Sometimes a smirk is just a smirk; or is it?

On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside a movie theater in Colorado during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. The sole suspect, James Holmes, was arrested outside the cinema minutes later. This case is going to trail and one of the initial responding officers testified that he asked Holmes twice whether he had an accomplice, but Holmes only looked at him and smiled. The Officer described the smile as "a self-satisfying offensive smirk". The Prosecutor called the alleged smirk "a nonverbal statement that meant something" and said it should be admissible at his trial. She said later it was "a statement of satisfaction" with the shootings.

What is interesting is that I Googled for photos of a “smirk” and most of what I found were photos of people with an asymmetrical smile with one side of their mouth pulled up and pinched in the corner, which is a universal expression of feelings of contempt. As an experiment, right now smile like you were happy and satisfied with a job you completed. Was it even, both sides of your mouth engaged and even your eye muscles engaged? Now smirk or make a facial expression to show contempt at a person or situation. Was it different? Was only one side of your mouth pulled up? I bet the expressions were different, and the emotions that make those facial expressions are different as well. The Prosecutor was probably correct with her assumption that his “smirk” was a nonverbal statement that meant something, but maybe not a statement of satisfaction as she suggested which would likely evoke a genuine smile, but rather one of contempt, either for the officer or for the victims of the shooting.


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