In honour of Dean Wormer's bold confession about flipping the bird to that evil little monkey that currently still holds office in the White House, I wanted to salute this visceral and unambiguous gesture.
The symbolic expletive has a proud history and provides an alternate avenue for self expression when mere words fail to express the utter disdain or rage one holds on any given moment. Even the most articulate and civilized person can find cathartic release through this primal form of communication.
Although the specific gesture of choice varies around the world, utilizing a non verbal variant of "gee I am really irritated" seems to exist as a cross cultural expression of our humanity. In North America the raised middle finger is generally the gesture of choice, guaranteed to get you an equally combative response when yielded effectively.
Of course one can't help but note the phallic nature of this gesture and you have to wonder if its origins lie in the expressions of some pre-verbal cave dweller expressing his opinion towards some other Neanderthal who ran over his foot during a mastodon hunt.
Wikipedia offers some great variations on what this one fingered salute is called in different regions (if anyone knows any other variations I would love to hear about it);
"flipping the birdie"
"the highway salute",
"The New York Hello"
"Showing Off Your Monkey"
"The Canadian Turn Signal"
"flipping someone off"
In terms of popular culture, I would have to say that Johnny Cash takes the prize for effectively utilizing a singular bird flipping incident over the span of a few decades. First of all, during one of his concerts at San Quentin in 1969 an iconic photo of JC emerged with his middle finger featured proportionately larger in the fore front of the photo. When JC played for the convicts his banter with the prison guards (whether rehearsed or genuine) made the crowd go wild, and his middle finger raised upwards only added to the bravado of his performance.
Years later in the 90's the same photo was used in a full paged ad to "thank" the Nashville country music establishment for utterly ignoring the great American Recordings series he did with Rick Rubin because it wasn't "country" enough (I guess they didn't like the Soundgarden cover). The best country Grammy for the "Unchained" album was certainly sweet payback;
If it's good enough for JC, then it is good enough for me. Although I have never had the chance to flip off the "leader" of the most powerful nation on earth I have been known to occasionally wield it as a decisive form of communication when cut off by some kind soul in traffic. Admittedly, it is a therapeutic gesture for someone who is usually so mild mannered and pleasant like myself! Sometimes words just don't cut it.
To those who raise their finger boldly towards the source of their disdain, I salute you! (not just with one finger either)
(If you are so inclined, here is a link for a number of famous flip offs)
UPDATE: dguzman reminded me of adding the directive to "perch and twirl" that often accompanies this finely nuanced gesture.