America

Flipping 'The Bird' Just Isn't Obscene Anymore, Law Professor Argues

(Note: This is a post about obscenity. Proceed with caution if the subject bothers you.)

We've got one more thing to say about "the bird" and singer M.I.A.'s flipping of her middle finger on national TV during Sunday's halftime show at the Super Bowl.

On All Things Considered later today, American University law professor Ira Robbins will make the case that the digitus impudicus (as it was known back in ancient Rome), just isn't obscene anymore.

M.I.A.'s now famous finger during halftime of the Super Bowl. i i

hide captionM.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.

M.I.A.'s now famous finger during halftime of the Super Bowl.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

"Is it inappropriate? That's another question," he tells NPR's Audie Cornish. But, he says, "it doesn't mean what it used to mean."

"In the time of Caligula ... it was intended to be representative of a phallic symbol. Not today."

Instead, Robbins argues, flipping the bird is an expression of "frustration or rage or anger or protest or disdain."

And in fact, he says, it's now "part of the mainstream of American culture."

It would appear that many Two-Way readers agree, at least judging from the question we first posted yesterday (it's still "open" if you want to express your opinion):

Much more from Audie's conversation with the professor will be on the show. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams All Things Considered. We'll add the as-aired interview to the top of this post later.

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