On the 13th of September 2008 I was set upon by approximately fifteen youths after absolutely no provocation. Having been kicked and punched to the ground, half hard-heartedly helped out by the police, documenting the healing of my bruise over three weeks as a time-lapse video felt like a constructive outcome of an otherwise crappy event.
After editing the video I realised how uncomfortable I felt about any explanatory text I might include with it. Generally it seemed to me that if someone posted a note about being violently attacked that they would be seeking sympathy and praise from anonymous internet goers for both their ordeal and heroism. This was far from what I wanted. My physical injuries were very, very minor indeed compared to a sadly large number of people who fall victim to all kinds of unimaginable acts of cruelty.
This was my main reason for considering posting the video with no accompanying text. This of course could be construed as an invitation for inquiry as a cheap ‘get around’ of the above scenario. After much thought I decided that writing an explanation free from self-importance, a little drama, perhaps bias opinions (they are like ass holes after all) would be impossible and so the only way to proceed would be to attempt to be as neutral and fair to the facts as possible.
The day following the attack one of the first thoughts that came to mind was “Why don’t any of my friends with PhD’s spend their Saturday evenings in large groups looking for lone people to afflict injury upon?” This led to the more reasonable and common question “What set of circumstances come together to make a group of people think that engaging in violence with non-participating strangers is acceptable?”
To someone like me with no qualifications or knowledge in the field of sociology or psychology the answer feels like “anything and/or everything” and so impossible to lay out as any kind of manageable explanation. It seems likely that each individual of such a group would have at the very least an inert notion that this behaviour is wrong and more likely would be well aware that it is unacceptable. I find it easier to analyse the conundrum of someone carrying out behaviour that they know to be unacceptable when thinking about people dropping litter.
I have dropped litter in the past, knowing it’s wrong and would say that I did it by justifying it to myself, by trying to out-weigh the wider problem of dropped litter with reasons why I deserve to drop it. “I don’t want it in my pockets”, “someone else will pick it up”, “there is already a load of rubbish on the floor” (Broken Window Theory) or “I’m always picking up other people’s rubbish.” No matter how you spin it, there is no way of arguing that dropping litter is good. I’m sure there are some people who genuinely think it is OK to shoplift small items from large stores that make up large chains. Not only would these people justify it with reasons like “no individual person is losing money”, “I needed a pint of milk” or “they shouldn’t be able to charge these prices”, but they could genuinely believe that shoplifting on a small-scale is a good idea and teaches big corporations a lesson.
Back to dropping litter; I would imagine it almost impossible to find anyone anywhere that could honestly say that dropping litter is a good thing. Speak to a serial litter dropper and sure they would begin by justifying it with the above excuses, but I really do believe that after raising a few of the obvious dilemmas (like “someone has to pick it up eventually”) it would be impossible for them to be unaware of the problem. It’s a strange situation: regular people doing things they agree are wrong and shouldn’t happen.
I expect that a good proportion of the people involved in mindless violence would acknowledge that it is wrong but would justify it by trivializing it or dissociating themselves from the effect of their actions. However, this still doesn’t really take me any further than my second question “What set of circumstances come together to make a group of people who are capable of justifying violence against non-participating strangers?”
As you get older you find more of the things your parents told you whilst growing up were true “one day you won’t hate your siblings”, “drugs are bad”, “there are plenty more fish in the sea”, “working hard at school is a good idea”, “if two trains are travelling at the same speed . . . “, etc. I remember when I first realised that I agreed with a few of these I felt ashamedly old and boring! I have always liked films and whilst under fifteen was often allowed to watch titles like Terminator, Friday The 13th, etc which I guess my parents decided I could handle watching without turning into a violent psychopath. As a twenty three year old I was rather disappointed when Rockstar’s most violent video game Manhunt 2 was banned before hitting the shops.
It felt patronizing that a grown up wasn’t given the opportunity to decide for themselves if they wanted to witness such sickening senseless violence that was reportedly carried out in the game (I never bought or played it). It is quite likely that the sensors didn’t think the game would corrupt geeky adults (indeed, Rock Star say the game is aimed at a more mature audience), but more so the impressionable under eighteens who might experience the video game. The game was of course due to be released with an eighteen certificate and so it felt like an added frustration that us adult video gamers were being denied entertainment to cover for the parents who were not responsible enough and could not accurately asses whether their child was mentally stable of playing an eighteen certificate violent video game. The eighteen certificate is only a legal matter when selling a video game, if an adult buys it then the eighteen certificate is there to act as a guide (in the UK at least).
Major studies have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity and I am not proposing otherwise, just that irresponsible exposure to violent material (of many mediums) is very likely to be one of the many (perhaps in the thousands?) circumstances that join together to create a justification of violence. The youths that attacked me were trying hard to look and act like rappers/gangsters/film-stars, they called me Blood and walked like they needed the toilet. When the police spoke to them it looked like I was watching a play where the police said their parts with their puffed out chests and the hip hoppers played their part of speaking in faux-maican slang and shuffling their feet. This social appeal of being involved in a violent gang must be yet another contributing factor, a modern equivalent to being in a pack.
It seems way too easy and simple to say that in late teens the sporty kids are in sports teams, the musicians in bands and the naughty kids in gangs. Going back to my first question of “Why don’t any of my friends with PhD’s spend their Saturday evenings in large groups looking for lone people to afflict injury upon?” It also seems too simple and easy to tie this to education. Shirley you can be educated and enjoy dishing out violence in situations where people can’t defend themselves?
Malcolm Gladwell has a very interesting chapter in his book Outliers where by heavily referencing a study carried out by Annette Lareau (and documented in her book Unequal Childhoods) he discusses the difference in attitudes to education in a working class and middle class environment. I won’t attempt to go into any detail, but the jist of it is that a middle class family takes an active interest in a child’s education and a working class family views their child’s education as a duty and responsibility of the school. Throughout the book you get to learn how not only are both methods good and bad, but that both methods lead to a surprising number of seemingly unrelated factors. This book led me to think that it would be mostly middle class kids being encouraged to join the school band or sports team while the working class kids would be left (and encouraged?) to entertain themselves, learn how to occupy their own time, organise activities and take responsibility for their own time. This goes some way towards answering the question about the lack of PhD holding street gangs ready to talk victims into submission, but does (like all the other suggestions put forward) seem too simple and easy, taking me back to my original vague answer to the whole collection of factors that make a violent youth: anything and everything.
Making the video
The main problem in assembling this time-lapse was the change in perspective and framing between all the shots (over six hundred in total). When I began taking them I tried to hold my camera out in front at such an angle that would be comfortable and natural to repeat often. Once I lined them up and began watching it was clear that there was too much change between shots. I wanted these photos to be played back at 24fps and at that speed they mostly looked like a jumbled mess. The painstaking fix I chose to use (I am sure there must be quicker methods) was to place a maker on each of my pupils. I then went through every photo zooming in or out and moving it until the pupils fitted as best they could under the two cross hairs. Even after this lengthy corrective measure it was still very jerky. In trying to disguise it some what I did some panning and zooming that appeared to help.
The look of the healing bruise and scabs got me thinking about other biological time-lapse video’s that I’d like to try, including fingernails, facial hair and other injuries.