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The “thumbs up” sign is a gesture of approval or satisfaction, at least in the United States of America. In some other countries and regions, however, the thumbs up is actually an insulting expressin, a gesture we reserve, here, for the middle finger. This is true in some areas of South America, Iran, Afghanistan, and Italy, for instance.
In cult-TV history, however, the thumbs-up sign has often been a funny sign of assent and agreement, but the gesture is also a trademark of two particular historic programs, in particular.
Happy Days (1974-1984), a nostalgic program about the 1950’s, introduced the character of the Fonz -- or Fonzie (Henry Winkler) -- who was the coolest person in existence. The Fonz wore a leather jacket, drove a motorcycle, jumped a shark, and indicated approval with his ubiquitous thumbs-up gesture. The Fonz became such a pop culture icon that his “thumbs up” image was seen on T-shirts, trading cards and other collectibles.
The other TV series to make frequent use of the “thumbs up” gesture, of course, is At the Movies (1982-86), which featured film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert giving their (often dueling) opinions of current movie releases.
A thumb’s up sign was also seen in the opening credits, each week, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1989 – 1999) during the Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) era. Joel appeared in his red-jump suit and hard-hat, “cleaning up the place” (Gizmonic Institute), and giving his assent to the camera with the thumbs-up.