To this day I feel like I owe Myron Lowery an apology. I tweeted the tweet that launched Fistbumpgate. It's true. Back in 2009, when Twitter was only three years old, I unintentionally lit the fuse on the doomed mayoral candidate's 15 minutes of international fame. And once it was lit, I couldn't unlight it.
I know it's big news when a high-profile mayoral candidate does something stupid in public. Somebody else would have reported the incident. How could they not? But before the Arab Spring of 2012, this was my first real glimpse of just how fast news can spread across social media platforms. The meme was loose before the ink had dried on other reporters' notepads, and I can say without too much fear of reprisal that all hope Lowery had of succeeding W. W. Herenton as mayor of Memphis withered on that windy September day when he decided it was a good idea to teach the Dalai Lama how to do a Memphis-style fist bump.
- A C Wharton, Myron Lowery, and the Dalai Lama
Worse, he had the audacity to make a "Hello Dalai" joke, something area voters simply could not abide. It was a deeply weird and superficial scandal, and it all started with 140 characters, launched from my iPhone.
Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden was the first to retweet. In a subsequent online column, he joked that Lowery had been considering a chest bump but had reconsidered and was saving that one for the Pope. Flyer writer Bianca Phillips reported that the Dalai Lama didn't give her a fist bump, but did surprise her when, out of nowhere, he reached out and jiggled her lip ring at a media meet-and-greet.
Commercial Appeal columnist Wendi Thomas was appalled. In a blog post titled "Fist Bump Fail," Thomas called Lowery's shameful transgression, "The Fist Bump Heard Round the World" declaring "Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery's mayoral campaign is done." She wasn't wrong about that, but she wasn't done either.
"According to news reports, the Dalai Lama wasn't comfortable with the greeting, saying it reminded him of violence," Thomas continued, followed by virtually every other news story about the now legendary meeting.
Flyer political columnist Jackson Baker, after reviewing the video I posted, took a dissenting view, advising critics to lighten up: "Instead of acting like offended self-righteous elders or, alternatively, scornful cynics whom nothing can please, why don't we take our cue from the Dalai Lama himself?" he wrote. And he was right.
"We both committed violence," the Dalai Lama said, just as writers from coast to coast and around the world had noted over and over again. But what they didn't report is just as important. Turning toward Lowery, the Dalai Lama's very serious glare evolved slyly into wide-mouthed laughter.
"But the expression of violence is special," he said, acknowledging Lowery's warm, silly intent, and embracing it. Then the Tibetan spiritual leader pulled back his own right arm and sent a much more energetic fist bump flying toward Lowery. It landed with a loud, fleshy smack, and more laughter. It was a beautiful moment, twisted into something awful by repetition on the internet. Like that ever happens.