Sunday, January 18, 2009

High Five

It is something most take for granted. The sacred coming together of two people's hands in an ever-satisfying *smack*. The classic high-five. The eternal symbol of, "Well done!" or "Good job!". When you get it, it feels good. Recently, I was witness to a perversion of all things that the high-five stands for, an absolute rejection of its historical foundation, a mockery of epic proportions.

A short history first though, to put this bastardization into context.

The high-five was first seen in pop culture in poet and playwright Daniel Kamenetz' play Among Combatants when he wrote, " a salutation of slapping palms," in 1850. The term "high-five," though, wasn't coined until 1980 with versions of it being seen, but not named, long before that. This includes Louis Armstrong high-fiving Perry Como in 1955, Dean Martin high-fiving Louis Armstrong in 1966, and even an attempted high-five in the 1944 film Cover Girl.The gesture was named in 1980, after the University of Louisville won the national basketball championship. Two players, Derek Smith and Wiley Brown had become well known for their celebratory palm slap during games. Winning the championship brought nationwide exposure to the team and the simple and interesting gestural acknowledgement of a job well done. The celebration took off from there, as high-fiving spread like wildfire around the streets of America. Now, the high-five has found its place as a staple of North American gesturing. Whether it's after scoring a winning goal in an important game or getting a Triple Letter Score in Scrabble, the high-five is the perfectly simple way to share the excitement of "Good job!" between two people.

So how, you ask, could something so pure, be turned on its proverbial head and manage to upset a lowly student newspaper writer? Well, at a recent party I witnessed something that high-five aficionados and historians would scoff at. It was a high-five competition. Who could take more abuse from the hardest slaps possible. It was shot-for-shot, except it was palms and not fists that were coming together. The combatants would square up and attempt at hurting the other person by slapping as hard as possible. The winner was the one who could take more palm punishment.

I figured out the premise of the pastime after I saw a guy get "left hanging," after attempting to high-five someone else. We made eye contact and I, thinking I was filling a void and helping an ego, acknowledged that I would make up for the high-five he'd missed out on.  

We stepped towards each other and, unlike the usual high-five preparation, he squared up and asked me, "Are you ready?"

I nodded yes, not knowing that my hand would soon be beet red from meeting his in mid-air. Our palms came together in an impressive example of kinetic energy turning into sound waves. The sub-sonic boom was immediately followed by a wave of searing pain that shot down my arm.

"Again?" he asked.

I declined the invitation, obviously, and began to ponder this disgusting display and perversion of a great tradition.  

"If the high-five isn't sacred, then what is?" I ask myself as the searing pain faded into a dull soreness. If, something meant to celebrate something is turned into a competition, how then do we celebrate that victory. I imagine the really "good" high-five competitors find it really hard to find someone to actually high-five. I cannot even fathom being rejected in every slap-attempt I'd make.

I continued to watch the party-goers battle. Massive smacks resounded off the walls and yelps of pain were followed quickly by "I quits". I shook my head, attempting to reason with the competitors.

"The high-five is something used to celebrate, not another venue of competition," I pleaded.

The reasoning was met with mildly illogical answers, "Everything's a competition man," for example.

There is a lot of competition out there, I agree. We compete for employment, hoping to beat others in getting that perfect job. We compete in sports, both recreational and competitive. We compete in school, trying to keep those marks higher than average so as to prepare us for the future. So yes, a lot of the stuff that fills our everyday lives is based on competition, but not everything. I hope that those individuals will realize the error in their ways and cut short the competition that would have the pioneers of the high-five disgusted because, in all honesty, is there not already enough to compete over?


The Napkin