Selfie taken outside site of East Village explosion sparks outrage

Dylan Stableford
The cover of the New York Post, March 29, 2015. (New York Post)

There's a time and place to take selfies — concerts, sporting events, red carpets, space. The still-smoldering site of a deadly building explosion is not one of them.

A little more than 24 hours after an apparent gas explosion in New York City's East Village destroyed three buildings, injured 22 people and left two others missing, a group of smiling women were seen using a selfie stick to take a group photo with the blast site as a backdrop.

The tasteless photo op, captured by a passing New York City event photographer Friday night, was posted on an East Village blog — drawing immediate outrage.



"Absolutely disgusting," one commenter wrote.

"Everything that's wrong with NYC summed up in one photo," wrote another.

"This literally makes my blood boil!" Twitter user @GeorgyGirlNYC wrote.

"Disaster porn selfies?" Liane Carter tweeted.

Meanwhile, the search for the two missing men — 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa and 27-year-old Moises Locon — continued over the weekend, as emergency workers with cadaver dogs searched piles of rubble by hand. Fire officials said the grim task could take a week of 24-hours-a-day work to sift through the buildings' rubble.

The New York Post blasted the selfie-stick women on its front page Sunday under the headline "Village Idiots."

Cover of the New York Post, March 29, 2015. (New York Post)

"I just found myself agreeing with a NY Post headline, may have to lie down," Alan Howard wrote. "But what idiots!"

While they were perhaps the most glaring example of rubbernecking an active search-and-rescue operation, they weren't the only ones.

According to Gothamist, one woman posed for an Instagram photo in front of the site "flashing a smile, a peace sign, and [noting] in her caption that this is the 'scene of the accident.'" She later deleted it.

(Instagram via Gothamist)

Of course, this isn't the first time the site of a tragedy has been turned into a tourist attraction.

From Gettysburg to Ground Zero, "disaster tourism" has drawn millions of people across generations to places with dark histories.

But in recent years, the time between tragedy and tourism has gotten shorter. Tornado-ravaged neighborhoods in Joplin, Mo., the Boston Marathon bombing sites, and even the sign outside Sandy Hook Elementary School became tourist destinations long before any public memorials were established.

That, combined with social media's selfie craze, has created opportunities for plenty of questionable snapshots.

In July, an Alabama teenage girl sparked outrage by taking a smiling selfie at Auschwitz.

She's not alone. There's even a Tumblr — Selfies at Serious Places — dedicated to documenting the phenomenon.

According to J. John Lennon, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University who coined the phrase "dark tourism," those who visit such sites may be motivated by "a desire to experience the reality behind the media images" they see on television, raising ethical issues between visitors, victims and local residents.

Indeed, some residents in the East Village neighborhood have posted signs asking gawkers to stay off their stoops in a plea for privacy.

“This is a tragedy. Not a tourist attraction,” one sign reads. “Show some respect."