The Timeless Satisfaction of the Middle Finger


Anyone who sits through enough public meetings knows the audience archetypes.

There are the single-issue visitors. There are the agitators who make a scene for attention and clicks. And there are the gadflies, the regular customers whose presence is so predictable you wonder if they should look into other hobbies. Woodworking, maybe? Birding?

I tease, but they're all needed to keep discourse sharp and leaders accountable. As a journalist who has gone to civic meetings for decades, I'd also attest that behavior has gotten more performative, with soundbites crafted to go viral. Without rules of engagement, your average city council or school board gathering can devolve into chaos or even violence.

As such, tempers boiled over recently when the outgoing mayor of Clearwater, Florida, Brian Aungst Sr., got into a middle finger flick-off from the dais. He traded salutations with an activist who has been heckling the council and posting footage to a monetized YouTube account. The heckler has called the council's rules of conduct unconstitutional. Those rules? No name-calling, interrupting or... yep, obscene gestures. This includes the impudent digit.

You can see the irony! Also, come on, the humor. Aungst was technically no longer mayor of the city when he let his birds fly, having gaveled the meeting to recess. That's kind of like a waitress ripping cigs in the diner on her 15-minute break.

But this mayor, who apologized, is hardly a trailblazer in the arena of wayward fingers. Nay, the longest finger has a rich history of political expression. In 2013, disgraced politician Anthony Weiner flipped one at a reporter. In perhaps the most famous example of capricious claws, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller flicked off dissidents at New York's Binghamton University in 1976. To this day, the bird is sometimes called "the Rockefeller Salute."

Humans have likely been issuing single-fingered greetings since the salad days of ancient Rome. Despite a meme that traverses the net periodically, the maneuver did not originate with 15th century French warriors threatening to cut off the middle fingers of English soldiers so they couldn't draw bows. That's a cool story, but the real intent is simply phallic, I'm sorry to say.

All these years later, the middle finger remains a real workman, clean and to the point, a smooth and efficient means of communication. It is fast, readily available to anyone in possession of the necessary digit. It offers no room for confusion or interpretation, no gray area. For instance, a skull emoji might mean 10 different things depending on the generation, but a middle finger always means @$&*%^@%#$^%#. It is not passive, merely aggressive. It is pure, it is tempting, and in this way, it endures.


I'm not condoning elected leaders flicking people off, no, not at all. An elongated phalange has never solved one problem. It's crass and low, hardly becoming of a role which requires a rubber resistance to barbs in poorly lit municipal buildings. One of the 6,000 reasons I will never go into politics! In this era where decorum has left the building like Elvis, manners and respect are a rare beast.

But, uh, I also get it? Leaders are human, and they're going to break sometimes. If we're being honest, there are few moves more spiritually satisfying than performing a solid solo.

Fear not, government leaders. There's a path to channel the joy of extended extremities while also exhibiting etiquette. Me, I like to flick people off in private, perhaps around a hallway or tucked safely under the steering wheel. The intended recipient never sees the gift, but I know I gave it. That is 80% of the value, much like Christmas.

Do you follow this humble advice, public officials? Sometimes, you're going to hit your emotional limit. We know this. You must simply learn to reach inside your pockets, unfurl your little friend, twist that baby back up into your fist and carry on. We're counting on you, times 10.


Stephanie Hayes is a columnist at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. Follow her at @stephhayes on Twitter or @stephrhayes on Instagram.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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