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Obligatory Earpiece Touch

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Characters communicating via earpiece will feel the need to touch it frequently.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
eroock on Mar 28th 2017 at 6:59:53 PM
Last Edited By:
eroock on Nov 4th 2017 at 5:00:59 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/touching_the_earpiece.jpg

"Stop touching your ear!"
James Bond, Casino Royale

Any character equipped with an earpiece for communication, like bodyguards or Secret Service agents, will at some point reach up with their hand to their ear to emphasize that they are indeed listening to someone talking. This visual cue can also be played for suspense in cases where we don't hear what's been said over the line but we know by the touch of the ear that an import order has been issued and the hero is now in danger.

Truth in Television for two reasons: the earpiece makes a very convenient place to put the activation button (look at a Bluetooth earpiece or watch the drive-thru employee at a fast food joint) and pushing lightly on an earpiece makes for a tighter seal, which could mean the difference between hearing or missing a vital message.

Compare Removing the Earpiece.


Examples:

Film — Live Action

  • The Agents in The Matrix do this whenever they receive new orders from the mainframe. Since they don't communicate much except vague menace, this cue is important to signal that they are going to try something new next.
  • The NSA agents pursuing videographer Zavitz from Enemy of the State all have earpieces, mainly to receive updates from spy satellite pics taken by Mission Control. One agent in particular expects the target to emerge on his street, and fingers his earpiece because he's on a busy, noisy midtown Baltimore thoroughfare. He gets the brotherly counsel from Mission Control: "Turn around, you idiot." Ah, teamwork.
  • Early in Casino Royale, Bond and another agent are surveilling a runner for a terrorist organization. The other agent repeatedly fiddles with his earpiece, much to the frustration of Bond, who scolds him for doing it and tells him not to draw attention to himself. Sure enough, their target notices the other agent while the agent is pushing on the earpiece and makes a run for it.
  • One assassin from Fair Game sent to eradicate attorney Kate McQuean and her squad of bodyguards knows that his surviving targets are aware they're in mortal danger, and he needs to know Detective Kirkpatrick's location from his cohorts, who are using thermal imaging to track their victims. This assassin repeatedly asks, "Where is Target Three?" while holding his earpiece, because this intel is critically needed. The response is "He's right in front of you!" Sure enough, the assassin looks up to see Kirkpatrick firing bullets into him.

Literature

  • "Comm-beads" from the Ciaphas Cain novels apparently have the controls built into the earpiece, as Cain specifies tapping them on a regular basis. (And on one occasion, in Death or Glory, he doesn't realize he left his comm-bead behind until he tries to tap it.)

Live-Action TV

  • In Sherlock episode "The Final Problem", Mycroft talks to Sherlock via earpiece and both characters use the touching gesture while talking.
  • Reese from Person of Interest does this every time he talks to his handler, Finch. In the second season, it was retconned that the touches allowed him to turn the earpiece on and off, a feature not expressed in the first season.
  • In Westworld, we occasionally see staff touch their earpiece while communicating.
  • Arrowverse
    • In Arrow, Team Arrow frequently touch the comms in their ears when communicating. It seems to serve as a means of turning them on and off.
    • In The Flash, Barry's comms, shaped like lightning bolts, also has Barry pressing them when using them.
    • In Legends of Tomorrow, the Legends also use comms with characters sometimes touching them while using them. In fact it appears that touching them actually turns them on and off, as Martin Stein demonstrated.
  • In Star Trek, Uhura would often touch her earpiece when concentrating on an incoming communication.

Video games

  • Henry Stickmin Series: In Infiltrating the Airship, this trope naturally shows up when you select the "earpiece" at the start of the game.

Web Video

Feedback: 22 replies

Mar 28th 2017 at 7:09:20 PM

The earpiece is also a convenient place to put the "talk" button.

You know security teams tend to use walkie-talkies to keep in contact with on another instead of cellphones, right?

Mar 28th 2017 at 8:07:34 PM

Didn't Lt. Uhura do this often in Star Trek: TOS?

Mar 28th 2017 at 9:22:09 PM

Yes, but she did it so consistently that it was probably that she was touching the activation switch., as ~Zarpaulus mentioned. The other characters always touched their comm badges to talk. That's makes it a Justified Trope for Trek

Mar 29th 2017 at 4:38:18 AM

  • The Agents in The Matrix do this whenever they receive new orders from the mainframe. Since they don't communicate much except vague menace, this cue is important to signal that they are going to try something new next.

