Sunday, June 15, 2014

Take a Picture, Why Don't You?

Years ago, comedian Bill Mahar took a fair amount of heat for saying—and refusing to apologize for saying—stereotypes have a basis in fact. Society didn't just up and decide one group drank to excess, another was reluctant to spend money, a third exhibited inadequate driving skills. The groups labeled in those ways had members whose day-to-day behavior exhibited those negative traits.

Today I visited a gorge in New York state. I clambered up a steep trail, with enough steps to be daunting, to circle its rim, then back down (uh-oh, my glasses and irregularly spaced steps going down are not a happy combination!), finally walking along the trail at the lowest part of the gorge to the most scenic spot overlooking an impressive waterfall.

There's a small viewing area (great, more steps down) where three generations of an Asian family were taking pictures of themselves in various combinations with the falls as a background. It's hard to mind when two adorable little boys are totally hamming it up for their grandparents.

After a while, though, it became easy to be annoyed when this one group of six people had occupied the vantage point fully, preventing others from viewing the falls or taking their own pictures (unless they were willing to spoil the pictures the family was taking by entering the frame), for fifteen minutes. How many ways and combinations are there to pose five people against a scenic background?

Yeah, I know. Not all Asians are this selfish with scenic vista viewpoints, nor so obsessed with picture taking. Of course they're not. The assumption is both ridiculous and ugly racism. But what I found more disturbing the longer I thought about it was that while the hogging of the public space for private picture-taking bothered me, worse was that they'll return home only with pictures of themselves. Not one of them, not even the kids, took a moment to turn and view this large waterfall with the wonder and awe it deserved.

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