Mixed Messages

A woman I don’t know just gave me the finger. The one-finger salute. She flipped me the bird. She flipped me off.

She was walking past my driveway in the alley behind my house, and the security system whistled to let her know she had been seen. In response, she made that gesture towards the camera.

She must have known that someone would see the gesture, or perhaps she hoped someone would. Perhaps her resentment is expressed toward the security system, or the camera in particular. Or, maybe she is angry at the world and chose to express that towards my camera.

The fact is, though, that I saw it. I saw her anger and resentment. She, on the other hand, could not see mine. She could not see my fear of trespassers, my anger at thieves, or my growing frustrations with miscreants who wander the neighbourhood.

What interests me now, though, is the interaction between the anonymous, solo, passer-by and the camera on my garage. Being filmed is a very self-conscious experience. I am one of those people who resists being filmed, Skyped, or Zoomed. I would just rather not look at myself on a screen and I worry about how I am perceived. I just prefer to avoid the whole process and all that self-awareness.

At the same time, if a CCTV or security camera caught my image, it wouldn’t bother me. My assumption would be that I am not of interest to anyone who might view that recording. They would be looking for illegal actions or actors, and my image would just be the equivalent of white noise.

We cannot expect privacy in a public place, but when walking down a street or alley, we may not always want anyone else to know we were there. Not because we are doing anything wrong but just because it is no-one else’s business.

In the UK now there are CCTV cameras all over the place in the cities. I suppose people have just become used to them. I’d be interested to know if the cameras have changed anyone’s behaviours or if people just forget they are there.

When there is some important event in a public street, we often see cell phone videos being used as evidence. Those videos are then often shown on television. But what happens if some innocent bystander was not where they were supposed to be? Does anyone ever ask their permission to have their image broadcast? I doubt it.

So, now I am wondering about the responsibility of the person doing the recording; about my responsibility in recording passers-by. And then I wonder about the legality of publishing those images. Maybe that is what the woman was thinking when she saluted my camera. She may have been saying, “Go ahead. Publish this. See if I care.” You never know.

If you make an obscene gesture towards a camera, you presumably want the gesture recorded. At the same time, though, the gesture itself suggests that you seriously resent being recorded. It’s a very mixed message.


  1. Sorry to hear about your terrible neighbours. I don’t know why such civilised people choose to act in such an civilised ways, but I really hope they stop bothering you. I have flipped off a security camera in Brisbane. In my defence, it was a street camera and I was in my twenties. I do know they’re there and they don’t bother me. But yes, I resist being filmed in any way. I in a country where wearing sunglasses is seen as rude. She’s crazy, because I wear prescription lenses and my eyes are super sensitive. It is the only way I can get some privacy when I’m walking down the street. That and a parasol. And now we have masks. Mask + sunglasses + parasol.

  2. The bird means different things to different folks, this lady might flip it a dozen times a day where as you and I might not flip one…ever.I think the weight of it is proportional to the flipper. I never do it in anger, I used to under my dash to someone who cut me off, but not so’d they see, but that was many, many years ago. Now I do it in jest when someone is teasing me, I use my middle finger to wipe some imaginary thing out of my eye while smiling at the one-who-teases.

    • That’s funny, Sally. When someone cuts me off or honks their horn at me at traffic lights, I used to feel intimidated. Now I yell at them from the safety of my car and I always feel better when I do.

      Is the “flip” a different signal if done with a smile? That’s an interesting question. I think I agree with you that it is a different message, but one that still dismisses the recipient of it.

  3. Current topic indeed. Made me smile somewhat in embarrassment. A home nearby our home has a security system, I believe. As I walk Buddy I often encounter a sound similar to doorbell chimes as we walk past. For whatever reason, it always catches me unawares. I don’t like that feeling. Also, it is not consistent. Some days it chimes and many days it does not. I began wondering what causes it to chime or not chime. My daughter and son-in-law tried to make it activate and never were able to do so. That aggravated me even more, so acting as the mature adult I am not, now when the darn thing chimes I look directly at the house and stick out my tongue.
    On our meanderings Buddy and I pass multiple security cameras and only this chiming monster ever upsets me. I believe it has become sort of a game between me and the mechanical device. Buddy could care less!

    • This is so funny, MB! You had me laughing out loud. I can picture you sticking out your tongue at that camera.

      If my security system is anything to go by, sometimes the connection to the wi-fit cuts out and so the camera and its sound do not actually work. That may be why the one you pass works sometimes and not others.

      Now I’m reconsidering the use of the whistle, but it has deterred a few people with bad intentions so I think I’ll probably keep it.

      Afterthought: The next time you hear that chime, imagine it is me saying hello all the way from Edmonton. Wave and smile. 🙂

  4. It is funny how the most aggressive people are the ones who think they are defending themselves. I never even think that people around here might have security cameras I am too busy navigating around the houses that have huge vicious dogs in their yards 😳

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