Oct 10th 2017 at 4:04:32 PM

Film

  • The NSA agents pursuing videographer Zavitz from Enemy Of The State all have earpieces, mainly to receive updates from spy satellite pics taken by Mission Control. One agent in particular expects the target to emerge on his street, and fingers his earpiece because he's on a busy, noisy midtown Baltimore thoroughfare. He gets the brotherly counsel from Mission Control: "Turn around, you idiot." Ah, teamwork.

Oct 10th 2017 at 7:49:49 PM

Live Action — TV

  • Arrowverse
    • In Arrow, Team Arrow frequently touch the comms in their ears when communicating. It seems to serve as a means of turning them on and off.
    • In The Flash, Barry's comms, shaped like lightning bolts, also has Barry pressing them when using them.
    • In Legends Of Tomorrow, the Legends also use comms with characters sometimes touching them while using them. In fact "Star City 2046" reveals that touching them actually turns them on and off, as Martin Stein demonstrated.

Oct 10th 2017 at 8:21:50 PM

  • Early in Casino Royale 2006, Bond and another agent are surveilling a runner for a terrorist organization. The other agent repeatedly fiddles with his earpiece, much to the frustration of Bond, who scolds him for doing it and tells him not to draw attention to himself. Sure enough, their target notices the other agent while the agent is pushing on the earpiece and makes a run for it.

Oct 11th 2017 at 12:18:43 AM

Oct 11th 2017 at 8:20:31 AM

Going off The Wanderer's comment, I'd even say the page quote should be:

"Stop touching your ear!"
—James Bond, Casino Royale 2006

Oct 11th 2017 at 7:17:54 PM

Film

  • One assassin from Fair Game sent to eradicate attorney Kate McQuean and her squad of bodyguards knows that his surviving targets are aware they're in mortal danger, and he needs to know Detective Kirkpatrick's location from his cohorts, who are using thermal imaging to track their victims. This assassin repeatedly asks, "Where is Target Three?" while holding his earpiece, because this intel is critically needed. The response is "He's right in front of you!" Sure enough, the assassin looks up to see Kirkpatrick firing bullets into him.

Oct 12th 2017 at 11:33:18 PM

Live Action TV

  • Reese from Person Of Interest does this every time he talks to his handler, Finch. In the second season, it was retconned that the touches allowed him to turn the earpiece on and off, a feature not expressed in the first season.

Oct 13th 2017 at 1:59:54 PM

"Comm-beads" from the Ciaphas Cain novels apparently have the controls built into the earpiece, as Cain specifies tapping them on a regular basis. (And on one occasion, in Death or Glory, he doesn't realize he left his comm-bead behind until he tries to tap it.)

Oct 14th 2017 at 7:46:28 PM

Can someone more familiar with the film Wag the Dog confirm/elaborate? There was a scene where the President is speaking on a TV in the background, and someone says he can get the President to say anything he wants. When the interested party does give a suggested phrase, the President on the TV screen, touches his ear, then repeats the line in question.

Oct 16th 2017 at 7:01:50 PM

Let's discuss the trope name. Following variations come to mind:

Opinions?

Oct 16th 2017 at 8:38:09 PM

It seems to be conveying the same idea as Pstandard Psychic Pstance, so I think I would god with Obligatory Earpiece Touch.

Oct 27th 2017 at 7:31:11 AM

Bumping just to know that it had been prematurely launched then unlaunched.

Nov 3rd 2017 at 11:54:32 AM

Do you think everyone's gonna do this in the future where wireless headphones are going to be the norm?

Nov 3rd 2017 at 8:11:09 PM

Related question: Is there a name for a trope which we can assume will only reach peak use some time in the future?

Nov 3rd 2017 at 8:43:56 PM

@alnair20aug93 : "in the future?" Yes, because there will always be spurious noise that tends to interfere with one's listening. Can you really imagine a world where listening to Franz Schubert or Gerbils Inna Blender goes without any doofus sticking his nose in and asking ,"Whatcha lis'nen to, buddy?"

@eroock : "some time in the future?" Speculative fiction, perhaps. Though there's always the danger of Science Marches On, and the prognostication turns to Zeerust.

Nov 4th 2017 at 5:00:47 AM

Okay, any last comments before launch?

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