When the presidential candidate Barack Obama touched knuckles with his wife last June, horrified onlookers had no idea how to interpret the gesture. It certainly seemed very vulgar, and menacing, and evidence of some sort of terrorist sympathy, as everyone knew that normal presidential candidates give their spouses nothing more than a hearty handshake in the moments before they unofficially declare they've secured their party's nomination.
A fascinated America, and indeed the world, began chronicling the fist bump and trying to figure out what it "meant." Journalists spent thousands of words describing this arcane gesture to frightened white suburban QVC watchers who were pretty certain the fist bump had something to do sex, violence or non-Christian religions.
Some claim the act of knuckle-bumping began in the 1970s with NBA players like Baltimore Bullets guard Fred Carter. Others claim the fist bump's national debut occurred off the court, citing the Wonder Twins, minor characters in the 1970s Hanna-Barbera superhero cartoon The Superfriends, who famously touched knuckles and cried "Wonder Twin powers, activate!' before morphing into animals or ice sculptures. One might also credit germaphobics for the fist bump's popularity. Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel reportedly adopted the gesture as a friendly way to avoid his contestants' germs.
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These scholarly interpretations of the fist bump ran smack into the paranoid rantings of people like Fox News' E.D. Hill, who termed it a "terrorist fist jab." That combined with The New Yorker's satirical cover illustration of a turbaned Obama bumping fists with his militant wife ensured that fist bumps would remain an important and heavily debated topic for literally days on end.
But now we've come full circle, and whereas a year ago we were seriously debating whether or not Obama had declined the opportunity to bump fists with an elementary school student because it was too controversial, he's now openly and happily greeting his press secretary's five-year-old son in this manner.
This is progress, America! In one short year our national mood has shifted from fear and suspicion to happy tolerance, insofar as this one particular hand gesture is concerned.