Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hand Motions, Language Regression, and Mob Mentality

After watching a college ice hockey match, I wondered why hand, arm, and body motions which were typically taught to 512px-HG_Isbill_Junior_High_in_McGregor_Texas-YMCAyoung children as song accompaniments, are now being practiced by adults, particularly at sporting events.  These gestures accompany chants and songs.   

A study has concluded that children who use hand signs are slower at developing language than those who do not.  Does adult use of signs signify language regression in those adults?  

The most popular adult song accompanied by gestures is YMCA by The Village People, a popular hit in the 1970’s; hand gestures were introduced on Dick Clark’s Bandstand in 1979.  The song gestures have been popular ever since, but I doubt that most gesturers know any of the lyrics beyond “Young man” and “YMCA.”  (And since I’m writing about music and YMCA, here is a related comic strip.)  As a graduate of The Ohio State University, I can tell you that Hang on, Sloopy is now accompanied by gestures similar to YMCA, but with Sloopy, the arms are shaped to form the letters: OHIO.  Few know the words of Hang On, Sloopy, but every OSU fan can imitate the arm movements.

The wave was another arm movement that became popular in the 1980’s.  A sequential lifting of the arms by arena section, it is an example of metachronal rhythm, the same sort of rhythm demonstrated by paramecium in their cillia.  (See figure 4.)  So people performing “the wave” are imitating paramecium or imitating other people who are performing like parmecium.  Paramecium are single-cell organisms found in lakes and streams.

The mob or herd mentality is as old as Rome and likely older.  In the movie, Gladiator (2000), two senators discuss the emperor’s revival of the Roman games. 

I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the coliseum. He'll bring them death - and they will love him for it.

Sociologists have found that if 5 percent of the people take an action, the other 95 percent will follow.  In addition, if the crowd (herd, mob) is large, the individual is more likely to follow.  That might explain the hand and body gestures and even the children yelling, “Fight, fight, fight,” at the college hockey game where fighting is not allowed by the rules.  I noticed a parent of very young children ( 3 or 4 years old).  He turned to give the “fight, fight, fight” children an approving gesture.  It won’t be long before his children are joining in that herd behavior.  The scene reminds me of a short film based on a short story by Shirley Jackson, The Lottery.  This film, shot in the 1960’s, is a sobering look at what life brings when the individual gives up freedom (and other values we tend to hold dearly) to become part of the herd. (Watch Part 1; Watch Part 2). 

What actions will you take?  Will you allow yourself and your children to become part of the herd or will you teach them to love and respect for themselves and others?  Will you sacrifice your own values to have fun or to follow the herd (these may be the same thing)?  Or will you stop to consider the possible outcome?  Will you embrace truth or become part of the herd, doing whatever the others do?  Will you sink to the level of a sheep or a parmecium or will you rise and be human? 

Maybe the songs we sing and the gestures we make, the words we use and the ones we don’t know how to use, maybe these lower our vocabulary and make us susceptible to mob rule or herd mentality.  Can you walk away from the crowd and stand alone?  Can you gather 5% and lead in the way of truth or will you follow those who draw you in a direction you would not have gone on your own? 

How did the Third Reich influence neighbors, friends, and co-workers to betray each other?  It all started with an economic downturn.  When will our economy reach a point where herd mentality causes us to be less than human?  What will make you become part of the herd?  A job loss, an insult, an injustice?



Picture of Children performing YMCY By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs; Flickr-Upload by soldiersmediacenter (texas) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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