Beck Eleven: Should Middle Earth embrace the middle finger?

With so many emojis to choose from, is it any wonder Beck sent the wrong one?

With so many emojis to choose from, is it any wonder Beck sent the wrong one?

OPINION: I've taken on a short contract doing publicity for the New Zealand International Film Festival. I've always thought publicity would be a terrible role for me because I assume one must be nice to people all the time – which is not something I would put in the "strengths" column of my CV.

Nonetheless, I am giving it a whirl and have fallen at the first hurdle.

This week, to signify I had received a text message from a reporter, I replied with a single emoji – the middle finger. This is actually Rex Tillerson's fault (blaming other people is something I could list in the "strengths" column of my CV.

Emoji confusion goes mainstream in The Emoji Movie.
Pascal Le Segretain

Emoji confusion goes mainstream in The Emoji Movie.

As you may be aware, the United States Secretary of State visited our country this month where he was treated to a sea of protesting middle fingers. And because this was in the news here and abroad, I took to text messaging friends with a symbol of a little hand flipping the bird.


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Steven Joyce was addressing media at Waitangi when a sex toy was hurled at him by a protester.

Steven Joyce was addressing media at Waitangi when a sex toy was hurled at him by a protester.

This naughty electronic digit was in my most-used list so whilst aiming to send a smiley face emoji, my real life fleshy finger slipped and hit the offensive gesture instead. So that's charming isn't it? I remain professional to the very last.

The fingery protest started me wondering how this gesture became known as an insult. I remember being a kid at primary school when putting two fingers up seemed so terribly taboo that you'd look at your own hands and giggle until you coughed up the lunchtime jam sandwich. The thought of giving anyone the middle finger was too outrageous to even contemplate. I'm sure Mum would have bitten mine off if she'd seen me do it.

There are various theories on the history of the bird, though most historians agree it was used in ancient Greek and Roman times. Romans called it digitus impudicus – the shameless, indecent or offensive finger.

A BBC article from 2012 quoted respected anthropologist Desmond Morris as saying: "It's one of the most ancient insult gestures known.

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"The middle finger is the penis and the curled fingers on either side are the testicles.

"By doing it, you are offering someone a phallic gesture. It is saying, 'this is a phallus' that you're offering to people, which is a very primeval display."

So was this an ancient gang sign? A quick way of flashing the male carrot and spuds without having to drop your trousers, then slowly do them up again before you were left for dead, a spear through your exposed nethers?

To be honest, now I know it's supposed to be a ballbag, I'm inclined to keep my fingers balled into a fist.

However, I have long been a fan of creative middle finger flipping. There is the classic holding up of all five fingers, then pretending to shoot each one down until only the middle one is left upright. Or putting your thumb in your mouth, fist clenched, and blowing your thumb like a trumpet as the middle finger slowly rises. Such wonderful japes.

Meanwhile, although it was decried by New Zealand politicians, the thought of a load of protesters giving a visiting official the bird seems harmlessly delicious. I thoroughly enjoy a bit of good clean Kiwi protesting fun. We should never forget a chocolate lamington landing atop the head of an ACT Party candidate in 2009. Or the flying dildo incident suffered by Stephen Joyce last year. Or indeed activist Dun Mihaka mooning Prince Charles and Princess Di during a royal visit in 1981.

Well, we are known as Middle Earth – we might as well embrace its capital city, Middle Finger. 

 - Stuff


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