Thursday, 28 January 2010

Andy Murray, mum Judy, and Charles Darwin

Watching Andy Murray secure his place in the Australian Open Final was painful today. Nothing to do with the performance of the talented young tennis player, who might just become the first British (he’s really a Scot) men’s Grand Slam winner in 74 years. No, I was reminded of the 900-word article I wrote on spec in the summer inspired by Murray’s Wimbledon performances – and failed to get published.
Back then – as today – I was fascinated by the involuntary gestures - grimaces, fist-shaking, groans, and cheers - displayed by the player, mum Judy, the spectators and sometimes me depending on whether he hit an ace or the net.
‘The Naked Ape’ author Desmond Morris examined 600 human gestures in his ‘Bodytalk – a world guide to gestures’. He accepted “A smile is a smile is a smile, the world over…some elements of body language, therefore, are more basic than others.”
Among those that aren’t are the ‘fist beat’ - what I call ‘air punching.’ According to Morris this is “a popular gesture of uninhibited sportsmen.” He considered “It is derived from the primeval over arm blow that is common to all mankind. The gesture says, ‘My strength has overcome my enemy’.”
The ‘fist beat’ is not to be confused with what Morris terms the ‘fist jerk’which is also“frequently seen at British football matches.” This is when fans indicate their belief at the underperformance of the opposing team, supporters, and ref being the consequence of self-abuse.
Just what prompts involuntary gestures has puzzled scientists for centuries especially the distinction between the innate and the learned.
Those that are common to all mankind tested the brain of no lesser scientific genius than Charles Darwin.
At times he was forced to admit he was foxed. In his ‘The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals,’ he wrote, “There is another little gesture, expressive of astonishment of which I can offer no explanation; namely, the hand being placed over the mouth or some part of the head. This has been observed with so many races of man, that it must have some natural origin.”
Shaking a clenched fist to demonstrate anger is a signal of displeasure recognised around the world. But in times of emotional distress depending on the context why should the hand fly to the mouth, eyes, cheek, chin – or indeed the other hand?
With so much unexplained, it was probably no wonder that my article failed to find a home.

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