From triggering tattletales on the schoolyard playground to confronting oppressive and deadly institutions, the middle finger is a built-in feature of resistance and self-advocacy. Since 1995, artist Ai Weiwei has been flipping the bird to a myriad of global landmarks steeped in oppression, censorship, and overreaching control as a means of reminding the people to question the status quo and represent their own personal values.
Now, you can take Ai’s middle finger to virtually any place in the world (or at least anywhere that’s on Google Maps) through a new collaboration between the artist and the online art platform Avant Arte. The project, Middle Finger, uses the recognizable image of Ai’s hand overlaid on Google Maps street views so that users around the world can exercise the power of reinserting individuality anywhere they want.
“We often forget that we have a middle finger,” Ai said about this project and his longstanding Study of Perspective photograph series. “Or even if we know we have a middle finger, we misuse it. I think it’s good to remember that this part of your body can point to something — an institution, or someone that resembles a power — to let them know, and let yourself know, that you exist.”
After my petty moment of sliding past my high school and my ex’s house on Google Maps equipped with Weiwei’s left hand middle finger, I had to zoom out beyond my own perspective and consider which bastions of wide-scale oppression needed the one-finger salute. So without further ado, I present five places that deserve to be flipped the bird:
Following President Joe Biden’s approval of the Willow Project, flipping off the White House has been done to death and is quite frankly low-hanging fruit, so I’m sending my middle finger over to the ConocoPhillips Alaska subsidiary headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska. For those who are out of the loop, the Willow Project is an enormous oil drilling endeavor that would be developed and executed through the coming decades in the National Petroleum Reserve above the Arctic Circle in northern Alaska. While Alaskans from both parties lauded Biden’s approval and look forward to an enriched economy and new job opportunities, climate activists from the lower 48 decried the decision as directly conflicting with the Biden-Harris administration’s position on climate change and green energy sourcing and are concerned with the ramifications on Alaskan wildlife.
The British Museum in London — loved by many, reviled by even more. The museum has a lot going for it in terms of bad press and controversies. Presently, the museum’s refusal to repatriate the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, the tight-lipped non-responses regarding the potential renewal of the five-year sponsorship contract with oil giant BP amid the institution’s “Net Zero Carbon” plan, and a brief glance at their collection of looted artifacts warrant enough middle fingers to wrap around the sun’s circumference.
Walgreens Headquarters gets the collective middle finger from uteruses across America after the pharmacy kowtowed to the whims of red state legislature by pulling the first of two medications used in a medical abortion, mifepristone, from its locations in 20 states with encroaching abortion restrictions despite the fact that the medication is still legal in several of them. Unfortunately for us in the tri-state area, Walgreens is the parent company of Duane Reade, and both are owned by the UK-based pharmacy giant Boots. Hundreds of Americans across the nation have renounced Walgreens for the act of cowardice, stating that they’ll be boycotting both Walgreens and Duane Reade moving forward. Definitely adds some walk to all that talk …
Unsurprisingly, the man of the hour, Ron DeSantis, gets a large middle finger from us. Google Maps actually brought me into the Florida Capitol building and presented me with this truly horrible but strikingly on-brand chair in a hallway that I chose to vent my frustrations into. Just this week, DeSantis announced that he was looking into revoking the liquor license of a Hyatt Regency hotel in Miami for hosting sexually explicit live entertainment with children present last Christmas. The live entertainment in question? A drag show, to no one’s surprise. This is but another brick in the wall DeSantis has built to suppress any “wokeness” from indoctrinating the children of Florida. Desantis is also known for his crackdown on the infusion of Critical Race Theory and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Florida school curriculums, causing teachers and librarians to strip thousands of now-banned books from the shelves that suggest even a modicum of diversion from the White heteronormative status quo.
The Stone Mountain Monument off of Robert E. Lee Blvd in Stone Mountain, Georgia, is the last to get our middle finger, but certainly not the least. Completed in 1972, the 90-foot carving depicts Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, on the back of a horse. In a recent bid to take down monuments that celebrate oppression and genocide across the nation, Stone Mountain stands out in its marked permanence as the country’s (and the world’s) largest Confederate monument. The carving will always be associated with the genocide of the Indigenous populations in the area and the place of rebirth for the Georgia branch of the KKK.
We also tried a few NYC-based museums for fun, and had quite the laugh when we typed in “MoMA” and the maps function presented us with famous steps leading up to the Metropolitan Museum instead. Maybe it knows something we don’t?