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Category: World Leaders & Terrorists Page 1 of 2

Gun gesture not so innocent after all

In the news today in the UK Daily Mail:

Brother of ‘hoodie’ who mocked David Cameron with a gun gesture in 2007 has been shot in the legs after a doorstep attack (link)

Now, this is a sad story about a young man who was named in the media, Ryan Florence, see my previous post here. At the time it seemed like it was a fairly childish gesture that people overreacted to. Perhaps I was wrong. It turns out both he and his brother are involved in illegal gun posession and now his brother has been shot in both of his legs…

The infamous gun gesture aimed at then prime minister David Cameron

M. Obama and Sembiring: The Handshake that Shook Indonesia

In the news today, another wonderful gesture story. An Indonesian politician, Tifatul Sembiring, shook hands with Michelle Obama. Sembiring is a conservative Muslim who states that he should not touch women who aren’t related to him (he avoided doing so while meeting Tsunami victims for example). Sembiring quickly tried to spin the story via Twitter and said:

I tried to prevent [being touched] with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me [so] we touched.

Here are a couple of video’s for you to see for yourself…

At first glance, it looks Sembiring doesn’t have much of a point, but I am actually inclined to grant him his point anyway, though not entirely. Here’s why: Michelle Obama can be seen to initiate the handshake, as she raises her arm and hand towards him (although it is not very clearly visible). At that point, Sembiring is already ‘forced’, in a way, to respond, or otherwise, if he left her hand hanging there without taking it, he might cause an awkward situation and possibly a loss of face for her, for him or both.

There is however a counterargument: Sembiring appears to quickly glance down just before the handshake which Michelle Obama could have seen as a cue to initiate a handshake. He is also in a posture that is open to shaking hands, probably caused by just shaking her husband’s hand, with hands available and an inviting demeanor. She may be looking for such cues if she is sensitive to the issue of shaking or not shaking hands.

It would be interesting to know if she avoided shaking hands with some other conservative Muslems in the line, or that she simply shook all their hands? The man to the left of Sembiring appears to do a better job of avoiding the handshake, by keeping his hands to his side and by looking mostly at pres. Obama’s face. As far as I can tell, Michelle Obama does not (try to) shake hands with that man.

So Sembiring’s mistake, if you want to call it that, might not be that he took her hand and shook it, but that he invited the initiating of the handshake through his behaviour (his eye gaze, and his posture). And then again, if you just shook hands with the US president, would you be strong enough to control your body language to such a degree?

Is Obama just fidgeting or giving the finger?

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?

Royal Points Finger at Sarkozy

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?

Young Blair’s Wanker Gesture Cover-Up

Here’s a bit of world news for you: Prime Minister Blair of the UK was a bit of a rascal in his youth and student days. Well, good for him, you might think, and I hope the Britons will do the same. Specifically, it turns out that he made a crude or lewd gesture in a photo of his student club.

Blair makes wanker gesture
Can you spot Blair and his obscene gesture? (source)

The funny thing is that it was kept secret until now. Some people knew, but the picture was released with the gesture removed (by retouch), or in another case only the top half was published. As to the meaning of the gesture; I assume it can mean wanker, though that gesture is usually made with a wanking motion (which, if present, was not captured in this photo of course). But whom is he calling a wanker? I think he is making the gesture in a more general joking way. He boasts his lack of regard for decorum, saying perhaps something like “what a bunch of wankers we are all together”, or “look at me being the most daring of my company of rich brats”. Anyone else care to comment?

Ryan Florence arrested over childish gun gesture at Cameron

A young guy called Ryan Florence was arrested today after making a ‘gun gesture’ at English politician David Cameron (see Metro). Strangely enough, he seems not to have been arrested for the gesture. He is charged with possession of cannabis… after they searched his house… (because of what?).

