissimilar phenomenon emerged a while back, with women celebrating their own abortions. There’s even a website called Shout Your Abortion. If you’ve made it this far in the column, you know precisely what’s wrong with deliberately terminating a life, then celebrating the choice with a T-shirt.
An online project called Yolocaust is making a powerful statement. Artist Shahak Shapira lives near the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Tired of thoughtless visitors who use the somber background for their silly selfies, Shapira photoshops images, replacing the reverent and symbolic slabs of concrete with images of the holocaust behind them. Piles of dead Jews. Lines of emaciated concentration camp prisoners. Burned skeletal remains. It is graphic, but it is a poignant reminder that a frivolous photo can’t compensate for painful human complexity.
We used to do things in life to avoid the very real consequences of misfortune, poor choices, laziness, or negligence. I never really anticipated we’d go from avoiding, to celebrating. In an attempt to subtract the pain and negative stigma of failure, we insulate ourselves from that loss through oblivious celebration. These people and those who cheer them on are deeply out of touch with themselves and their own choices.
I think it all boils down to the participation trophy ethos — a belief that everything should be cause for recognition and celebration. That every step taken in life is some kind of achievement to put on happy display. Even mediocrity and failure.
Divorce selfies are just marriage participation trophies.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.