A CHEEKY HISTORICAL ANALYSIS BY GLEN STARKEY
Western civilization is nekkid-phobic, so is it any wonder that one of our most beloved offensive gestures involves the unsheathed buttocks? True, the phallic splendor of extended middle finger is No. 1 (pun intended), but the good old-fashioned mooning takes a close second. It's clear why "the finger" is the most popular: It's got that dirty phalloidal edge, and it's fast and doesn't require the removal of any clothing (unless you're wearing mittens, but let's not get too technical, eh?). But mooning? Whoever came up with that?
God only knows for sure, but there's a 1346 account of the Battle of Crecy that seems to be the first historical account of mooning. On the way to Crecy, King Edward III of England and his troops became involved in a brief skirmish in Caen, and several hundred Normandy soldiers exposed their butts to the English archers, many of them paying "a high price for doing so." I shudder to think what the English archers were using as the "bulls eye!" Please don't tell me that's why they call the anus the "browneye."
At this point, whatever this exposed butt-gesture was called, it wasn't the verb "to moon," a word whose etymological provenance seems clear: It first appeared as an English verb in 1601 and meant "to expose to moonlight." In 1836 it acquired another meaning "idle about" and in 1848 "to move listlessly," which was probably connected to the concept of being moon struck (1674, from the Greek term selenobletos). Leave it to us Americans to pin the term "mooning" to the act of dropping trousers, bending over, and exposing the sun-denied twin humps of the rump. "Mooning" was first recorded as U.S. student slang in 1968, and experts believe the term was connected to the English noun "moon," one meaning being "buttocks" (1756), "probably from the idea of pale circularity."
Those crazy '60s hippie kids embarked on a multi-decade mooning odyssey, mooning everyone from "The Man" to their friends to their university president to the American president and his demand that they bring their firm young butts to Vietnam to be shot off there. The '60s and '70s were moon crazy, leading to streaking crazy. At some indeterminate point in there, this gesture that had been about protest, scorn, disrespect, or provocation became something done for shock value or fun.
And mooning has also become something of a cultural event, like the "Annual Mooning of Amtrak," a long-running tradition in Laguna Niguel, in Orange County, when people spend all day mooning passing Amtrak trains. (Mark your calendars: The next one is July 14, 2007. Check out moonamtrak.org.) Some even ride the trains that day to witness the event or moon the mooners. Now what's a pun on "tit for tat?" Cheek to cheek? Hmm. Not bad.
So, you're probably wondering if mooning is illegal. That's tough to say. In 2006, a Maryland court (God, they're progressive!) ruled that mooning is a form of expression protected by the United States' constitutional right of freedom of speech, but this decision has not been confirmed by any higher court. To be on the safe side, if you're going to moon, do it responsibly. Your butt is in your hands.
Glen Starkey would moon more often, but every time he does someone calls Animal Control. Explain what a depilatory is to him at email@example.com.