The Birdman Game

I was leaving my chemistry lab when I witnessed the birdman game.  Ravi, another student in my lab was leaving the laboratory when his friend called his name.  Ravi looked at his friend who was doing the “birdman”.  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 and stand up if you were sitting down when you made the eye contact or lay down on the ground if you were standing up when you made eye contact.  Ravi was standing up when his friend did the birdman to him, so he stopped and laid down on the floor or the chem lab. When he stood up he made circle with both hands and looked through them as if they were binoculars.  He told me that he did that because he didn’t want to get birdman’ed again and that was the only way to block the birdman.

Ravi is from Cupertino, CA but said he learned the game from a friend here at USC, who is also a freshmen.  Ravi also said he plays the game simply because it is something to do when he is bored and he had fun playing the game.  But he says it is more fun to birdman someone else than to have them birdman you.  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.

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