Everything has an origin, be it orthodox, obscure or even obscene. Gestures are no exception. Consider the occasion of Passover circa 66 AD, when God’s first commandment to the Jewish people required they mark the new moon. According to ancient historian Josephus’ recounting in The Jewish War, upon encountering a huge crowd celebrating the holiday, a Roman soldier, “pulled back his garment and, cowering down after an indecent manner, turned his breech to the Jews, and spake such words as you might expect upon such a posture.” Let’s not speak of said “spake” emanating from the orifice exposed during this first mooning. Instead, know that mayhem ensued as a riot broke out, inciting the Romans to a military response that killed thousands of pilgrims.
Is it any wonder mooning is punishable by law in some places? Luckily, in the modern era, violence is no longer associated with exposed backsides. Mooning is more likely to involve fevered soccer fans networks hope aren’t captured on camera. And then there is the “Bras d’honneur,” French for “arm of honor,” dating back to the 100 Years War when the French were intent on showing their reviled English rivals exactly where they could put their weaponry. My first sighting of this gesture came from one of my older Italian relatives which prompted my copycatting it to my parents and asking what it meant. Oops.
The most famous of gestures involves the raising of the middle finger and dates back to ancient Greece. As to its original Greek origins, let’s not go there and Google it if you must. Moving on in our history books, by the time the offensive gesture reached the Romans, it was cloaked in superstition and feared as a tool of black magic. Clearly, the visual equivalent of dropping an ‘f-bomb’ has come of age, accepted as the universal gesture of contempt.
It was with similar scorn that millions of New Yorkers regarded 432 Park Avenue as its slim silhouette rose to lord over the Manhattan skyline, an insult hurled by the super-rich, an affront visible to all five boroughs at once, a middle finger aimed at the unwashed masses. Back in November 2014, Rafael Viñoly, the building’s architect was quoted as saying, “There are only two markets, ultraluxury and subsidized housing.”
Danielle DiMartino Booth is CEO and Director of Intelligence at Quill Intelligence
For a full archive of my writing, please visit my website — www.DiMartinoBooth.com
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