This is the perfect place for me to express my discontent with the world...
This morning I was crossing a busy street shortly after rush hour. Although I had the right of way, my presence on the road was holding up several motorists eager to make a left turn before the light changed. The driver of the first car in the queue was so impatient that she executed the turn as far as she could go without actually running me over and when I finally cleared her car, I swear I felt her bumper brush the bottom of my coat as she sped away. I immediately felt a tingling sensation in my right hand and I recognized it right away. I wanted to give her the finger. My body was telling me to do something that my mind knows is obscene, especially for someone who cares about etiquette. But I understood the impulse. In situations where you don't get a chance to voice your discontent to an anonymous jerk, it is a handy solution. By simply raising our hand and extending the middle finger, we are saying, "I see what you're doing and I can't stop you but I'm here to tell you that I am a human being. I deserve to be treated with some respect and I'm not going to tolerate your actions."
So, is that what British rapper M.I.A was thinking when she decided to use a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform live at the Superbowl to give the audience the finger while proclaiming, "I don't give a shit"? Probably not. Like Janet Jackson's notorious 2004 wardrobe malfunction, the incident has been grossly blown out of proportion by U.S. media. Superbowl broadcaster NBC has apologized to viewers for its lateness in obscuring the gesture and in a statement, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said, "The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans." I think what gets our southern neighbours so riled up in these situations is not so much the gesture itself but the perceived insult to football, a sacred part of American life whose importance borders on religion for many fans.
Do I think that a musician known for controversial behaviour giving a billion viewers the finger is shocking? Not really. M.I.A. is very outspoken about her causes and has been called both a 'refugee icon' and a 'terrorist sympathizer". I am however, annoyed by the forum she chose to make the statement. If you're really that against the world and corporations and everything they represent, is the Superbowl - a highly-commercialized event broad-casted to a billion global viewers - the best place to express it? I assume she received a big paycheque for her few minutes on stage and would have been well aware of what is and isn't considered appropriate and the restrictions placed on artistic 'creativity'. At one time, most of us have dumbed down campaigns, presented plans that didn't represent our best work and resorted to what's safe rather than what's exciting. We do it because the people who are paying us want it that way. Like it or not, when we accept cheques from clients, we need to respect their brand, abide by their notions of what is and isn't appropriate and try not to embarrass them in public.
So, back to my desire to flip the bird to that driver this morning. I truly believe that our society functions better when we're all behaving ourselves but there are so many cases in life when anonymous people disrespect our boundaries, take what isn't ours, treat us like crap and then move on before we have a chance to protest. So, I'm not going to say on an etiquette blog that it's ever appropriate but I understand the impulse and won't judge you if you fall victim to your baser instincts. Just make sure there are no cameras around. You don't want your anonymous gesture to come back to haunt you.