Paleo Retiree writes:
Fun keeping track of body language, both in real life and in the media. Gestures and postures really do change over time. Think, for instance, of all the ways people have of interacting with their smartphones. We take these postures and ways-of-behaving for granted now, but 15 years ago they weren’t even a small part of our lives.
Another set of gestures and postures that we now accept as a routine part of normal is the foreshortened hand/fist/thing-you’re-holding. I think of it as the “comin’ at ya” or “yo!” gesture. It’s very prominent in ads; I observe variants of it in real life nearly every day too. Here’s a small sampling.
For a little while T-Mobile was using the gesture as an ongoing theme in their ads:
This gesture is such a common part of today’s visual language that it can be hard to remember that playing the in-your-face card wasn’t always considered an attractive thing.
Where does the move come from? My theory is that it has to do with four main influences. The first is the commonplaceness of video. As people horse around with video cameras, it seems to be a common — and for all I know a natural — thing for people to try to dominate and aggress towards the video lens — to attack it as though trying to crawl inside it. The second is video games. Cartwheeling, disorienting changes in scale and perspective seem to be the expected thing in videogames. (Why? I have no idea.) The third is the increasing miniaturization of everything. As devices and cards and such become smaller, how else to make them prominent, let alone to emphasize that they’re bursting with power, glamor and desirability?
The fourth is hiphop. Now this is a subject I know next to nothing about. Don’t like the music (though I recognize the talent); find the styles occasionally amusing but often repellant; can’t help feeling appalled by a lot of the vulgarity and aggressiveness … I’ve largely avoided hiphop. But I’m semi-aware that kids who are into hiphop like making lurching, alarming gestures and throwing their hands around as though they’re half gang member and half boxer.
No idea what the general significance of this trend is. Anybody got any decent theories about where the gesture comes from? And what it might tell us about Life Today?
It’s an ultimatum. Pointing and making eye contact makes the act public — you can’t pretend that they aren’t issuing you a challenge. And neither can any on-lookers — they’ve seen you being directly addressed. So you either accept or wuss out.
Without an object, it’s a pointing gesture, “calling them out” to see if they’re good enough to take up the challenge, or if they’re just some average loser. Shed body fat, tune in to a hot TV show, prove they have creative talent, and volunteer for civic service.
With an object, it’s saying, “Here’s this awe-inspiring thing that will take you to higher and higher status. I am high-status enough to hold it (hence my smug expression). Are you? Or are you just some average loser?”
It’s a direct quote from the WWI recruitment posters (England, US, and Germany) where a stern authority figure is pointing at the viewer. Other posters in that vein show an extended hand holding a weapon, offering it to the viewer — again, if they’re man enough to want to use it.
Posters from WWII and Vietnam don’t look like that, a directly addressed ultimatum.
If today looks like the turn-of-the-century, while the ’40s, ’60s, and ’70s look different, then it’s part of the status-striving and inequality cycle. When people are more desperate to prove their status, they respond to ultimatum posters; when they feel content and like status-striving is a fool’s game, they get turned off by or simply laugh at such posters.
Notice that an ultimatum poster says you, the individual, ought to prove how great you are, the individual. It’s not like the WWII and Vietnam posters, where they’re calling on you to join a team and sacrifice for the greater common good.
Agnostic: The pointy recruitment thing seems to have started with the Lord Kichner poster (which turns out to have an unexpected backstory: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10218932/Your-Country-Needs-You-The-myth-about-the-First-World-War-poster-that-never-existed.html).
With my long media memory, I can tell you the first performer to do the walk up and stick your big-lipped face in the camera thing (as a cool and challenging, rather than spazzy Jerry Lewis sort of gesture) was the very young Mick Jagger on one or another of those prime time mainstream U.S. variety shows like Ed Sullivan. It struck us teens as about the most downright daring and challenging thing we’d ever seen on screen — I wondered then if the Stones weren’t going to far …
Isn’t there a trade-off between photographic distortion and depth-of-field? Generally, the shorter the lens the greater the depth-of-field, the longer the lens, the less the distortion.
Lens/lighting/”film speed” technological improvements have no doubt led to the proliferation of this type of layout.
One thing hip hop seems to have done is turned up the camp factor around swaggering machismo, so now all those obviously not-manly characters in the photos you posted can throw a little swagger at you without being at all threatening.
“Cartwheeling, disorienting changes in scale and perspective seem to be the expected thing in videogames. (Why? I have no idea.)”
You see the same thing with computer imagery in movies, for the same reason: there is no extra physical cost to doing gravity-defying moves, as there is on reality. That’s why every time a flying camera viewpoint is used it has to swoop around and turn upside down and generally make you sick to your stomach.
The hip-hop thing just reinforces the basic stance of the inner city thug: hand in face with gun demanding money. Just a continuation of those album covers/video closing shots that featured groups of youths standing looming over the POV. Like POV has just woken up after a bender and there are these…youths standing around you, looking down on you and YOU ARE F*CKED…
This is mostly a combination of “no more fourth wall” stuff plus the now-dominant tactic of “stills” being freezeframes due to the triumph of video as the default photo experience.
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