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Inventor of the high five
July 25, 2014 7:19 AM   Subscribe

When the high five subsequently exploded in popularity in the 1980s, historians, critics, and journalists all traced its origins back to this moment. Glenn Burke was championed as its inventor, and his story slowly emerged.
...
Then, at the onset of the 1977 season, Burke’s teammates learned that he was gay when one of Burke’s friends accidentally revealed the fact at a dinner party with the team. Burke watched his career unravel in a spire of prejudice, intolerance, and misdirected anger.
The story of Glenn Burke, who invented the high-five during a Dodger game on October 2, 1977
posted by I am the Walrus (40 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Eras later, the “low five” -- essentially the same as a high five, but underhand and below the waist -- was penned in the 1920s, and was used in the African-American community as a symbol of unity. But the gesture, also known as “giving skin,” was exclusive and underground, and never experienced the widespread acceptance of its more upward twin.

Like hell it never did. Did this person never play the "up high"/"down low"/"too slow" game? "Gimme five" was popular as hell back in the day. Does this person never watch any TV from prior to 1990? Nearly every episode of a TV show with teenaged characters, 1970-1985 had someone slapping five.

I call bullshit and we're only two paragraphs in.
posted by grubi at 7:27 AM on July 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, if he had just read the Wikipedia article on the high five, he would have seen:
The "low five" had already been known since at least the 1920s; written evidence can be found in Cab Calloway's 1938 Hepster's Dictionary.[8] In the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, actor Al Jolson is seen performing the low five in celebration of the news of a Broadway audition. In African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) this was known as "giving skin" or "slapping skin".[8]
So, no, the low-five wasn't exclusive and underground.
posted by grubi at 7:32 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know if he invented the high five or not. I only know that after reading his story I wish his life could have had a better ending.
posted by triage_lazarus at 7:41 AM on July 25, 2014 [11 favorites]


grubi: Nearly every episode of a TV show with teenaged characters, 1970-1985 had someone slapping five.

[citation needed] Show us one from before 1977 if you are so sure.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:46 AM on July 25, 2014


I clicked for the "grar... citation needed"

I stayed for the bittersweet story.

[High Fives the spirit of Mr. Beck]
posted by Debaser626 at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2014


Jon Mooallem's story on this for ESPN magazine is linked in the piece, but deserves to be highlighted. The ESPN story also inspired a Radiolab segment.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Back in 2001 there was a kerfuffle (addressed here on MeFi) when Brendan Lemon, Editor-in-Chief of Out, said he was in a serious relationship with a major league baseball player. Tons of speculation, but nothing came of that. Or in 2009, there was the gay blogger who said he was quitting pro baseball. Nothing came from that either.

It'll happen some day.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:54 AM on July 25, 2014


Not particularly well written story, but the life of Glen Burke deserves recognition.

I was a teenager in the 70's and can say that slapping five was definitely a thing. On my HS basketball team, we used to try to slap each other as hard as we could. Looking at the picture of the first high five, I contend that the high part is accidental and only resulted from Baker not wanting to get slapped hard so he met the windup up top. Of course, that picture might not be the moment of invention and I could be way off, but going up top sure would lessen the speed and pressure of an aggressive low five.

Now, as for Dusty Baker, when I briefly lived in Marin, a co-worker was a good friend of Dusty's. He was managing the Giants at the time. I met Dusty on several occasions. Dusty used to light up all the time. If they did drug tests on managers, he would have failed back then.
posted by 724A at 7:54 AM on July 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes, but who invented the bootie bump?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:57 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another article on the High Five: The Man Who Invented the High-Five
posted by stbalbach at 7:59 AM on July 25, 2014


[citation needed] Show us one from before 1977 if you are so sure.

I may have exaggerated with the "nearly every episode", but are you serious? You have never seen a low five between teenaged characters on TV before 1977?
posted by grubi at 8:14 AM on July 25, 2014


The 1953 Brando film "The Wild One" has a scat singing scene in a bar. At the end of the scene two characters exchange a "high five" no different from what you saw all the way through the eighties.

In 1953. On film. Anybody could look at it.
posted by Repack Rider at 8:23 AM on July 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


[citation needed] Show us one from before 1977 if you are so sure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_IzvndMxn4&feature=player_detailpage#t=292
posted by grubi at 8:28 AM on July 25, 2014


grubi: Nearly every episode of a TV show with teenaged characters, 1970-1985 had someone slapping five.

Show us one from before 1977 if you are so sure


Challenge accepted.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:30 AM on July 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


High five history is a minefield.

