Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Affair of the Gesture, Scalia vs. the Boston Herald

In Monday's Boston Herald a reporter named Laurel Sweet wrote that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made an "obscene gesture" in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross following an annual mass for politicians and lawyers. In the piece Sweet describes the allegedly obscene gesture as, "flicking his hand under his chin." She goes on to report that Scalia interpreted the gesture as meaning, "It'’s none of their business," which was his response to her question about whether he fends off much flak for publicly celebrating his Catholic faith.

I grew up in Yonkers, NY in a neighborhood with many Italians. I saw that gesture constantly and use it regularly myself. I always understood it to mean, "who cares."

In today's paper, Scalia himself responds with a very funny letter to the editor in which he explains:

I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said "“That'’s Sicilian,"” and explained its meaning - which was that I could not care less.
That this is in fact the import of the gesture was nicely explained and exemplified in a book that was very popular some years ago, Luigi Barzini'’s The Italians:
"“The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: '‘I couldn'’t care less. It'’s no business of mine. Count me out.'’
You would think that the truth seekers at the Herald would be chastened and apologize to Scalia and to Italians who use the gesture, which is in no way obscene. But no, the Herald is about attacking Scalia period. Along with his letter they print their response, the "last word" their privileged position allows them:

So it was hardly surprising that when a Herald reporter cornered him after Sunday'’s Red Mass and he made a quintessentially Sicilian gesture - also reported - that being a Supreme Court justice he might want to have the last word. So in a letter he explained the origins of the gesture and insisted it wasn'’t obscene.
Maybe so, but it'’s still not something you'’d do to your mother.
The Herald needs to hire some staff of Italian heritage to help the gesturally challenged Sweets and Chandlers (the Executive Editor) of the world to relate to their readers outside their apparently WASP infested newsroom, say for example the North End of Boston itself. This gesture is so un-obscene that I have seen it used countless times by my friends in front of their mothers and often by their mothers.

What a load of crap. Arrogance, thy name is journalism.