Flipping The Bird To M.I.A.’s Finger

- February 8th, 2012

I may be the only person in the world who didn’t see M.I.A. flip the bird to the Super Bowl multitudes.

 

Doesn’t bother me. I never heard of M.I.A. before and hopefully never will again now that’s she’s had her five seconds of fame.

 

What does bother me is that she somehow misappropriated a fine finger gesture with a noble heritage and used it for her own calculated, crass, publicity-seeking ends. Shame on you, M.I.A.

 

And shame on NBC and the NFL for apologizing about the gesture. They should apologize for giving M.I.A. a massive international platform on which to abuse the gesture. But “the finger” itself is blameless — honourable, in fact.

 

“Flipping the bird”  or “giving the finger” has been recorded as an expression of rude derision since the time of the ancient Greeks and was probably in use long, long before that.

One might almost say it’s a primordial instinct.

 

The_Finger

 

I’m not going to get into the origins of the gesture (and the related British “two-finger salute”) because, frankly, no one knows for sure where or how it came into common usage. And it just doesn’t matter.

v-sign-winston-churchill-fisherman

It’s one of those things that is so right and so righteous (when used properly, of course) that Moses may as well have brought it down from the mountain along with those tablets.

 

The key element that makes a bird properly flipped or a finger properly given is a sense of real, heartfelt outrage.

 

Angry-finger

Sometimes it’s joyously obscene or just plain frivolous, but usually giving the finger is so far away from any sexual connotation as to be essentially unconnected.

willie-nelson

 

At its best, the finger (or fingers, if you’re British) is a spontaneous gesture of such genuine and immediate sentiment that it cuts deeper than any word or weapon.

 

middlefinger

And it’s an underdog gesture. Flipping the bird is an expression of defiance, of resistance, of unbending, unwavering opposition to the target of the flippage.

 

It’s generally a gesture of the oppressed, not the oppressor, which is why it’s gotten an undeserved bad rap in “polite” (read “dominant”) society.

 

You’ll never see royalty or a president flip the bird.

bush-finger

 

middle-finger-obama

Oh, never mind.

 

But the fact remains that for the finger to be effective, it should be from the heart and express a deep, personal antagonism. Not a flash of irritable pique from a spoiled celebrity.

 

justin-bieber-middle-finger

Oh, never mind.

And you really can’t do rock ‘n’ roll in any of its forms without having at least one obligatory bird-flipping photo in your press kit.

billie-joe-armstrong-finger

70517-madonna

dan_hicks-1

tupac-finger

iggy-pop-middle-finger

lady-gaga-finger

 

KURT-COBAIN

Keith-Richards

Anybody (even a Godfather or a grandmother) can flip the bird — it’s the great equalizer (and it’s always at your fingertips when you need it).

marlon-brando-godfather-bird

granny

Now I’m going to show you a few photos, many of which you will have seen before, of various people flipping the bird in an appropriate matter. In most cases, I’ll tell you a little story with each photo.

realkid

Most people know this photo: It’s an Internet classic. What you probably don’t know is where the photo was taken and who the kid is.

 

Reuters photog Jasper Juinen made the image at the 2002 UEFA Cup soccer/football final between Holland’s Feyenoord Rotterdam and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in Feyenoord’s home stadium.

 

The kid is Mikey Wilson, then five years old, and he’s wearing a Feyenoord jersey so I think it’s safe to say Mikey’s flipping the bird to German fans on the other side of the stadium. Feyenoord won the match 3-2 over the favoured Germans, so maybe Mikey’s never-say-die attitude in the stands carried over on the pitch.

 

Steve-McQueen

I just like this shot of Steve McQueen giving the British two-finger salute in the 1971 racing film Le Mans.

Eva-Mendes

And I like this shot of actress Eva Mendes flipping a double eagle to someone in a restaurant. Actually I think the birds are meant for the photographer taking this picture and she’s just turning away from the camera. But it must have been interesting for the people (you can see one) sitting on the other side of glass to ponder why this beautiful angry stranger was gesticulating wildly at them.

