NPR asks an intriguing question today. With so many — of such varied backgrounds, ages, and degrees of fame — using their middle fingers to express discontent, are we simply growing numb to the shock value of the bird? Does it need a replacement, stat? In the last few months, the gesture has been utilized by former NYC mayor David Dinkins, a BBC weatherman, copious numbers of celebrities, even maybe-hipster/tax-evading ex-day trader Marcos Esparza Bofill.
Other famous bird-shooters: Zac Efron (flipping off cancer!), George W. Bush, Kristen Stewart, William Shatner, Johnny Cash, Nelson Rockefeller, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake…who hasn’t given the bird, really?
And so, what was once a shocking vulgar gesture is now rather commonplace, maybe even goofily endearing or folksy. Shock value: -1. Finger exercise level: 2.
But how, then, do we express our flash-in-the-pan rage at being cut off by another car on the highway, insulted from afar, or nearly run over by a cabbie who ignores a pedestrian walk signal?
Mark L. Knapp, professor emeritus of communications at the University of Texas at Austin and a longtime chronicler of human behavior, says, “If a group of people become inured to the finger gesture … my guess is that you’d have to give the finger with more force or make a dramatic facial expression to go with it.”
I.e., up the bird ante! In case you haven’t seen the BBC gaffe, it’s pretty funny. We suggest the “new bird” be that weird face-rubbing motion the weatherman makes post flip-off. Nicely self-aware, but also creepy, and vaguely sexual. Perfect for these F.U. times!