Various enterprises and personal interests, such as Man-Machine Interaction (MMI), gesture studies, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Virginia is for Gangsters and Lovers

Some agency spent about $400.000 on a ad campaign featuring among others, this picture:

Virginia is for lovers

My first impression was that it shows a very happy and very busy young lady. It’s not often one sees someone simultaneously stamping grapes for wine with one foot, perform a balancing act and still have time to make a perfect heart gesture: bravo! What a nightmare photo shoot that must have been. Or a good bit of photoshopping.

But the news (see Fox) is:

“The Virginia is for Lovers “Live Passionately” campaign will remove images of models making the hand gesture, one of several signs associated with the Gangster Disciples, Virginia Tourism Corp. officials said Friday. The gesture shows thumbs and index fingers formed into a heart.”

I looked up the Gangster Disciples, and I checked Gang Signs, and more Gang Signs, and the most complete Gangster Hand Sign Index, where I found the following sign indeed shown as one of the Black Gangster Disciples:

heart gesture from gangster disciples

We have a match. Now the question remains: is it a wise decision to remove the image from the ad campaign? It is hard to judge from a distance. However, I do not think it was necessary, because it is nearly impossible that actual misunderstandings would arise from the use of the picture. Given the clarity of the image and the text on it, I cannot imagine anyone believing that this lady is flashing a gangster sign. Any gesture that is used as a conventional semiotic sign, or symbol, is what people choose it to be. If the producers of this campaign and the public that is adressed with it both agree that in this context it conveys something like ‘love/heart/passion’, then so be it. Other people in other contexts or other countries are free to attach their own meaning to the gesture.

But, even though I can see no principled reason to scratch the image, it is understandable to do so anyway. Personally, I do not find it a very good picture, nor do I think that introducing a special gesture for a fairly complex message is going to be a succes (do they actually think people are going to adopt it in some way?). And why grant a bunch of gangsters a good laugh if you can avoid it (although they are probably already laughing their heads off from all the free publicity). In that sense, it is damage control to remove the picture.

The best thing might have been to completely ignore the complaints and turn a blind eye to the gangster’s sign. In that way, the gesture might have even been seen as ridiculing the gangster sign. Anyone flashing it could be mocked as a supporter of the campaign ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ instead of being a hardcore gang member. I admit, it probably wouldn’t work that way, but it would have been better than granting the gangster disciples this PR victory.

Other post on MS13 and gang gestures.


Gesture Watch from Georgia Tech


US Police vs. The Finger


  1. S

    Look closer. In addition to the “flying heart” there is also a pitchfork pattern on her blouse-the pitchfork being a BGD symbol. Her right leg is up, and perhaps another innocent coincidence, but east coast BDG members identify themselves and geographical affiliation by either rolling up their right pant leg, standing with the right leg propped up on a wall, leg lifted, etc. But don’t just take my ord for it, do your own research as well.

    My question is: Is everything that is visually available in the poster a mere coincidence with gang symbolism, or orchestrated by somebody that knew what they were doing?

  2. Jeroen

    Hi S,

    Well, you made me doubt my first impression. I checked your suggestions: the pitchfork appears to be a BGD symbol. However it certainly doesn’t stand out much in the picture (although it is definitely there for anyone who wants to see it). The right leg symbolism is something I failed to find any reference to on the web. Do you have a link or reference for me?

    If you’re right about the right leg symbolism then I think you may actually be on to something here. As said in the original post, I think it would be advisable to not use the image anymore anyway, and that remains the same. But it might also be interesting to see who was involved in the design and check for any possible BGD affiliations.

  3. Dice

    My name is Royal Dice. I am the leader of the King Cobras. KC. We ride wit the Folk Nation and that pic definately has symbols of the Folk Nation. ROYAL DICE

  4. I’ve actually lived in Virginia for a while. I personally didnt experience much hostility but maybe that’s because i was there over 10 years ago 😀
    I was living in Woodbridge. It’s a small city within virginia. Everything was alright but obviously times have changed and there’s more bullying/gang activity everywhere in the world.
    Sad to hear that there’s a lot of gang activity in virginia now. I was thinking of going back but hey, i guess i wont now XD

  5. @Royal Dice
    Thanks for the info.

    More about Folk Nation (or at wikipedia).

  6. The Virginia is for Lovers Live Passionately campaign will remove images of models making the hand gesture, one of several signs associated with the Gangster Disciples, officials with the Virginia Tourism Corp. said. The gesture shows thumbs and index fingers formed into a heart.

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