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Not so funny after all

Photo of a child practising lockdown drill on a toilet bowl strikes at the heart of US gun culture

A photo of a sombre-looking three-year-old girl balancing precariously on a toilet bowl has gone viral, hammering home the grim reality of America's violent gun culture.

Her mother - Ms Stacey Wehrman Feeley from Michigan - said she initially snapped the shot because she thought it was funny.

"I was going to send it to my husband to show what our mischievous little three-year-old was up to. However, the moment she told me what she was doing, I broke down," she said in a Facebook post that has since been shared more than 40,000 times and attracted 5,600 comments.

The young girl was practising for a lockdown drill, in the event that a gunman attacks her pre-school.


Her mother took this shot because she initially thought it was funny. But as the three-year-old explained what she was doing – practising for a lockdown drill, in
 the event that a gunman attacks her pre-school – Ms Wehrman Feeley broke down. PHOTO: STACEY WEHRMAN FEELEY/FACEBOOK

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She has to remain quiet to avoid attracting attention, and stand on the toilet seat in case the gunman stoops down to see if there is anyone in the stalls.

"At that moment, all innocence of what my three-year-old possessed was gone," said Ms Wehrman Feeley in an impassioned plea. "Politicians - take a look. (These children) will live their lives and grow up in this world based on your decisions."

Ms Wehrman Feeley goes on to discuss the various ways the issue of gun violence might be tackled, and urged politicians to do more to arrest the deadly situation that has claimed so many lives. "I am not pretending to have all the answers, but unless you want your children standing on top of a toilet, we need to do something," she said.

Her post, which came in the wake of the Orlando shooting which left 49 dead, struck a chord.

Some netizens felt that the photo was staged, and that Ms Wehrman Feeley was pushing a political agenda to deprive Americans of the right to bear firearms.

Others, however, took on a more sympathetic tone. "It's sad but that's now a way of life," said Facebook user Jeannine Wade. "When I was that age, we practised earthquake drills and fire drills."

Another user pointed out the recent sit-in in the US Congress which failed to implement any further gun control measures in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

"So many lives have been lost, yet the situation hasn't improved. My heart goes out to you, but I don't think we will see any change, in this lifetime or the next," said Mr Malcolm Wade.

KNOCK, KNOCK


A sign in an Italian supermarket angered some netizens. It asks customers to “stop knocking on watermelons”. A Weibo user took offence, saying it was aimed at Chinese customers. PHOTO: WEIBO

A sign in an Italian supermarket has been the source of much consternation for netizens half a world away. It reads: "Dear customers, please stop knocking on the watermelons. They will not respond!!!"

While the sign did not seem to be directed at anyone in particular, one Weibo user decided to take offence and posted a photo of it on the popular microblogging platform. The user, allegedly a Chinese man living in Milan, felt that it was aimed at Chinese customers, as it is a customary practice among some to determine the ripeness of the fruit with a few knocks.

While the original post has since been taken down, the photo has been shared by Chinese media outlets Chengdu Commercial Paper and Sina Tianjin.

Many Weibo users expressed anger or poked fun at the situation under the hashtag "#The watermelon won't respond".

"We have been communicating with watermelons for thousands of years," said one user. "We can hear their life story with a simple knock."


PHOTO: CHENGDU COMMERCIAL PAPER

Another user said: "Knocking before eating is a sign of politeness. We are just being polite."

Some netizens, however, called for calm, rightly pointing out that watermelon knocking was a universal practice.

For instance, there are several online articles, most often recipes, about rapping the fruit gently dating as far back as 2005.

The BBC reported that a popular Russian cartoon, "Nu, pogodi!", included watermelon knocking as part of an episode that came out several years ago.

Others, however, were more cynical. "Nowhere in this sign is there any indication that it's directed at the Chinese," said one user. "It's just a ploy to get more traffic and hits."

FINDING AN AUDIENCE

Social media platform Instagram has announced that it now has 500 million users. Of these, more than 300 million use the photo-sharing app at least once a day, it said in a recent statement.

"People like to think selfies are new," said Instagram chief Kevin Systrom in an interview with the BBC last week.

"But if you look at the history of art, what's one of the largest formats?" he asked. "It's the portrait. Now everyone can be an artist."

Mr Systrom said part of the platform's success is due to the app's popularity among celebrities.

"Any celebrity knows that you can come on Instagram and have an audience," he added.

Pop star Selena Gomez, for instance, has 85.8 million followers, while Taylor Swift has 82.8 million.

Mr Systrom also spoke about flying to Rome to demonstrate the service to Pope Francis.

"My pitch to him was that Instagram was the new way of communicating," he said.

Pope Francis now has 2.6 million followers. Not bad for someone who started using the service about three months ago.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'Not so funny after all'. Print Edition | Subscribe