Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 24 September, 2020

Rhian Sugden's Holocaust Memorial selfie suggests one of two things

‘I’ve got no time for this moaning generation.’

IF YOU HADN’T heard of Rhian Sugden before this week, it’s likely you’ve heard about her in recent days.

The British lingerie model was the subject of considerable criticism during the week when she posed for a selfie at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Standing in the midst of multiple stone slabs which comprise the memorial, Rhian took a photo of herself, uploaded it to Instagram and compared herself to ET in the caption.

Naturally, backlash was swift.

Social media users condemned the model for failing to recognise the implications of her actions, and for willfully minimising the significance of the memorial, which is located in an area of a city which had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe before the Second World War.

Interestingly, at a time when public figures and online personalities are relatively quick to either feign ignorance or accept criticism, before ultimately apologising ‘for any offence caused’, Rhian chose not to.

Not only did she eschew an apology, she lashed out at critics, dubbing them little more than the product of a ‘moaning generation’.

I’m on holiday. Sightseeing and took a pic. Under no circumstances is this disrespectful. (sic)

“Am I smiling? Am I laughing? No,” she added in response to one commentator.

Let’s be clear; the memorial was created to honour the millions of Jewish people killed during the Holocaust; men, women and children who lost their lives at the hands of a regime so barbaric it continues to cast a shadow six decades on.

So, yes Rhian, to do anything other than quietly pay respect to those people while visiting a memorial made in their honour is disrespectful.

But to whip out your phone, pose for a photo and turn the focus on yourself is another level of disrespect entirely.

It’s not rocket science. The selfie couldn’t have waited? The ET comparison couldn’t have waited? 

I visited that same memorial two years ago. It was the height of summer, and yet I remember it feeling cold, dark, claustrophobic and vaguely disorienting; supposedly an intention ultimately realised by architect, Peter Eisenman.

shutterstock_1072622756 Source: Shutterstock/kerale

Myself and the person I was with didn’t particularly speak as we made our way through the grid of slabs of varying heights; I don’t mention this for any other reason than to illustrate the sombre atmosphere created within the space.

I wanted to visit the memorial, and yet given the surreal nature of the experience and the reason behind its creation, I wasn’t inclined to linger, and I certainly wasn’t inclined to rummage in my bag, whip out my phone, and pout into the lense.

And here’s the thing; even if that idea had inexplicably occurred to me, common decency would have kicked in and I’d have decided against it.

Why? Well, like the vast majority of adults who make the decision to visit memorials of that nature, I recognise their significance.

Whether or not I will ever fully internalise the gravity of the situation they are seeking to represent, I recognise that the intention is there, and, as such, I and millions others behave accordingly.

If you’re an adult who appreciates the significance of a particular memorial enough that you are capable of deciding that it warrants a visit, you would surely know that posing for a selfie in the middle of it would be somewhat inappropriate.

When I heard Rhian had stopped to do so, my first reaction wasn’t outrage – although that came in time with the absence of a proper apology – it was bafflement.

The atmosphere created by the architects responsible for its design doesn’t lend itself to a selfie scenario; much like a morgue, funeral or mass grave wouldn’t cause you to instinctively consider your traction on Instagram.

Rhian’s decision to pose for a selfie in the middle of a holocaust memorial, upload it to Instagram and then refuse to properly apologise suggests one of two things; she’s either woefully ignorant or worryingly arrogant; which is it?

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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