There are examples of the gesture we now call "high five" from before 1977. They were not called high five at the time, since that was (probably) invented in 1977, and so the gesture "high five" can't be said to have existed back then, with all of its context. And what exactly the people were intending with slapping palms together up high is hard to know exactly.

* The 1960 French movie Breathless at 1 hour, 14 minutes, and 23 seconds when two men part ways, they slap palms together up-high in a gesture that looks exactly like a modern high five.

* This image from the movie Cover Girl (1944)

* The Wild One, a 1953 movie starring Marlon Brando, contains sequence of two person ritual gestures between members of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club in a scene about 23 minutes in. This sequence starts with a very clear high five between the lines "Pop me daddy!" and "I popped ya daddy."

* The 1968 film The Producers contains a clip. During the play within the film, "Springtime For Hitler", Hitler, played by Shawn, sent for Goebbels, played by David Patch. Instead of putting his hand in front of for the "give me five", Shawn held up his hand like a Nazi salute, and Patch slapped it.

I think the press and journalist like the idea of the high five belonging to the gay community and so they have focused on the origin there, it shows how gay culture is one with mainstream culture - it's a good story. But a serious investigation of the high five, as a distinct gesture, would have to take into account prior uses. There's no doubt Dusty popularized it though, or it became popular starting around 1977, or 1978 when Wiley Brown of the Cardinals has a claim on its origin too. But there is still the open mystery of who coined the term "high five"? It's pretty catchy and may be just as significant on why it caught on mainstream.
posted by stbalbach at 8:31 AM on July 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


* The Wild One, a 1953 movie starring Marlon Brando, contains sequence of two person ritual gestures between members of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club in a scene about 23 minutes in. This sequence starts with a very clear high five between the lines "Pop me daddy!" and "I popped ya daddy."

And here it is, for reference.
posted by grubi at 8:35 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


A good place to link the You Can Play project, dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports. While it started out as a partner of the National Hockey League, they've slowly been adding other leagues - the MLS, for one - individual athletes from different sports, post secondary institutions and just this year the Denver Nuggets (NBA) joined the project. One of the things I've loved about it is how professional athletes - popular ones, and captains, etc, the kind kids look up to - have released videos with the message.

Looking forward to the time when all leagues have joined.
posted by barchan at 8:35 AM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Man, jazz culture invented *everything*.
posted by grubi at 8:36 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Including using "man" the way I just did.)
posted by grubi at 8:36 AM on July 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


grubi: You have never seen a low five between teenaged characters on TV before 1977?

Low five is totally different from a high five.

stbalbach: * The Wild One, a 1953 movie starring Marlon Brando, contains sequence of two person ritual gestures between members of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club in a scene about 23 minutes in. This sequence starts with a very clear high five between the lines "Pop me daddy!" and "I popped ya daddy."

Yeah, that's totally a high five.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:37 AM on July 25, 2014


grubi: You have never seen a low five between teenaged characters on TV before 1977?

Low five is totally different from a high five.


Yes, but that's what I was talking about from the start. The article stated the low five was somehow obscure, when I was pointing out it was quite popular and in the mainstream by the 1970s.
posted by grubi at 8:40 AM on July 25, 2014


Image sequence of the high five in Breathless.
posted by stbalbach at 8:44 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Image sequence of the high five in Breathless.

Also at 1:15:10 here.
posted by aught at 8:56 AM on July 25, 2014




Not particularly well written story, but the life of Glen Burke deserves recognition.

Seconded (on both points). What Burke had to endure is so painful to read, and makes it all the more clear why the increasing visibility of LGBT athletes is so important. When Michael Sam was drafted, there was the predictable chorus from detractors of "Who cares? Why is his sexuality even important?" Well, this is why.
posted by scody at 9:04 AM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Discussions about high-five history remind me of a show I did years back; it was about a bunch of the players in the ping pong friendship games between China and the U.S. in 1971. During rehearsals for one scene with two of the American players, the actors did a high-five after one of them delivered some good news.

When he was giving them notes after the scene, the director commented on that - "nice, guys, but just avoid doing the high-five because they didn't do high-fives yet in 1971." And the actors, when they heard that, were completely and totally shocked - like, gaping, wide-eyed, gasp-in-surprise shocked. "They didn't?" one blurted out. "Are you serious?"

It was as if we'd told them we didn't have indoor plumbing yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on July 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Low five is totally different from a high five.

"Totally" might be going a tad far.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2014


Another historical precedent - - the Andrews Sisters perform Gimme Some Skin, My Friend in this musical number from Abbott and Costello's 1941 film In The Navy.

