Comparing M.I.A.'s Super Bowl Middle Finger to Music's Greatest Bird-Flippers

Juvenile, numbskulled, pointless, banal, outrageous -- M.I.A. flipping the bird at this year's Super Bowl halftime show might have been all or none of those things, depending on whom you ask, but it was one thing above all: A surefire plot to join the ranks of the middle-finger-flashing musical elite.

The group -- Those We Love Who Have Flipped Off America -- includes some of the greatest musicians ever, Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain, and Tupac Shakur among them. So in extending her middle finger toward a half-drunk and impressionable nation, Maya A. was really just flashing the passport required for entry into the pantheon of pop musicians.

We can't really blame her for that. But how did her efforts compare to those of her predecessors? Let's look back at some famous musicians' public flip-offs, plus M.I.A.'s contribution, and find out.

iggy-pop-middle-finger.jpg
The artist: Iggy Pop, short-hair edition
The finger: Left middle.
Subtext: "Just summing up my entire artistic persona in one curt hand motion, whose message is partly pointed at myself."
Impact: You'd expect exactly this from Iggy, so not all that much. But on the other hand, he knows how to do it right.
Rating: 75 percent

eminem-finger.jpg

The artist: Eminem
The finger: Both middle fingers, with thumbs in sideways-cocked position.
Subtext: Literally, "I don't give a f**k," as read on tape over artist's mouth.
Impact: Reckless desire for self-expression implied by raised middle fingers is muddled by image of tape over mouth. Maybe he could've used those fingers to pull off the tape and say something more articulate? "I don't give a fuck" is boring and obviously untrue. And that look in his eye could be crazed aggression, but it could also be sleepiness.
Rating: 60 percent

chuck-d-middle-finger.jpeg
Photo by Adam PW Smith
The artist: Chuck D
The finger: Left middle, given full arm extension and raised up to eye level.
Subtext: "You better watch the fuck out, and if you don't, I'm coming after you."
Impact: Greatly enhanced by confrontational body language (chin out, slight lip-bite, and arm raised high), and the general badassness of being the leader of Public Enemy.
Rating: 82 percent

billie-joe-armstrong-finger.jpg

The artist: Billie Joe Armstrong.
The finger: Left middle, backed by a silly, wide-eyed smirk.
Subtext: "I'm a kooky individual, and I think saying "fuck you" with a raised middle finger is funny, but you and I both know that I don't really mean to tell you to fuck off. Did you know my album is now a musical on Broadway?"
Impact: Reinforces Billie Joe's clown-like reputation, makes for cool photograph, cannot be mistaken for actually offensive statement.
Rating: 55 percent

Rollins finger.jpg
The artist: Henry Rollins
The finger: Is all in his eyes. We guess his right middle finger is sticking up, too, but we're just really freaked out by those eyes.
Subtext: "I will fucking destroy you, you wimpy piece of shit. I don't care if this is L.A. and there are palm trees."
Impact: You will never go near Henry Rollins again. (But weren't you terrified of him already?)
Rating: 93 percent. You can always become more fearful of Henry Rollins.


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