Another nice gesture story in the news, although, sadly, it is once again about a performer giving the finger. This time it is the artist M.I.A..
M.I.A. giving everyone the finger during Superbowl 46 (Source BBC news – Getty Images)
Wikipedia (always good with the bare facts):
While performing with Madonna at the Super Bowl 46, M.I.A. gave the middle finger to a camera just before a cutaway during the halftime show. The gesture came during a performance of Madonna’s new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” At the end of her lines, M.I.A. sang, “I don’t give a ***t.” The incident prompted apologies to be issued by NBC and the NFL.
One somewhat interesting element of the story is that apparently the gesture wasn’t picked up by the people responsible for detecting inappropriate stuff in the ‘delay system’. Well, it is fairly quick, but still easy to see. But then again, there is so much to see on the stage that perhaps they missed because they were looking at other things.
At my new workplace, TNO, we had a modest celebration today: Two robot projects in which we will be cooperating have been approved by the EC (three cheers for the authors of the proposals RL and MN!). One of those is concerned with robotics in healthcare, which brings me to the next video:
From Gecko Systems (check out more movies) comes this would-be personal robot nurse. The people in this movie appear slightly naïve in their childish enthusiasm but it’s nevertheless good to have such glimpses of the future. Who knows, perhaps you and I will be nursed by such machines? A thought I find somewhat disturbing, I must confess.
One family’s experience with a robot companion for their Mother.
In the news today, a story about the trademark gesture of a baseball pitcher named Brian Wilson.
This is apparently Brian Wilson's Arm Cross (source)
And from another angle:
Wilson's Arm Cross again (source)
Extra Baggs posted a nice interview with Wilson about the meaning behind his gesture, and it is apparently an odd mixture of something about his christian religiousness, something about his late father, and something about a brand of clothing. Wilson’s explanation is rather lengthy and not entirely fit to read just before lunch (for those with strong appetites: here), so here are the most important bits:
“One More Round is a clothing line [for martial arts fighters]. It has to do with the drive and determination that certain fighters have when their backs are against the wall… And to me, that relates to what I do on the mound. In the ninth inning, your back is against the wall … one of the main things I do … is the crossing of the arms… on a T-shirt I wear underneath my jersey when I pitch. That’s just respecting the fighters. ”
“And also … when I cross my arms, I have my left hand in the fist and my right hand goes underneath pointing with my (index) finger … this finger represents one man. I’m that one person … The fist represents the power of the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost … So here’s the strength of God and the strength of man. And without him, I am nothing … But when I cross, I now have this one person with the strength of Christ, and I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me …
So until here, there is little about his dad in this explanation but elsewhere Wilson says that the gesture is also some sort of tribute to his late father. Well, why not? Let’s accept that he added one more element of meaning to what is after all his own personally invented gesture. And a marvellous gesture example it is, I must say. In itself, Wilson’s gesture creation is a nice tribute to humans’ ability to create symbols with highly complex meanings and communicate these to others.
Now, the story in the news is not so much about the gesture itself, but about another baseball player, named Casey Blake, who apparently got a little frustrated and derided the gesture by creating a mock version of it, which Wilson took as an insult. Teammates of Wilson caught Blake on photo, but I haven’t been able to dig it up on the net (anyone?).
Some commentators side with Wilson’s indignation, while others think he overreacts and shows weakness. Personally, I’ll add that I find Wilson is flaunting his personal beliefs in the aftermath of an emotionally charged game, at a moment in which he might better show himself a gracious winner. It has an air of rubbing it in, of “see, God was on my side”, or even worse, “look at me being all strong and victorious, it was all through God you know, you should try it”. Slightly distasteful. Can’t he just kiss a little cross or something if he wants to thank God or something?
I have previously witnessed many footballers getting fined (usually about 10000 euro) over giving the finger to either their own fans or the fans of the other side. But this is the first time I hear that a footballer might get jailtime over it. It is happening in Brazil, to Cristian Mark Junio Nascimento Oliveira, of the Corinthians. He is facing charges in for unsuitable behavior or lewd conduct or something like that, being prosecuted by the department of justice. Usually, footballers get the fine from their own club or from the national football league.
Ron Jans steekt middelvinger op. Dit gebeurde in de wedstrijd tegen Heerenveen.
And we have another case of a football coach giving the finger to the referee (see here and here for similar cases). The KNVB (the Dutch football organisation) is investigating the case (here). Undoubtedly, there will be some sort of reprimand or fine. But Jans has a lot of credit with the right people, so it will all blow over very rapidly. He has, after all, already apologised (here).
The funny thing about this case of flipping the bird is the way in which Jans tries to camouflage his insult. He follows it with some ‘I need to get warm’ arm flappings. Sadly, people are excellent at spotting gestures in a continuous stream of movement. Nobody will have had any trouble in seeing the finger. Movements that precede or follow a gesture do not hamper the perception of the gesture (see my own research on this, for example), nor can they serve as an effective cause for denial. Jans did not try to deny it and that would have been ridiculous.
