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M.I.A.'s Flip Of The Finger: Big Deal Or Not?

M.I.A.'s now famous finger during halftime of the Super Bowl.
Christopher Polk
Getty Images
M.I.A.'s now famous finger during halftime of the Super Bowl.
(Note: If seeing someone "flip the bird" greatly offends you, this might not be the post for you.)

If it's the morning after a Super Bowl then that must mean everybody's talking not just about the game but about the ads and the halftime show as well.

The game? OK, but not the greatest. (If you haven't heard, the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17.)

The ads? Meh, as the kids might say. It certainly didn't seem to us like there were any true breakouts. According to USA Today's annual Super Bowl ad meter that measures a captive audience's reactions, "dogs are still a Super Bowl advertiser's best friend." No stunner there.

The halftime show? Ah, now there's something to debate. We'll let our friends at The Record and Monkey See decide what should be said, if anything, about the quality of Madonna's performance.

What we're wondering is how upset, or not, everyone is about the middle finger (and possibly said an expletitive) dropped by singer M.I.A. as she backed up Madonna.

On the one hand (so to speak), it's an obscene gesture and it theoretically might have been seen by more than 100 million Americans.

On the other hand, as NPR.org's Linton Weeks wrote back in August 2010, middle fingers have been popping up with increasing frequency for several years now:

"On streets, in stores, in schools, on the news. People are extending their middle fingers as a silent, but effective — sometimes too effective — way of saying "go to hell," "up yours" or "(insert nasty-sounding verb here) you." It's also known by a few other handles, such as "shooting the bird" and "flipping off." But whatever you call it, it's become commonplace."

So, it might be asked, why fuss over something so common?

Politico says M.I.A.'s fleeting finger "could add up to another Super Bowl headache for the Federal Communications Commission," which now must decide whether NBC-TV should be fined for letting it get on the air (the network's attempt to digitally blur the gesture was a second too late). The commission might wait, though, to decide what to do until after the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of its "fleeting expletive policy." A lower court has said the FCC was wrong to fine CBS-TV $500,000 for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

We don't have to wait to ask:

(Note: That's not a scientific survey. It's just a question to spark discussion. We'll keep it open until midnight Tuesday.)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.