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.
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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?
Well, it was probably another finger but nobody is hosting an image of the incident anywhere… (source)
Is this fine fair? Here are some exactly similar cases to help you decide a fair punishment:
* Zach Randolph (basketball, USA) was fined $133.333
* Mark van Bommel (football, Germany) was fined EUR6,200
* Michael Vick (American football, USA) was fined $10.000
* Ron Artest (basketball, USA) was fined $10,000
* Natasha Zvereva (tennis, Wimbledon) was fined $1,000
* Juan Pablo Montoya (NASCAR, USA) was fined $10,000
More on fines and jailtime for gestures…
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.
Here is one of the nicest ‘Fingers in camouflage’ I have ever seen on video.
Offside Bundesliga: When confronted Lehmann said: “It’s nonsense. I’ve never done anything like that”. It supposedly happened after one of Lehmann’s risky trademark excursions outside of the box, during the Germany – Cyprus match on Saturday (4-0). The crowd in Hannover started Robert Enke chants. Enke happens to be Hannover’s goalkeeper and Jogi Löw’s current third choice behind Lehmann and Hildebrand.
Lehmann, whose workout was also a bit ambiguous for some, has shown himself a true master of the camouflaged gesture. Playing into people’s increased sensitivity he manages to insult those he wants to insult, while he can claim innocence in public. Bravo, a perfect grasp of the perception of insults.
Much better than Joe Nedney, who got a $7.500 fine (which is average, see these other fines for similar offences) for his lousy camouflage attempt:
Clearly the man is scratching his head (source)
The only examples I have of an even more subtle camouflage is when a man painted an abstract work of art, a huge cactus, on the side of his house facing his (complaining) neighbors. They were highly offended, but he got away with it (and eventually removed it).
Giving the finger to the police, it remains an interesting case. Earlier I wrote that the Dutch police had booked and fined a man for it, which was overturned in court by a judge.
Now, a similar thing has happened in Mobile, Alabama (USA). Philly.com brought the news: Mobile Appeals $3K Payment Over Gesture.
MOBILE, Ala. – The city of Mobile is appealing a judge’s decision to award $3,000 to a motorist who was arrested for making an obscene hand gesture to a police officer. City attorney Ashton Hill said Wednesday the city is seeking to have Addison DeBoi’s civil suit heard in circuit court.
On July 31, District Court Judge Michael McMaken ruled in favor of DeBoi in his wrongful arrest suit and ordered the police department to pay $3,000.
DeBoi, 56, was arrested by Officer Bristol Hines on Sept. 2, 2005, on a charge of disorderly conduct after he made a hand gesture while the two men were in their vehicles. He was acquitted last year and sued the city for $10,000 in damages, citing time lost from work, the threat of losing his engineering job , which requires a government security clearance , and the embarrassment of being put in jail.
In awarding him $3,000, the judge said police officers must have “thicker skin” than the general public.
The rulings by the judges in the Netherlands and Alabama are along the same lines: the police should be less sensitive about being insulted. Unfortunately, being sensitive to insults is probably required if you do not want your authority challenged. Sensitivity lies at the heart of the perception of insults, which is a very subtle process. If the police are instructed to ‘not be too sensitive’ it probably greatly hinders their functioning. After all, we all rely on their judgment in all sorts of situations regarding aggression, violence, or misconduct, which all require a policeman to rely on his personal perception of other people’s behavior. Why can’t we rely on them to judge whether someone was ‘insulting’?
On the other hand, I was once taught how to referee a football game by none other than Mario van der Ende (a well known referee in Holland). He said that verbal abuse was always flying around on the pitch, most of it directed at him. He recommended to pretend not to hear it the first time (tempers can fly). A second time he would rebuff the perpetrator with a sneer or mocking insult of his own. Only if that wouldn’t take care of it, a booking (yellow card) would be given. I think it made him one of the most respected referees in the competition.
Maybe respect is gained as much from restraint in handing out punishment as it is from punishment itself.
ps. I just finished this post when I saw that the UK police gave a man a 80 pound fine for giving the finger to a speed camera (and/or the cops operating it). I hope Simon Thompson (a respected citizen and school headmaster) will fight the decision, and let it go to court. I wonder whether the UK judge will follow the above examples from Alabama and the Netherlands.
Sunday the French will cast their final votes and get a new president: either Sarkozy or Royal. On the big final TV debate there was one ‘gesture’ that received considerable attention. Segolene pointed her finger repeatedly at Sarkozy while accusing him of something.
Watch out for the scene that starts around 4:00 in this video and lasts for a couple of minutes (or at 6:50 in case of counting back in time). In her main accusation Mme Royal first points her finger about 14 times, then makes a wave-away gesture three times and continues with another 5 or 6 angry points.
