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On Fights, Happy Slapping, and YouTube

Slate charts the terribly fascinating but disturbing

popularity of street fight videos on YouTube and sites like, I'm not making this up, . Everybody videotapes everything these days. Performance has become central to our way of being in the world as cell phone and video cameras capture and propagate.


Fighting has a strong performance element -- men and women rarely start punching and wrestling without the fuel of onlookers. With YouTube, that pool of onlookers has grown by the millions. I watched some of the videos mentioned in the article. I'll admit to being overcome with the "train wreck" effect -- trying to look away but not really. They are fascinating and upsetting. Fascinating because raw violence always is... upsetting because people fighting without refined skills look like idiots.

The article also mentions a trend that was apparently a fad in Britain and Europe a couple of years ago: happy slapping . This is a practice where the happy slapper walks up to any random person and just slaps them while a co-conspirator films the whole thing. Happy slapping was a big enough deal to be outlawed in France through legislation! Unbelievable.

One of the things I like about the Slate article is the way author Carlo Rotella observes the seemingly minor details of these videos. He writes about the literal-minded dialogue of onlookers -- all captured on videotape: "'Damn, he just hit you,'... 'He just hit you again. He's beating your ass!' To whom is this commentary directed? Who benefits from it? Not the fighters. They already know who hit whom."

If anybody out there watches these videos and wants to wax philosophical about why they are appealing or entirely unappealing, do it here on Culture Lust . I want to know.