Monday, December 15, 2008

Geertz, Levi-Strauss, Timberland

Fosco and Oz were watching football Sunday morning (morning football? Welcome to PST.) when Fosco stepped out of the room for a bit. When he returned, Oz had the TV paused (TiVo!) and had a big grin on his face. Oz: "You have to see this!" And then we watched George W. Bush get shoes thrown at him.

Yes, it's funny--no doubt. But equally funny has been the media coverage. Fosco particularly loves how every media outlet (and he's followed this story pretty obsessively for a day now) has to explain how being hit with a shoe is an insult in Arab culture. For example, here is the NYTimes explanation:

Hitting someone with a shoe is a deep insult in the Arab world, signifying that the person being struck is as low as the dirt underneath the sole of a shoe.
As opposed to how Western cultures view being hit by a shoe?

But the NYT as cultural anthropologist is even more helpful. Here is their explanation of the reporter's shouted words:
Compounding the insult were Mr. Zaidi’s words as he hurled his footwear at President Bush: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” While calling someone a dog is universally harsh, among Arabs, who traditionally consider dogs unclean, those words were an even stronger slight.
Again, the NYT wants to make it clear: being called a "dog" is not a flattering thing. Now we know.

Although, while I make fun of this Kindergarten anthropology, I suppose there is a purpose. For one thing, it limits the Bush Administration's opportunities for spinning the incident. Just imagine:
White House Spokesperson: The liberal media has clearly misunderstood Mr. Zaidi's message and intention. It is our understanding that, in Iraqi culture, the giving of footwear is a traditional sign of gratitude. Clearly, Mr. Zaidi intended to thank Mr. Bush for bringing freedom and security to Iraq. And do I need to explain that the nickname "dog" is a popular way to express affection within African American hip-hop or college fraternity subcultures? The President would like to reply to both Mr. Zaidi and the Iraqi people: "You're welcome!"
But anyway.

The other thing that interests me about this incident is the ineffectiveness of the President's Secret Service detail. Seriously: I've always been told that the Secret Service is, like, a gang of ninjas. Why didn't an agent jump in front of the second shoe? Why didn't they push Bush to the floor? Why didn't they tackle the reporter? Actually, I'm a little surprised they didn't shoot the guy before the second shoe left his hand. Is it possible the Bush's SS just doesn't care that much anymore? Are they already on Christmas break?

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