March 18, 2013

A Nazi salute? It depends. What was the intent?

Who needs hypotheticals?  Here, what we have — at least, if you listen to the principals and their various positions — a real live instance of calling your dog “boy” within ear shot of a hyper-sensitive elderly black man.

USA Today, “Greek soccer player earns lifetime ban for Nazi salute”:

Greek midfielder Giorgos Katidis earned a lifetime ban from the Greek national team after celebrating a late, game-winning goal for club team AEK Athens with what was deemed a Nazi salute. Katidis, a 20-year-old, claims he had no clue the gesture had any sort of meaning, and that he was simply pointing to a teammate in the stands.

Ignoring the error in the headline — a Nazi salute is only a Nazi salute if it’s a salute given to Nazis or Nazism; otherwise it’s an arm position that merely looks like a Nazi salute, that is, it shares a similar iconographic signifier — what those of us with a concern about how language and meaning are corrupted to collectivist, often-times fascistic or authoritarian ends need seize upon here is the word “deemed.”  For something to be “deemed” — in this case, a Nazi salute — there needs to be someone or a group of someones to do the deeming.  And then the question becomes, who gets to control what was meant.

On the one hand,  Katidis denies that he meant the raised hand as a Nazi salute; and he spent the day on Twitter denying he is either racist or fascist.  On the other hand, per the Daily Mail, we learn that the Hellenic Football Federation is the body who did the “deeming” — that is, that they are the body responsible for giving Katidis’ raised arm its official, public meaning, based on their own interpretation of the gesture, an interpretation that one images was itself pressured by all sort of extra-linguistic considerations, from wanting to distance themselves from the predictable onslaught by outraged victim groups, to desiring to show that they are as tough on (supposed) racism as any sport Federation in the world:

The Hellenic Football Federation announced the punishment in a statement today, saying the action was ‘a profound insult to all victims of Nazi atrocities” and they condemned it “unequivocally and categorically’. The Federation said ban was unanimous decision from the executive committee at an extra-ordinary meeting.

To claim, as the Federation does in it statement, that the gesture by Katidis amounts to “a profound insult to all victims of Nazi atrocities” is perhaps a truism, though I tend to think they overstate the case somewhat, the remaining victims of Nazi atrocities being perhaps rather dubious, I suspect, that a 20-year-old Greek soccer player took the opportunity of celebrating a game-winning goal to salute Hitler.

The real question, though, is does it matter at all that victims of Nazi atrocities were profoundly insulted if indeed the gesture was, as Katidis claims, merely something that looked like a Nazi salute, much in the same way a collection of egret tracks can accidentally look like language?  That is, if egret tracks only come to count as language because some confused interpreter determines to see them that way (egrets not being known for their affinity with human coding systems), then by the same linguistic logic, raising your arm after scoring a goal — when it was never your intent to praise a genocidal National Socialist —  only becomes a Nazi salute when some interpretive consensus declares it one and has the power to enforce a penalty on the original signifier, irrespective of the sign itself as signified into language by its author.

This is a form of scapegoating.  Tied to collectivism.  Tied to the idea of “democratizing” interpretation.

Here, a young man’s livelihood has been essentially snuffed out and his character permanently besmirched on what may be a panicked, PR cost-benefit analysis by a Federation looking to protect its brand from others it believes will seek to press the PC outrage course.

All because an arm gesture could come to mean a Nazi salute, depending on who is given the power to make that determination.

Katidis, the “author,” denies it was any such thing (he claims ignorance of the gesture, and says he was pointing to an injured teammate in the stands) and a look at the raw video suggests he was celebrating in a way many soccer players do; the Hellenic Football Federation, alternately, has determined that the gesture itself means what it could potentially mean to someone else, regardless of what Katidis intended.  Or, if you prefer, the HFF has actively intended to view the gesture as a Nazi salute for purposes of dishing out punishment, their basis for the decision being merely, from what I can tell, that it looks similar to a Nazi salute — something that can be said of many arm gestures at some point in their trajectory.

The reason I continue to insist that we seek to determine meaning by referring back to authorial intent is that, not only is it the only linguistically coherent way to claim that what you are doing is interpreting a particular set of signs produced by some other agency, but because the alternative grants the power to a mob of supposed “interpreters” who may have any number of motivated reasons to map onto another’s text their own new text — all while pretending that their own intent, which is responsible for creating that new text, can then be attributed back to the original author.

Signifiers — like marks on a page, egret tracks in the sand, the temporary position of an arm, the use of an arc — don’t in and of themselves carry any inherent meaning.  When they operate within a specific context — like, say, attempted communication — they are given their meaning when they are turned into signs, which happens on both ends of the communication chain.  But if what we think we are doing is interpreting a text produced by some other sentient agency, the goal must of necessity be to try to divine the meaning of  the original sign, to decode it in its signifier stage in order to properly re-encode it on the receiving end in a way that best matches the author’s original intent.

