The Devilish Symbol
Jenna Bush flashed the "Hook 'em Horns" symbol and ignited a Norwegian tempest. During the televised Black Tie and Boots gala at the presidential inaugural festivities, while a band played "The Eyes of Texas," the Bush daughter held up the hand sign for her alma mater, the University of Texas.
Contrary to propaganda, by the way, "The Eyes of Texas" is NOT the Texas state song, but a UT ditty based on the tune, "I've Been Working on the Railroad." The state song is "Texas, Our Texas."
"Sjokkhilsen fra Bush datter," read the headline on Nettavisen, a Norwegian news website. In Norway, the horn sign is associated with Satanism, or more particularly, the Death Metal music movement, which in the 1980s was shocking, violent, anti-Christian, and sometimes deadly.
The same hand sign is also known to have been used by homosexuals to identify themselves.
The "Hook 'em" sign is attributed to Harley Clark, now a retired district judge. Clark was a UT cheerleader in 1955 when originating the sign to counter the "Gig 'em" sign used by the archrival Texas A&M Aggies.
Commenting on the hand signs, Clark betrays considerable animus. "Surely everybody in the world takes offense at the Aggie Gig 'Em sign. I can't think of anything more repulsive than that hand gesture."
The "Gig 'Em" sign is probably based on the "thumbs up" sign prevalent in the military in World War II or earlier. A pilot, for instance, would give the signal from the cockpit to mean, "Go ahead" or "All systems go."
So why the acrimony? Texans would understand. Texas is divided between Aggies and Horns, like Democrat versus Republican or Liberal versus Conservative. They coexist in two different worldviews. Wherever one went to college, or not at all, everyone has an opinion, and everybody chooses sides.
UT was the state university written into the Texas Constitution of 1876, but Texas A&M was the first to hold classes, that same year. UT has been the elite school, located in the state capitol, claiming to represent the state, and receiving the lion's share of state funding.
A&M was a land grant college established under the Morrill Act to provide a place for the children of farmers and the working class to go to school. A&M was a military school until after World War II, when it allowed veterans to return out of uniform. Its Corps of Cadets continues to be the heart and soul of the university, and to provide the largest number of military officers outside the official military academies.
Female students were allowed in the 1960s. Because of phenomenal growth, A&M has been forced to keep raising entrance requirements, since it is required by law to admit all qualified students. Consequently, A&M has often been unjustly accused of limiting minority enrollment for racist reasons.
UT is a liberal school, located in the state's most liberal city. A&M is conservative, located in a small town that grew up around the campus. Austin was the hotbed of anti-Vietnam protest in Texas, there were no major protests at A&M. The same people who hate A&M tend to be the same left-wingers who, in Bill Clinton's words, "loathe the military."
So the difference is ideological. Hmm, maybe the UT handsign is evil, after all.
[Source: Andrew Dansby, "Norway Reads Something Sinister in 'Hook 'Em' Sign," Houston Chronicle, January 22, 2005, pp. A1, A10; and the author, with an A&M degree and 30 years of personal experience.]
©2005 Paul A. Hughes