originally published June 11, 2013
In the wild, the act of exposing one’s hindquarters to another of one’s species is generally looked upon as an act of sexual submission, an invitation to taxi down the ol’ carnal runway, cross-check for predators in the bushes, then take flight in a wild spree of jungle-humping like the savage beasts who dwell within. Among humans, the message is usually quite different, depending on the loose dress code and/or cultural taboos at your local watering hole. To expose your back door is an act of malice, of insult. Putting aside the obvious scatological implications, merely the investment of time and effort makes this a grander gesture than flipping someone the finger.
This is mooning. This is the big time.
It’s not something I’ve done very often, of course. I could chalk it up to modesty, or even a firm grasp on proper decorum and a penchant for societal politeness. But the truth is, I simply don’t trust my balance. I’m liable to unzip, yank down, and find myself face-first in a pile of my own self-ridicule.
Flashing a vicious heap o’ cheek at one’s enemies as a degrading insult dates back long before official recorded history on the matter. And there is such a history; at some point, some historical linguist put in the effort to research all known written and uttered instances of butt-flashery, though they didn’t come up with much. An examination of the early English language shows that the concept of exposing something to moonlight went by the name ‘mooning’ as far back as 1601. The idea of a moon acting as a shape-metaphor for one’s posterior appears as early as 1753.
But the act of mooning was still not called mooning. No, if you were ‘mooning’ in the nineteenth century, then you were either ‘wandering idly’ or else you were pining for a romance. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word as we know it today can be tied to the crazy time of the 1960’s, when mooning became a popular pastime on university and college campuses. It seems like everything became a pastime in the 60’s, at least for a while.
Of course, if someone has studied the moonisms in language history, then you know there has to be research on the act itself. And there is, dating back to 80 A.D. when Flavius Josephus noted that some Roman soldier fourteen years prior had flashed his spank-target at a group of Jewish pilgrims en route to the big Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The Jews got pissed, the Romans over-responded, and the subsequent First Roman-Jewish War killed thousands.
While marching toward the Battle of Crécy, an early battle of the Hundred Years War and one which was likely tilted by the interference of Jeanne de Clisson, the bad-ass Lioness of Brittany, Edward III observed a number of Norman soldiers offering their lack of support via a display of their gathered tuchuses. Edward responded as any monarch on his way to a battle would do – he ordered his archers to plant their ammo firmly in the round white targets along the side of the road. Sometimes, I suppose, mooning backfires. No pun intended (I think).
At the tail-end (another unintended pun, probably) of the Siege of Constantinople in 1204, when the Greeks first felt they had repelled the invading Crusaders from the city walls, they bared their pride in a moon-ful act of take-that-ery. The Crusaders responded with a second siege that left the city a pile of ash and rubble. Again, you’ve got to expect some blow-back when you drop your drawers at a foe.
In the modern era, we are still trying to figure out how we feel about the rise (or lowering) of a full moon. A 2006 decision in the Maryland state circuit court declared mooning to be an act of artistic expression, protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. This came about when Raymond McNealy got into an argument with Nanette Vonfeldt, his neighbor. The argument, which had something to do with a homeowners’ board, led to Raymond threatening to blow up Nanette’s building, then punctuating his remark with a half-hearted liberation of most of his poop-faucet from its cotton-blend prison.
Judge John W. Debelius III claimed that to find Raymond guilty of indecent exposure, when no trace of his twig nor berries were exposed, would be wrong. It would mean, according to the judge, that any woman wearing a thong to the beach at Ocean City should also be considered a criminal. I assume he followed up his argument with something like, “And we wouldn’t want to discourage thongs on the beach, hey guys?”, followed by a brisk jog around the courtroom in search of someone to follow through with his offered high-five.
James Maxwell, one of Raymond’s lawyers, called their win a victory for beachgoers and plumbers everywhere.
On the second Saturday of July, folks flock to Laguna Niguel in California for the Annual Mooning of Amtrak. They hang out, down some drinks, maybe set up a little tailgate party for their friends, and spend the day mooning Amtrak trains that pass by. This has gone on every year since 1979, and apparently some people actually take the train that day specifically to witness the other side (the backside, if you will) of the festivities.
Mooning takes on different interpretations in the sports world, depending on the tight grip of excessive strictness one’s league may possess. English Premiership soccer player (sorry… football player) Joey Barton was fined £2000 in 2006 for mooning Everton fans during a game. That’s the equivalent of about $2640 US. One year prior, Minnesota Vikings receiver Randy Moss was slapped with a $10,000 fine for pretending to drop his pants after scoring a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. This is the same league that fined Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears $100,000 for simply wearing a hat with a Vitamin Water logo on it. Not even to a game – we’re talking about Super Bowl Media Day, when athletes do nothing more than chat with reporters.
In Greece, mooning will get you a fine, while in Senegal it will land you in jail. I have no doubt there are places around the globe where it will get you killed. But here in our civilized little hemisphere, a flaunted derriere will net you no more than a few disgusted looks and maybe a few witty comebacks (“Do you kiss your mother with that ass?” won’t deliver an insult, but it will confuse the person mooning you).
As a perfect expression of “You deserve to smell my feces!”, “You have wronged me!” or even “Hey look – my ass!”, mooning is a form of communication more ingrained in our DNA than the language we speak. Just make sure the person or persons you’re treating to a view of your posterior qualities isn’t toting a quiver of arrows.