Helpful to the interpretation process are things like convention and code:  they signal to those interpreting that what they are dealing with is likely language, and that they are being asked to confront it as such. But intent is what determines meaning — and when we agree in principle and as a matter of institutionalized practice to hand over our meaning to some motivated collective, we are handing over our autonomy to some group who we then must trust will treat us benevolently and fairly.

And I don’t know about you, but if I’m calling “here, boy!” to my dog, and some elderly black gentleman decides that he now has the ammunition to accuse me of racism — for whatever his reasons, be they sincere or otherwise motivated — I am not willing to cede my meaning to some mob looking to showcase their own self-righteousness and outrage at my expense.

As Chris Christie is likely learning just now.

Is it possible Katidis is a Nazi sympathizer and was actually offering up a Nazi salute? Of course. But to determine that — particularly given the severity of the punishment — fair, conscientious interpreters would seek to determine what Katidis himself meant by the gesture. Extratextually, has he had any history of making racist statements? Any history of Nazi fetishizing? Any history of anti-semitism, or a dislike of Gypsies?

Instead, the easiest — and laziest, and most pernicious — route is simply to deem something that can be construed as an insulting gesture an insulting gesture, lay the blame with the person you’re accusing of intending that gesture, and wash your hands of the whole thing, having dished out punishment to avoid having to the hard work of suggesting to potentially outraged identity groups that they simply got it wrong.

Risk-aversion. Cheap grace. These are the rewards for adopting leftwing hermeneutics.

But these linguistic moves are inherently totalitarian.  And they are linguistically incoherent.  Conservatives, classical liberals, libertarians, originalists, et al., should never cede the validity of such attempts at what amounts to linguistic theft.  No matter what political side those attempts are coming from.

Posted by Jeff G. @ 10:45am

Comments (50)

  1. Idiocy.

    He’s clearly signaling a first down.

  2. greece is dumb

    notoriously dumb

    meanwhilst we here in the united states of america are crawling with real live fascists in our congress in our white house in our boardrooms and this kid is some kind of monster?

    i think not

  3. I thought it was, “this call will move the ball thataway.”

    Or is that not the same kind of football?

  4. My mistake, McGehee.

    It means “Possession to Gonzaga”

  5. Greetings:

    Of course, if one were to suggest that these “progressive” days are also those wherein “the process is the punishment” (a la one George Zimmerman of Saint Trayvon of Sanford, Fla. fame) how can his rulers lose ??? Verdict first, trial second works for them either way.

  6. For how long will that exact positioning of one’s arm be considered ‘Nazi’? Should all Western civilized nations start training youth on cultural symbol aversions, and at what age?

    “Now class, please look at these important NO! NO! handouts. We will go over them again and again until you get it right! Oh, and soon we’ll start learning those ABC’s you keep hearing about.”

  7. Thank God he wasn’t eating a Pop Tart as well. Somebody could’ve been hurt!

  8. that pansy bastard prince actually put on a nazi uniform and swished around like a drunk-ass nazi whore and they still let him be prince and dance around naked

    this is just a vague hand gesture

  9. Seems like this is getting big play as a “look squirrel” thing to distract from Cyprus where the EU decided to confiscate 10% of the economic seed corn.

  10. If he belongs to Golden Door or whatever that Greek neo-Nazi movement is called, then you can wonder whether it was a clandestine Nazi salute.

    I’m pretty sure, though, that for it to be an actual Nazi salute, you have to stand at attention with your heels together and say “Heil Hitler.” A real Nazi would demand no less. Sloppiness in one’s adoration of Der Feurer would not be tolerated.

  11. For how long will that exact positioning of one’s arm be considered ‘Nazi’?

    For how long will we be held hostage to the Jim Crow South’s interpretation of racial/sexual dynamics? I swear most of the stereotypes and similar garbage that they dragged up in the Clarence Thomas hearings was new to me.

    Maybe some things are best forgotten?

  12. Just as an aside, wherefrom did the Nazis get this gesture, by the way, as a question of ultimate derivation (in light of the arbitrary decision to pretend it’s an exclusively Nazi deal, contra the truth)? Mussolini was saluting this way earlier, right? And he picked it up from the Romans, no? Where did the Romans get it?

  13. The “fire-er,” Di?

    Well, I suppose he is burning.

  14. Where did the Romans get it?

    From the Etruscans perhaps?

  15. this is just a vague hand gesture

    I’m sure you don’t remember when Charles Johnson called out some attendees at a TEA Party rally for displaying a flag he thought carried the emblem of a South African pro-apartheid party.

    Turned out it was just the state flag of Tennessee.

    This is about on that level.

  16. Wasn’t there a photo of Bush, W., making a similar gesture to a crowd, upon which the political left set to work characterizing it (unseriously, but for purposes of ridicule) as a Nazi salute? My memory is vague on this, but it seems like something of the sort lurks in there.

