How Not to Be an Asshole During a Tragedy

Cool peace sign. Photo via Instagram.
Cool peace sign.
Photo via Instagram.

The whole “how not to be an asshole” blog post is one that has a storied history here at old bkmag dot com: We’ve advised you on everything from how to ride a fucking escalator to why it’s a dick move to take creep shots of people on the subway to why it’s not cool to order Seamless during a blizzard. What can we say? We guess we just feel like part of our job is to perform public services like this. And so it’s in the spirit of the greater good that we offer this advice to all people wondering how not to be an asshole when tragedy strikes: Do not take selfies in front of a still-smoldering scene of death and destruction. Oh, does that seem self-evident to you? Congratulations. You’re not an asshole. But, well, many, many other people are.

The New York Post broke the story yesterday of all the people who are “treating the East Village gas explosion site like a tourist attraction” and taking selfies in front of it. The Post brilliantly termed these sociopaths “Village idiots” and rightfully skewers this type of heartless behavior. But, of course, disaster selfies are nothing new—they’ve been around from the moment idiots were able to take photos of themselves with their phones. And there are actually countless people who will defend disaster selfies as being a way for some people to, uh, process their complicated emotions during trying times. There are even some Gothamist commenters who wonder what the difference is between people who take disaster selfies and photojournalists who take pictures of disasters, knowing that said photos will be popular among readers.

And to this I simply say: Is this where we are now? Are we really in a place where people will blithely perform the most extreme mental contortions imaginable simply to justify behaving like assholes? I know that it isn’t a majority of people who would act like this, and I know that this behavior isn’t just the product of social media (I clearly remember riding the subway with two women in early October of 2001 and hearing them talk about how much they wanted to go to the site of the World Trade Center so they could get “like, a rock or something, to show that I was there to my kids one day”), though it’s definitely facilitated by it! But mostly, I just want to issue a gentle reminder of how to not be an asshole during a tragedy, and it goes a little something like this: Unless you’re taking videos of the kind of heroic rescue that we can all feel good about, put your fucking phones away and respect the fact that people died and you’re alive, and you should not waste even one second of your life by being such a terrible asshole.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


  1. Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1975, an Eastern Air Lines jet crashed at Kennedy Boulevard, with the debris and the dead scattered along Rockaway Boulevard between the Belt Parkway and the southern airport perimeter. A couple of days after the crash, on a weekend, I was driving on that road coming from Rockaway, and I saw what were dozens of people seemingly having picnics and looking around on the ground, probably trying to find possessions of the more than 100 dead passengers and crew members. People were laughing, looking like it was an outing — some of them were families with little kids and teenagers and grandparents.

    After seeing that, I can believe anything like this. Human beings are horrible.


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