Next time, Jans could take a hint from Jens Lehmann, who used a perfect finger camouflage and was able to deny it succesfully, while achieving his target.
Thanks to JL for these nice links to four strange gesture videos:
‘Nonviolent Gestures’ (comments are in Dutch)
As you can see in the fifth and last video these ‘gestures’ are part of a kind of hippie cult around the concept of nonviolent communication. Some people even created a Hyve for it (which is a Dutch version of Facebook).
Almost needless to say, I believe that our perceptual sensitivity to insults prevents this initiative to avoid ‘violent communication’ from succeeding. An insult is in the eye of the beholder and not in the message as such. If a non-violent communicator speaks hippie-talk to me, I will still be on the look-out for any disrespectful or derogatory undertones, and possibly end up feeling insulted anyway. Vice versa, I would much rather get a cheery finger from a card buddy if I just beat him in a game, then a solemn statement about his feelings. For all its good intentions, this nonviolent communication seems born out of frustration with humanity and a certain arrogance in thinking human nature could be improved with a few easy guidelines.
So, mister Rosenberg, please take your touchy-feely, softspoken message, stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine, and go **** yourself. Or should I say, I understand you have problems with fairly normal human communication, I see that you think you have found a better way for us, but I do not share your problem nor do I believe in your solution.
Ah well, perhaps I shouldn’t have written anything about it. If he reads my opinion he will probably be insulted anyway, no matter how I phrase it. Or he just thinks I am too dense to understand him. Or worse still, I am ‘part of the problem, not of the solution’.
Although the story of David Healy’s flute gesture is getting a little moldy it has generated enough discourse to deserve another mentioning here. The interesting thing about this flute gesture is how it is part of the history of the Northern Ireland sectarian conflicts. Sensitive catholic Irish republicans will get inflamed over the gesture while others have no idea what the problem is.
These flute bands on Orangist marches are what the gesture refers to.
Get a glimpse of the triumphalist nature of these marches
By coincidence I am currently reading ‘The Irish War’ by Tony Geraghty. He sketches a long and messy conflict which has gone on for more than 300 years. It is clear that these marches are of an inflammatory nature, and therefore a gesture that refers to them is also inflammatory. It is not just a merry band of flute-playing men. They celebrate Orangist protestant dominance in Northern Ireland at the expense of the catholic part of the population.
The conflict carried over to a Scottish football match called ‘the Old Firm’ between the Rangers (protestant) and Celtic (catholic), see this nice historical overview by the BCC. Many Irish people moved to Scotland and brought the conflict with them. Paul Gasoigne made the mistake of making this gesture while he played for the Rangers and paid a heavy fine of 20.000 pounds.
Paul Gascoigne made the same flute gesture during the old firm (Picture: BBC News)
David Healy was not playing for the Rangers, in fact I don’t think he ever did, but he is known as a Rangers fan. He is from Northern Ireland and he plays in their national side. However, in this game Healy was playing for Fulham (an English club) in a friendly match against Celtic, which sets the context for the gesture. Healy was ‘provoked’ by the Celtic fans who knew his sympathies and chanted ‘where were you on The Twelfth‘ (a reference to an important march on the twelfth of July). In response, he seems to have made this gesture somewhat jokingly. The strange thing is that he seems to be escaping the sort of fine Gascoigne got. Why is that? Was Gazza perceived as doing it to inflame Celtic supporters whereas Healy was just fooling around? I think many people will take it more seriously than that. As always happens with sportsmen making inappropriate gestures, Healy is now apologizing and his club is investigating. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fine came soon.
Update: I think an important difference between Healy and Gascoigne is that the latter played for the Rangers who were at that time trying to defuse a tense situation. Gascoigne’s gesture was hurting that effort.
Typically, people can see whether a movement is intended to communicate (a.k.a. a gesture) or whether the movement’s producer has some other intention, be it practical or just fidgeting. There are however plenty of examples where the movement is ambiguous: it could be a gesture but it could also be a meaningless incidental movement. Barack Obama produced such a movement during a speech. Watch and judge for yourself.
Did Obama just flip off Clinton or was he merely scratching his cheek?
Again, like in many other cases where the nature of a movement was debated, there is a potential insult to be considered. It is almost as if people are more sensitive to potentially insulting gestures then to other gestures. Some people, like Lehmann or Mr Wood even use this sensitivity to their advantage. They camouflage their insulting gesture and thus create ambiguity on purpose. Those who have a reason to feel offended are insulted by the ‘gesture’. Other people only see a cactus or someone scratching his head.
I would predict that if people must judge if a movement is intended to communicate they will do so more often when that would mean it is an insult than when that would mean it is some other gesture. (Question: Can you think of an experiment to test this prediction?)
