Ridley Scott perpetuated the myth about the meaning of the thumbs-up icon in his movie Gladiator. Thumbs up, the vanquished lives, thumbs down, he is not spared, the victorious gladiator will finish him off with a thrust of his sword straight into the loser’s heart. In ancient Rome, the opposite was true. Thumbs down meant put the sword down, the crowd clamours for the defeated gladiator to be spared. He’s worthy enough to fight another day. According to some, thumbs up meant to thrust the sword up into the heart of the combatant, a fatal defeat.
When Novak Djokovic flashed the thumbs-up sign yesterday, some sections of the US Open crowd booed and jeered him, how ironic. The modern-day gladiator retired mid-match in his fourth round match rather than slogged till the end like an ancient fighter. The ancients were not afforded such a privilege. Retired hurt, oh mama, I don’t want to play anymore. The number one ranked player in the world should understand the liberty to give the thumbs-up sign lies with the crowd, they paid good money to see a fight. Many will feel short-changed. What? A match between Stan Wawrinka and The Joker should last five sets over five hours. That’s money well spent. Not this. Two sets down and a game down, and he surrenders? He has no right to raise his thumb up, unless he intends to admonish himself with the ancient Roman gesture. It has to mean more than simply another day in the court. This is a Grand Slam event, one of only four majors, annually. He earned USD117,000 even though he lost his match, USD280,000 in total for four matches. An average worker in Australia would have to work six years to earn that. No wonder he was jeered, despite the injury to his left shoulder. People can be tough when they pass judgement on those they deem disrespectful to or disinterested in their fans.
It is ironic that two iconic symbols, Yin Yang and The Jesus Fish, have their origins so misunderstood. We think of the Yin and Yang as a symbol of the Tao. Chinese philosophy embraces the concept of dualism where seemingly opposing forces are actually complementary. It promotes the idea of going with the flow, finding the balance in all aspects of life. Yin, the feminine symbol of water, softness, shade and passivity which gives the spirit to everything and Yang, the masculine symbol of warmth, light, energy (qi) and action which offers the form to all things. The earliest Chinese characters for yin and yang are found around 1400 B.C.E, in inscriptions made on skeletal remains of various animals used in ancient Chinese divination practices – known as the oracle bones. It is ironic that archaeologists found Cucuteni Trypillian pottery with the Yin-Yang symbol in Moldova, South Ukraine, some two thousand five hundred years earlier than the oracle bones’ discovery.
The Ichthys, or Jesus Fish was a symbol secretly used to represent Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Saviour when early Christianity was still practised underground. They believe he is both man and fully divine. It is ironic that the symbol was first used by previous religions to represent the Goddess of Fertility because it is shaped like the private parts of a woman.
One of the world’s most iconic building is the Sydney Opera House. Designed by the Dane, Jorn Utzon, the sculptural form of his creation resembles the sails of yachts that decorate the harbour, although they remind me more of giant seashells that represent the importance of the beach to the Aussies. It would be nigh impossible to find a tourist in Sydney who is not aware of this iconic building. The irony is Utzon never got to see his design in person, he was vilified by the New South Wales government during its construction due to cost blowout – the engineers were ill-equipped to make the unique structure strong enough to support the roof. The government refused to pay his fees, forcing him to back to his homeland, never to return.
Many would agree there can be no greater iconic band than The Beatles. The pine tree planted in 2004 in memory of Beatle George Harrison died after being infested by beetles. Ironic, isn’t it?