 

Now let’s move on to fingers in the news.

 

Less than two weeks after the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster in 2001, New York City was again hit by terror attacks — this time in the form of bio-terrorism. Letters laced with deadly anthrax spores were mailed to newspapers and TV news organizations in New York and Florida.

 

A few weeks later, more anthrax letters were sent to the offices of U.S. congressmen. In all, 22 people were infected and five died.

 

This front-page photo from the New York Post shows editorial assistant Johanna Huden, the first person who contracted the skin form of anthrax on her finger when she opened the Post letter. It expressed the whole city’s defiance and determination in the face of repeated assaults by unknown, unseen terrorists.

anthrax_this

(The FBI investigation eventually focused on a U.S. government scientist, who killed himself as a result. The case was closed and no further anthrax attacks occurred — but we’ll never know for sure if Bruce Edwards Ivins was the perp.)

 

In a way Johanna’s finger flexing showed the same spirit of “carry on” as Churchill’s V-for-victory wartime gesture.

 

winston_churchill_two_finger

 

And then there was the London Sun’s 1990 response to Jacques Delors when the then-president of the European Union suggested that one central EU government should supercede Britain’s Parliament and other national governments.

 

Sun-1991-Up-yours-Delors

 

The front page was the subject of a number of complaints to Britain’s Press Council (mainly regarding the Sun’s perceived anti-French racism). But, as the BBC later said: “(T)he now defunct Press Council cleared the newspaper after (the Sun) said it reserved the right to use vulgar abuse whenever it felt it justified in the interests of the British people.”

 

Hear, hear. Three cheers for “vulgar abuse” in defence of the realm.

 

But my favourite bird-flipping photo is this spontaneous shot of Johnny Cash.

 

johnny-cash-middle-finger

 

Here’s what I had to say about Johnny’s bird in an unrelated Nosey Parker blog post from last August:

 

“This iconic picture was taken in 1969 by rock photog Jim Marshall at one of Johnny’s San Quentin prison concerts. Marshall later said he told Cash ‘John, let’s do a shot for the warden’ and this is what he got.

 

“Cash used this photo for an ad in Billboard (below) a couple of decades later as a back-handed ‘thank you’ to the Nashville music establishment and country radio after he won the 1997 Best Country Album Grammy without their help or support.”

Johnny-Billboard

 

So no, M.I.A., you can’t have the bird. It’s not yours to claim and never will be.

 

On behalf of Johnny Cash, little Mikey Wilson and every other person who has flipped the bird and meant it, who has given the finger to tyranny or tedium and lived with the consequences, I reclaim the bird.

But now, on the count of three, we’re all giving the bird to you, M.I.A. Enjoy.

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Oh, what the heck — let’s look at some more photos of celebrities flipping the bird (some in fun, some in annoyance at the invasion of privacy, some simply because they have fingers) just to completely remove any modicum of chance that M.I.A. still comes to mind when you hear the phrase “flipping the bird.”

joan-rivers-middle-finger-

Joan Rivers

madonna

Madonna again (heck it was her show that M.I. A. stole, so I think she deserves extra space here)

ashton-kutcher

Ashton Kutcher

mickey-rourke

Mickey Rourke

queen-latifah

Queen Latifah

 

avril-lavigne-bird

Avril Lavigne

 

kirstie-alley-gives-the-finger

Kristie Alley (really, she’s still a celeb)

HeidiKlum

Heidi Klum (long before she met Seal, so it’s not aimed at him)

 

ozzy-osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne

rihanna

Rihanna

jodie-foster-flipping-bird

And finally Jodie Foster, just because she’s got the longest middle finger I’ve ever seen — a finger meant to flip a bird. Actually, I just noticed most of the women here have longer middle fingers than the men. But that’s a subject for another day.

 

 

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