BTW, there is a very interesting related paper on this topic from a psychiatric perspective:
Bucci, Sandra, Mike Startup, Paula Wynn, Amanda Baker, & Terry J. Lewin. (2008). Referential delusions of communication and interpretations of gestures. Psychiatry Research, 158(1), 27-34. (Scopus)
Gestures are an important aspect of non-verbal communication, but people with schizophrenia have poor comprehension of them. However, the tests of gesture comprehension that have been used present only scenes in which interpersonal meaning is communicated, though there is evidence that people with psychotic disorders tend to perceive communications where none were intended. Such mistakes about non-verbal behaviour are the hallmark of a subtype of delusions of reference identified as delusions of communication. Thus we hypothesised that patients with delusions of communication would tend to misinterpret incidental movements as gestures and, since delusions are often derogatory to the self, they would also tend to misinterpret gestures as insulting. Patients with acute psychotic symptoms (n = 64) were recruited according to a 2 × 2 design (presence vs. absence of delusions of communication by presence vs. absence of auditory hallucinations). They, and 57 healthy controls, were presented with 20 brief video clips in which an actor either made a well-known gesture or an incidental movement. After each clip, they selected one of four interpretations: a correct interpretation if a gesture had been presented; the interpretation of a different gesture; an insulting interpretation; no gesture intended (correct for incidental movements). The patients made significantly more errors of all kinds than the controls, perceived significantly more of the incidental movements as gestures, and selected significantly more insulting interpretations of the clips. These differences between patients and controls were almost wholly due to patients with delusions of communication. These results suggest that the difficulties that people with delusions of communication experience in understanding gestures can be explained, at least in part, by the misattribution of self-generated internal events to external sources.
Perhaps we all suffer from delusions of communication to some degree when we are in a situation where we expect to be insulted (rightly or wrongly). I know I always check for fingers when I feel I did something impolite in traffic. Don’t you?
The Wanker gesture is the second most often occuring gesture in the news, with giving the finger a mile in the lead. In third place is the ‘fuck-you’ forearm jerk. What do these have in common? They are insults, and unexpected insults are apparently very newsworthy.
The latest wanker case comes from the Austin, Texas, US…
From Keyetv.com: Travis County Court at Law #6 Judge Jan Breland put Adam Reposa into jail after he made what is described in court documents as “…a simulated masturbatory gesture with his hand while making eye contact with the Court…”
Mark van Bommel is a Dutch football player who plays for Bayern Munich. He is also a bit of a drama queen, who already supplied us with a decent little gesture scandal before. After already being fined 6200 euro for making a ‘fuck you’ gesture (forearem jerk) to the crowds at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium, he repeated the gesture (now dubbed ‘doing a Van Bommel’) in the final minutes against Hamburg, this time insulting the referee. This time he got an extra two match ban and a 15000 euro fine (compare other fines) What sort of fine would be enough to stop him?
Van Bommel’s little theatrical performance includes some sarcastic clapping. There is an interesting piece by Steve Tomkins on the correct and incorrect application of sarcasm. He also has some cases of football players clapping sarcastically. In a lovely cool sarcastic style Tomkins sets out to explain why sarcasm is not necessarily rude. If done correctly sarcasm can deliver venomous bites. The key lies in not overdoing what you say or how you gesture, and in the inclusion of a pinch of humour. Obviously, if your victim really did or said something stupid it will make sarcasm succeed easily (your victim can’t get angry because he is too busy being ashamed).
In this case, Van Bommel overdoes the sarcasm. First, the referee is always right, so he is free to get angry, and indeed he responds by showing the red card. In such a case one must leave room for innocent interpretations to hide behind. If one simply keeps a straight face and claps twice it can always be explained as saying ‘good call, ref!’. The fans in the stadium will understand the sarcasm but there will not be enough evidence to punish you. I think that in most cases even the slightest hint of sarcasm will be enough for other people to pick up the message. We humans are so sensitive to insults. Often the mere context will make a straightforward interpretation of an innocent phrase that is intended as sarcasm very unlikely.
Him: “did you watch the game yesterday?” (your team lost 2-0 to his, the bastard)
You: “yes, great game for the neutral spectators” (it was a teeth-grinding muddy fight)
Him: “we gave your lot a good whipping, hey?” (obnoxious little fella, everyone could tell the ref wrongly sent a man off after ten minutes)
You: “yes, a victory well deserved. They are really on fire these last few weeks aren’t they?” (they only had one win against a second division club and three losses)
Every knowledgeable bystander (or at least those you care about) will get your point from the context. But in comparison to your obnoxious colleague you appear to be gracious about it all. He may or may not spot your sarcasm but he has no good option to respond. He can either take your words literally and be a fool, or he can acknowledge your sarcasm and respond to the unspoken allegations (that it was an ugly match, an undeserved victory and a team that sucks anyway). The latter choice will have him on the defensive (“I thought it was a proper red card for hands”) in which case you can turn up the sarcasm (“of course, he should have stopped the ball with his genitals”).