Editor's Note: Roberto Schmidt, the Agence France-Presse staffer who took the photographs discussed in this blog post, has now weighed in on the discussion and provided context. In his own blog post, Schmidt wrote "photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance."
You've probably seen the photos by now; they've certainly been circulated enough. They are pictures of three world leaders and one exceedingly grim-looking first lady taken at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.
The powerful trio is British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama and, between them, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. And they seem preoccupied with taking a selfie — a self-portrait — much to the apparent irritation of Michelle Obama. Various versions have the first lady appearing to stare icily off in the distance as the three position themselves for their group photo. Or giving the Danish prime minister the distinct side-eye. Or looking at all three of them in seemingly undisguised disapproval. In one, she's even switched places so she's sitting between the president and Thorning-Schmidt.
The interwebs are having a field day.
The New York Post gleefully put it this way: "Michelle looks annoyed by Obama's selfie at Mandela memorial."
Then there's TIME magazine's take on things, which notes the trio bumped what had been fascination with the handshake the president exchanged with Cuban President Raul Castro.
There was a lot of speculation that the reason Mrs. O might have been frowning was because she was a little ... peeved ... that her husband was having such a good time with the attractive Danish prime minister. But I don't think that was the root reason.
Her glacial countenance was, IMHO, because she thought all three world leaders should have known better — and certainly her husband should have — than to take photos of themselves as if they were at a Kool and the Gang concert. They were at a state occasion, representing their respective countries.
Yes, the South Africans have told us, since Mr. Mandela's passing, that they celebrate life at their services — but there's a difference between remembering the departed with joyful song and documenting how cool it is that you were there to see him off. And let's face it: Heads of state have different rules than the rest of us. We hold them to a higher standard.
Mrs. O's frosty face might have been because she felt the grown-ups should have acted more grown than her own children (who took their own selfies at the last inauguration, but hey, they're kids!) And I'm betting there was probably some conversation about that on the way home.
Maybe beginning with, "Don't make me pull this plane over ... "