The Birdman Game

I was in my biology lab when I saw my friend Bruce “birdman” another student in the lab.  The birdman can be done by forming a circle with your index finger and thumb and having your other three fingers extended or sort of fan out.  It is similar to making an “okay” sign or gesture with your hand.  To do the birdman you make an okay sign with both hands, then flip our hands backward and bring them to your face so that your eyes look through the circles made by your index finger and thumb and your other fingers are covering your cheeks.  If you are participating in the birdman game, when you make eye contact with someone who is doing the birdman you have to stop where you are and what you’re doing lay down on the ground.  Bruce “birdmanned” another student in the lab by calling his name and thus causing the other student to turn around and make eye contact with him while he was doing the birdman.  This student then had to lie down on the floor.  All the students were laughing including the boy who got “birdmanned” but our lab TA did not seem to know what was going on.

Bruce is from Arizona and said that he learned the game from his friends from home.  He says he plays the game because he thinks it is hilarious.  He said he worst he ever got birdmanned by his friend while Bruce was driving in his car.  So he had to stop the car and then get out and lie down  in the middle of the street.  In that sense I think the game can also be viewed somewhat as a prank played among friends because of the great joy and amusement that the participants seem to receive when “birdmanning” someone else and causing them to have to lie down if they are standing or stand up if they are sitting down.

Speaking form personal experience the birdman game is actually pretty fun to play with friends.  I remember playing the game with friends from high school although we never called it the birdman game.  In fact I don’t think we had a name for the game, we just played it.  I think what also adds to the games appeal is the fact that not everyone knows about the game so others, “outsiders” may find your behavior confusing or absurd and they won’t understand it.  So I think part of the appeal is similar to the reasoning behind why young children love telling nonsensical jokes to adults; because the adults don’t understand or find it funny, only the children understand and find the joke to be wildly hilarious.  It’s the whole idea of knowledge and power.  I also think it is just fun for most people to feel like they are in on a secret that not everyone knows about or they like sharing something with a smaller more intimate group of friends.

I also witnessed this exact game being played by another USC student and it is documented in this folklore collection.  It perfectly exemplifies the idea of multiplicity of folklore.  It also shows variation because my friend Ravi said that you only have to lie down on the ground if you get birdmanned while standing up, but if it happens when you’re sitting down you have to stand up.  In Bruce’s version you have to lie down on the ground any time you get birdmanned regardless of whether or not you were standing up or sitting down.

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