  17. The “fire-er,” Di?

    Hey, Firefox spellcheck rejected “Fuerer,” so I figured some other combo must be right.


  18. Egrets, Katidis has a few….

  19. Fuehrer, if you’re going with the new, umlautsfrei spelling.

    I understand that went over with the Germans about as well as the metric system did here.

  20. Originally a Roman salute, if memory servers. Which is where the Nazis stole it from.

  21. Well, the “First Reich” was the Holy Roman Empire, so…

  22. I don’t think the Left “does” seriousness — except in a “serious as a heart attack” vein.


  23. At least we know what his intent was, because he had the decency to tell us.

    When I lived in Greece over 20 years ago, it was hard to see any evidence of a fascist movement. It is not improbable that this young man is a sympathiser of Golden Dawn, but as he says he isn’t, I guess we have to take him at his word.

  24. Now if he was fisting a fellow player on the field (consensually of course), all would be forgiven. In fact, it would be described as brave and heroic.

    Greece is sensitive about Nazis, mainly because the Germans were historically friendly with the Ottoman Turks. I have no idea what this player’s intent was. It sure looks like a Nazi salute in the still photograph. But when you see the video, not as much.

    This sort of speech control is the direction our own dear leaders want our country to go.

  25. Aren’t there concerns over fascism growing in other nations of Europe SW? Like Hungary, Austria, maybe others? I don’t keep up with these motions, but do get the sense every now and then that there are such stirrings afoot, and that they scare the bejeezus out of the old dogs of the union.

  26. if he wasn’t covered with nasty prison tats it would be easier to be more sympathetic

  27. Stupid autocorrect

  28. Der Feürer?

    I’m not sure how an H is supposed to communicate the same idea as an umlaut: usually, an added H signifies aspiration of the consonant, as it does in Hindi.

  29. der Führer

  30. Führer, represented among umlautophobes as “Fuehrer.”

  31. Ah.

    No “E,” either.

    You know, every time you make a typo, the errorists win.

  32. feuer — fire, fireman — feuerwehrmann (fire-fighter-man)

  33. It is kind of funny how the American elites get all snobby about soccer and how sophisticated and international it is when as near as I can tell it really falls somewhere between pro wrestling and a monster truck show .

  34. Soccer is boring as hell except for the hooliganism.

  35. sdferr, fascism did not die in Austria with the end of the war. There are disturbing reports coming out of Hungary of an increase in anti-semitism. Is Jobbik really fascist? I don’t know enough to say definitely, but I think I’d go out of my way to avoid them.

  36. That’s correct, SW. Fascism just went abroad on extended holiday or underground. It never left and it is stirring again.

    You’re wise to steer wide of them.

  37. In many cases there is a particularly unsavoury connection between these neo-fascist movements and the Iranian clerical fascists. Judenhass is the glue that binds most of these sick fucks. What seems to pass without note in the US is the equally disturbing link between Islamofascism and the Trotskyite left. Lovely bedfellows.

  38. Gonzaga ought to know what to do about possession…

    (Disclosure: I have a cousin who was a seminarian there.)

  39. Soccer is a great youth league sport because it’s cheap.

    Of course, Brandi Chastain et. al. turned it into a girls’ game….

  40. really falls somewhere between pro wrestling and a monster truck show .

    soccer, like baseball, is much more exciting when you are actually playing it. Watching it? Not so much. Not at all, really.

  41. Four seam fastball — spins a lot. Two seam fastball — not so much.

  42. Greece is sensitive about Nazis, mainly because the Germans were historically friendly with the Ottoman Turks.

    They’re not sensitive about the Judenhass, though. They’re lousy with it.

  43. Greece is sensitive about Nazis, mainly because the Germans were historically friendly with the Ottoman Turks.

    The Greek population suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazi occupation, particularly during reprisals for resistance operations. The early war years saw the Greek Communists sitting out the conflict – awaiting instructions from Moscow, which prior to Operation Barbarossa, was an ally of Berlin. This little historical fact is quite unpopular among the left in Greece.

  44. Going to this guy’s intent: the video that EBL links seems to show him sending the salute to someone specific – as his teammates start to mob him, he seems to adjust his view so he can still see someone in the stands. So I think we have to take him at his word on his intent. I am dismayed that youth in Europe wouldn’t have been educated about Nazis enough to recognize the move, and chosen a different one…

  45. (Disclosure: I have a cousin who was a seminarian there.)


  46. soccer, like baseball, is much more exciting when you are actually playing it. Watching it? Not so much. Not at all, really.

    I was refering more to the culture abroad. The hooliganism and overt bigotry and racism. Heard a bit on the radio the other day about European crowds harassing black players, throwing bananas at them and shit.

    Not exactly sophisticated in other words.

  47. British soccer fans ain’t exactly “Masterpiece Theatre.”

  48. Cmon Outlaws,

    Clearly that was the starting pose for the new dance craze:

    Obama Go damn style