MSN: The highlight came as Ms Royal said it was scandalous that Mr Sarkozy could talk with a tear in his eye of giving handicapped children an enforceable right to schooling, when his government had scrapped a similar measure she had introduced as schools minister. The centre-right favourite replied: “Calm down. Don’t point your finger at me like that. I don’t know why Ms Royal, usually so calm, has lost her nerve…You have shown how easily you get angry. But to be president of the republic carries heavy responsibilities.” Ms Royal hit back, saying: “Not when there is injustice. There is some anger that is perfectly healthy.”
A more literal translation for good measure:
CNN: Highlights from the showdown: SARKOZY: “Calm down, don’t point at me with your finger like that.” … ROYAL: “No, I won’t calm down.” SARKOZY: “To be president you have to be calm.” ROYAL: “Not when there is injustice. There is anger that is perfectly healthy… I won’t allow the immorality of political speeches to gain the upper hand.” SARKOZY: “I don’t know why Madame Royal, who is usually calm, has lost her cool.” ROYAL: “I have not lost my cool, I’m angry. It’s not the same, don’t be contemptuous, Mr Sarkozy.” … SARKOZY: “I am not calling into question your sincerity, Madame Royal, don’t call into question my morality. And with that, Madame, the dignity of the presidential debate will be preserved. “But at least it’s served one purpose, which is to show that you get angry very quickly, you go off the rails very easily, Madame. A president is someone who has important responsibilities.”
I saw an old debate between Francois Mitterand and Giscard d’Estaing on TV in 1981. A similar situation arose. The socialist claimed the moral high ground and the conservative said that Mitterand did not have the monopoly on compassion: “Vous n’avez pas le monopole du coeur”. It was an important moment. Maybe this small scene will be remembered as well?
I agree with some of the comments on YouTube that the Americans have a strange fear of the finger. They will not even show it unscrambled in this video clip. In general US media do not show pictures of people flipping the bird or making what they feel are insulting or obscene gestures.
I believe that the finger is not really obscene, but in most cases a gesture of defiance. It can also be a playful gesture of outsmarting someone or being smug to the competition, as it is in this case, which is related to defiance.
But there is hardly ever any sexual connotation at all. Nor is there always an insult. Unless you feel insulted by the open defiance. Perhaps some people simply cannot stand other people showing their defiance. Do they have difficulty accepting gestures of defiance? Somehow this is turning into something alltogether too much political and too close to current events.
The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek possibly faces a fine for giving the finger to another Czech politician KSÄŒM Deputy VladimÃr KonÃÄ?ek, who was offended by the gesture and filed a complaint.
Politicians, always trying to express their opinions carefully? (source)
(Prague Monitor) Topolánek unfurled an erect middle finger 2 February when opposition deputies complained about cabinet members’ absence from the parliamentary session. He later maintained that the gesture was directed at Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek (KDU-ÄŒSL) and was intended to communicate, “You’re number one.” KonÃÄ?ek rejected the PM’s explanation. “Deputy Topolánek performed the gesture behind my back in my direction. I have been offended and I want to instigate a disciplinary procedure,” KonÃÄ?ek wrote in his complaint to the committee.
It’s not often you hear such a blatant denial of the insult intended, though it reminds me of Mick Bates. Usually people try to pass it off as innocent jest. But Topolánek’s explanation that he meant to say “you’re number one” is outright hilarious. I can think of a hundred ways of gesturing that someone is number one, OK, a Top Gun, an Ace, or my best buddy, but the digitus impudicus (known throughout the galaxy) is not one of them, I am afraid. I wonder what the sanction will be this time?
It is thoroughly depressing that the man who is himself the most notorious finger giver on Earth is also a high profile receiver of the same insult. Yet another first place for the planet’s most hated, powerful, unbelievable executive manager; self-styled commander in chief of the armies of the West; the captain that laughs in the face of the dark hordes from the East: President George W. Bush.
Ricky Martin is now making headlines (VivirLatino, BBC, ABC, and countless copies) defending his action of giving the finger as he sang about Bush in a song in front of a big audience. Careful, Ricky, I can recall a bus driver getting fired over insulting the B that would be Big.
Latin Lover or Hero of Peace? (source)
Mr. Martin explains that he is against war, that Bush is making (or actually promulgating) war, and should therefore be condemned.
Well I guess that’s another way to interpret the gesture: Instead of saying “fuck off” or “go fuck yourself” Ricky Martin uses it to say “I condemn your behavior”. But I guess anyone who feels wordy enough to say ‘promulgate’ to the US masses, can get away with stretching the meaning of a gesture a bit. Funny, nobody seems to be hosting a picture or a video of the event. Anyone?