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Monkey Knife Fighting

August 1, 2011

*first published Feburary 2011 at

I heard a story on the news recently about a group of students who used Facebook to organise a massive spectator knife-fight between two lads near a local shopping centre.  Now.  Fighting is a bad thing.  Knives are bad things.  Knife fighting is a very bad thing.  Social networking is a new thing, that can be used for good (protests in Egypt, Iran) or bad (bullying, spectator knife fighting outside Poundland).  But the knives here aren’t what scare me.  Nor does the fight, nor the social networking element, really.  No, what really scares me about this story is the people who turned up to watch.

It’s a bit Gladiatorial, isn’t it?  I mean, what did they think was going to happen?  My bet is that they imagined a scene out of a bad (is there any other type) Steven Seagal movie, where our protagonists deftly circle each other and spend a good ten minutes taking highly choregraphed swipes with a bit of cartoon blood thrown in and, following every stab and slash, a manly grimace giving the impression there is just about the same amount of pain as you get from a shaving cut, or perhaps a particularly nasty toe-stubbing incident.

Thankfully things were brought to a halt before any of the bloodthursty crowd found out that in the real world things go down a bit differently.  But I’m left with a lingering doubt, and I wonder whether they had really thought their excitement through – I mean, they can;t have imagined the reality and still wanted to cheer it on, surely?  Two scared little boys, bayed on by a screaming crowd, not really understanding what happens when flesh is lacerated – the massive blood loss, the sound of severing tendons, the inredible pain once the body figures out what’s happening, the potential organ failure and at worse, the slow death of a boy, alone in a crowd in a pool of his own blood, crying for his mother.

I don’t want to go all Mary Whitehouse on you here; when seen by the appropriate
audience, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a bit of violece on telly.  But adults have the life experience to differentiate between Hollywood fantasy and grim reality, because they have seen both.  Children, on the other hand, for the most part have only
seen the Hollywood version where the hero ties a hankie round his half’severed-off arm and continues to climb Everest one handed, fighting off enemy soldiers and eagles with the other (OK I made that one up, but doesn’t it sound awesome?)

What I mean is that learning is made up of experience and if that experience comes only from computer games, half-told stories in the playground and Mission Impossible
movies telling you that knife fighting is cool and actually not that dangerous, then suddenly the prospect of two of your contemporaroes going toe to toe does sound quite heroic and exciting.  And that’s the real danger – fighting has been made cool.  Nobody has told these kids what happens when two men fight, to the end, for their very lives. They couldn’t possibly imagine the horror, the desperation and the carnage even a tiny knife can bring to the human body.

And so they click a few buttons on a computer, just like in their computer games on the X-Box, and suddenly two characters are knife fighting in a shopping centre.  Only this time they’re not characters, they’re boys. And whatever their sins, if no-one steps in one of them will probably die. Even if it is a computer game in their heads, it’s not.  Once your blood is there on the floor in front of you and you’re slipping over in it, as you get weaker and everything gets darker, and you’re wondering what happened, and there is a crowd of your friends all around you screaming and cheering, you don’t get to save your place and do it again tomorrow.

Game over.

Oh, and I lied about the monkeys

One Comment
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