Ryan Florence makes a gun gesture
Boy, did he pick the wrong guy to fake a gun! (source)

It makes me speculate that David Cameron is a sore man, who cannot take the guy’s gesture as lightly as it was probably made and set the police on him. The trouble of being earnest. Anyway, a fellow blogger called Gavin Corder has written an excellent post on the event and the gesture involved. I tend to agree with his analysis that the media have create a hype and a fuss over nothing.

Czech PM Topolanek Denies Finger

The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek possibly faces a fine for giving the finger to another Czech politician KSÄŒM Deputy Vladimír KoníÄ?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.” KoníÄ?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,” KoníÄ?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?

Update 22 feb: Czech PM Topolánek not fined, but reprimanded for obscene gesture

Merkel Shrugs Bush’s Massage Off

It has become a bit of a classic, so here’s president Bush rubbing the shoulders of bundeskanzler Angela Merkel at the G8, last summer.

(for higher quality images, see this slideshow)

This bit of cross-atlantic communication between Bush and Merkel comes fairly close to a cultural misunderstanding.

Yet I do not think Bush’ gesture (giving a shoulder rub) was misinterpreted. I would say that giving a shoulder rub (or quick massage) is a gesture of closeness, saying it is okay to let your guard down. This can be accepted by the receiver, who is then however in a bit of an underdog position. They both seem aware of this.

Merkel, however seems surprised and her response is clearly one of not accepting. Instead of undergoing the shoulder rub and all its implications, she puts her hands up and smiles uneasily. To me this indicates she tries to make a compromise between shrugging him off and letting him save face.

Kofi Annan Gesture Collage

Kofi Annan has been the Secretary-General of the United Nations since 1997 and will stop at the end of this year. You can read about his accomplishements in his Bio or at Wikipedia.

What concerns me are of course his gestures. How does he gesture when he is talking, addressing a crowd, or attending a meeting?

One of his last speeches, December 10 in the UK.

It think I can safely say Mr. Annan is not a big gesturer. He seems very much in control of his gestures. In fact, his entire bearing, his speaking as well as his gesturing always appear thoughtful and studied, though not in a boring way. His most frequent gesture? Kofi Annan often folds his hands together, either with the fingers of two flat hands opposed or with the fingers intertwined (whenever he makes reference to ‘together’ I think).

One more thing: Over the years there have been countless headlines featuring ‘Kofi Annan’ and ‘gesture’. These were almost exclusively about him making ‘a gesture of goodwill’, ‘a gesture of confidence’, or ‘a gesture of support’. In other words, he often spoke words that were perceived by the general public as communicating more than just the literal meaning. People paid attention to the message and the attitude underlying his words and actions. In this sense he resembles the Pope.

Rita Verdonk Pouts her Lips

The lip-pout (see the Nonverbal Dictionary) is a near universal sign of sulkiness. In the Netherlands our minister Rita Verdonk was stripped from her responsibility for immigration (a topic on which she is a notorious hawk) after the elections brought about a leftish majority for a general pardon. During the press conference she displayed a nice example of pouting. Although I think it is mixed with lip-compression which is more anger-related. Perhaps she has trouble deciding whether she is angry or disappointed?

(sources: GeenStijlNonverbal Dictionary)

Many of the nonverbal cues in the dictionary of David B. Givens are explained in neurological terms, and tied to emotional states. That gives them a halo of uncontrollability and universality. I am not too sure about that. I think we can definitely pout or purse or lips whenever we want to as an intentional display of feelings (that we may or may not actually have). In that case it is a gesture. Whether we can stop our lips from pouting when we are disappointed is another matter, but I would be surprised if we couldn’t. In that sense, not pouting or sulking when we are disappointed can be a gesture as well. If Rita would not pout it would be a gesture of statesmanship. A sign that she can function as a minister, disregarding her personal opinions on matters and carrying out democratic policies. But then again, she may actually wish to display this angry pouting hoping to generate sympathy. Perhaps she is working the crowds for the next elections?

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