(While the Andrews Sisters are primarily demonstrating "how they do it in Harlem", there's an example of a high five at 3:04.)
posted by fairmettle at 9:16 AM on July 25, 2014


It's too bad the headline of the article focuses on "inventor" when TFA really makes the much more credible claim that Burke popularized something that had been around in one form or another forever. The rest of Burke's story is so much more interesting and it's kind of a bummer to see it mostly hijacked here by all of this well actually kind of stuff.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:19 AM on July 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I always heard that the Roppongi area of Tokyo was called "High Touch Town" after the high fiving of American GIs stationed there following WWII.
posted by broken wheelchair at 9:23 AM on July 25, 2014


This article appears to be mostly ripped off from this earlier, better-written and better-researched piece at ESPN.

Beyond that I'll just say that it's too bad that this poorly-framed article (which appears to be poorly-plagiarized to boot) is a distraction both from Glenn Baker's role in popularizing the high-five and from the life story of one of the first-known LGBT pro athletes, at a time when Harvey Milk had just been assassinated and gay sex was still illegal in 23 states.

I did get a kick out of reading that he joined the SFGSL, which is the softball league I play in now. (Obviously he would have played in a different division!)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


"But there is still the open mystery of who coined the term 'high five'"

I wouldn't expect that to ever be resolved because in my experience (I was a kid in the 70s) people very commonly said "gimme five" for the low five and, once people had seen the high five, calling it a "high five" was natural and inevitable. Probably countless numbers of people coined the neologism independently of each other.

The author also doesn't seem to know what infamous means. Yeah, I know, I'm a descriptivist. But I'm not giving that one up, yet.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2014


This guy may have invented it, but these guys perfected it.
posted by brundlefly at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2014


When I was a kid in the early 80s, my favorite player on my favorite NFL team was WR James Lofton. In 1981, the Packers picked up JJ Jefferson from the San Diego Chargers. With Lynn Dickey at QB, they soon started racking up yards and touchdowns, if not wins. They were fun to watch.

Lofton and Jefferson had a certain style of high-five, like a high high-five. Others may have done it first, but in my mind they did it best. After a TD, they'd run toward each other, leap, and slap hands at the highest possible point. At 9 years old, they were the definition of cool.

So of course I started copying them. When I scored a goal in soccer, or my best friend scored a goal, we'd look for each other, point up, run, leap, and high five...just like Lofton and Jefferson. We probably looked nothing like them, but we felt cool. The high high-five was more exciting than the goal.

Then we added a twist to it. When we'd look for each other and point up, we'd spin our index finger around, telling the other one not to just run and leap, but to do a 360 in the air. Now we were super cool. Throw in the wristbands and the short shorts and the orange wedges and you can almost feel the 1982.

Years later, that same friend was brought down by mental illness and passed away as a young adult. I'd lost touch with him by then. When he does come to mind now, it's usually in that context...wondering what happened, and thinking about the signs that, in retrospect, were obviously developing in high school.

So thanks for the link on the high-five. It was a great trigger for better memories of a smiling, happy kid running, leaping, and twisting with joy.
posted by tallthinone at 10:46 AM on July 25, 2014 [11 favorites]


Thanks for sharing that, tallthinone.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:53 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also at 1:15:10 here

This high-five has style. It's not a hit, but a push / counter-push, like a high-shake.
posted by stbalbach at 10:54 AM on July 25, 2014


Another thing that annoyed me about this article is that while it mentions that he turned down $75K as "beard" money (i.e., to get married), it doesn't mention his awesome response:
A memorable moment in “Out” occurs when it is recalled that the Dodgers – trying to stifle rumors that a popular player was gay -- offered Burke $75,000 to get married. His reply: “I guess you mean to a woman?”
posted by en forme de poire at 11:27 AM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


The author also doesn't seem to know what infamous means.

Heh, that drives me nuts, too. The author doesn't appear to know that "spire" isn't a synonym for "spiral," either.

posted by scody at 11:31 AM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I always heard that the Roppongi area of Tokyo was called "High Touch Town" after the high fiving of American GIs stationed there following WWII.

I just did some research on this and I suspect it is apocryphal. Either the name "High Touch Town" is newer than the high-five, or the phrase has its origin in another meaning. One Japanese newspaper suggested it could mean as in "high class", sort of a joke since it was a seedy party of town.
posted by stbalbach at 7:26 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


High Five Hero review...
posted by fairmettle at 5:03 AM on August 12, 2014


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