Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Middle Finger.

The middle finger. Some call it the one finger salute. Others call it the bird, the sleazy flip or the rigid digit. 

The truth is, it is the symbol of the (male) phallus with the index finger and the ring finger acting as the bulbous testicles. It is insulting, and provokes. 

(But at times, at the right place and people, it can rally rebellious hearts against the establishment or injustice).

Across all cultures since Ancient Greece, the middle finger is a sign of contempt, rudeness and obscenity. It denotes sexual intercourse, and showing the finger is equivalent to telling the person who crossed you to go "sexually" off. 

Socrates deemed the gesture as boorish and childish. At its worst, it is a gesture of extreme vulgarity. At the least, it is a sign of disrespect. 

And this brings me to the Henry Park Primary schoolboy who recently did the socially and culturally unpardonable on our nation's 52th birthday. 

Thanks to the unsuspecting camera sweep in the closing minutes of the NDP on Wednesday, his infamous finger has become infinitely famous. 

For that split second, the boy coolly raised the middle finger, and he did it with his left hand slightly slanted. Since then, the media has gone bananas over it, with one of my friends, who is 40 plus, exclaiming with ironic sarcasm that when he grows up, he wants to be like the boy!

I guess my friend is the exception to the many decent and cultured Singaporean parents who are utterly shocked by the boy's show of nonchalant defiance. 

And let it be said that had it been any other situations, the boy would have gotten away with it. 

If he had done it to his classmates in the school's playground, he would have been reprimanded and unforgotten. If he had done it at home to his annoying younger siblings, he would have been reprimanded and forgotten. 

And if he had done it to passing strangers with his tongue stuck out, yes, he would have been reprimanded and forgotten. 

But no, he did it on national tv, on National Day, when everybody was belting out trite patriotic songs with hearts and voices joined as one, raising hands, flags and NDP packs, the boy had to sneakily raise his dastardly middle finger in overstated mischief. 

His meh moment of cavalierly dissing the purity of the celebrative spirit utterly shattered the exuberant festivity and mood of the parade in a night that was supposed to function with impeccable timing and clockwork perfection. 

Hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans, including foreign talents, who were glued to their tv set could not believe their eyes. Of course, the boy had to be disciplined for he had sullied the sacredness of the moment. 

And discipline was swiftly meted out by the school. Henry Park Principal Chia Soo Keng told Straits Times: "The student regrets his action and is deeply apologetic. The school and his parents have counselled him, and will ensure he learns from this incident." 

We should therefore move on, right?

Lesson? Just one. I guess we all have our gaffe moments, our blunders. 

The middle finger has been used even by Presidents including Ronald Reagan and George W Bush at provocative and mildly provocative events. 

Movie and music stars have used it against annoying paparazzi. Sports stars have used it against the boos of opposing crowd. 

And even Ho Ching had used it vicariously (with the help of a young Japanese Macaque) by mistake when she said she was experimenting with Twitter buttons, and had duly apologised for the embarrassment. 
Incidentally, it came about the same time as when her husband was being called "the dishonourable son" by his sister via email exchanges last year. 

So, it is tempting to ask, "What were they thinking when they employed that middle finger or commit a gaffe/blunder/lapse of good judgment?" 

What was the Henry Park student thinking? What was Josephine Teo thinking when she said that you don't need much space to have sex? Or what was Palmer, David and Shin Leong thinking when they had extramarital affairs - with two of them involved with married women? 

And what about Chan Chun Seng? What was he thinking when he addressed the Speaker of the House Halimah as "Madam President" in Parliament earlier this year? The first time Halimah heard it, she let it slip. But Chan addressed her for the second time. 

Halimah said that she approached him after that and was told that it was unintended, a slip, and she had accepted it. Well, I guess lightning can strike twice at the same spot. 

Panning out for a panoramic view, what are we thinking most of the time? If given a chance to speak our mind (with impunity), to do a catharsis of sorts, or to vent the pent-up frustration, what would we say and do to the target of our angst and exasperation? 

Sometimes I wonder, and to put it bluntly, do we have a "middle-finger" mind-set but a clasped-hand appearance? 

Do we show our best side in public and hide the malicious, disgraceful and contemptuous side in private? 

If we can look into our collective mind with a cerebroscope like what Prof Charles Xavier could do in X-men movies, what would we uncover about the secret lives of clergymen, politicians and ordinary folks? 

Alas, the closest thing we have to a cerebroscope is Google Trend where we get to see what a sample netizen population are searching on the net, and the words that comes up often are largely pornographic in nature. Sex is largely in the people's mind.

And if you type in "we're sorry", there is not enough search volume to show up a trend. It is also discovered that when the netizens type "my husband wants..." in India, the number 1 search is: "my husband wants me to breast feed him." Go figure.

So, at the end of the day, we are indeed more than meet the eye (or mind). Like the movie Inception, we are made more complicated by layers after layers of conscious and subconscious desires, fascinations and obsessions that we would never allow them to surface to see the light of day. It would cramp our style - so to speak. 

And while the primary school boy may have done what he did out of childish bravado or some mindless prank without fully appreciating the gravity of his act, we adults are more complicated, nuanced, and at times, even insidious with our private motives and thought-life. Cheerz.

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