Mob Mentality

I find that many things in life are all about finding a balance between 2 extremes. It’s often difficult to do, but I think most people have the innate ability to get it more or less right, and it’s very subtle differences of opinion which cause rifts.

I just spent the bank holiday weekend at the Leeds Festival. It was an awesome experience, I saw a lot of my favourite bands and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but there was one thing that spoiled it, and apparently spoils it every year. After the Manic Street Preachers finished the last gig on the last night, what had for the most part been a peaceul crowd turned into a mob. I knew that there generally is a bit of a riot at the end, and that a few years ago my friends got involved in an altercation with the riot police, but experiencing it first hand, it’s nothing like as fun as it might sound to some.

It started off in our area with a tent going on fire about 40 or 50 metres away. It may well have been the tent’s owner that burned the tent, but nevertheless within fifteen minutes all the tents within a 20 metre radius had been thrown on top of it too. I’m an experienced camper and I know that tents catch on fire very easily, and with everyone’s tents so close together it would be very easy for a whole section of the campsite to go up in flames, perhaps taking sleeping people with it. I was very much on edge.

People were throwing gas canisters onto the fires causing huge explosions with mushroom clouds above them, and massive crowds assembled near the fire by us, making the explosions all the more dangerous. My friend and I were driving home and as we knew we wouldn’t be able to sleep with all that rioting happening so close by, we thought it would be safer to drive home last night rather than risk being too tired this morning. My other friends were planning on getting picked up or taking coaches and trains the next day so they stayed, but as it worked out the rioting got so much worse that eventually they all left too.

What gets me is that I know most of the people in those crowds were probably perfectly decent people, but get a few drinks down their throats, put a few hundred of them together and you don’t have a group of individuals; you have a mob, easily led astray by the most extreme. It’s like the Nazis leading the German people in the extermination of the Jews, or in modern day terms, xenophobes calling for the expulsion of foreign people and getting more and more support for their cause every day. People predisposed to coersion are easy targets. I just wish they’d think for themselves.

On the other hand though, when I woke up safe in my own bed this morning, I heard that the famous Mathew Street Festival was still on. I was made up because I thought it’d finished the day before, so I rode off to the train station and over to Liverpool to take a few pictures, and my impression was that it was… reserved and restrained. People were standing around watching the bands, but from the look of them you couldn’t tell if they were enjoying it or not. I didn’t recognise anybody playing on any of the 6 stages dotted around the city centre and to tell the truth they all looked like middle-aged hasbeens, so I just pottered around for a while and went back home.

At one point at the stage near the Birkenhead Tunnel (the stage where the biggest crowd was drawn), I saw some older people telling off some teens just because they were jumping around to the music, telling them to stop messing before they got hurt. I got angry at them, all the kids were doing was jumping up and down having a good time, they weren’t harming anyone at all, and if a few more people had followed their example, the festival would have had a much less stifled atmosphere. Here was me, just back from a massive festival, where I was just 10 or 20 rows from the centre front for big bands like Metallica, Rage and Queens of the Stone Age, and there we were crushed, pushed from all sides and thrown around like rag dolls whilst pits opened up in the centre of the crowds. No I didn’t particularly like it, but it built the atmosphere up and I accepted that that’s what happens at big concerts when you put thousands of people in the same place, and by the end of the gig I wouldn’t have had it any other way, it was so exhilarating. I didn’t throw my scorn at it as dangerous or irresponsible. The only people I did think were being irresponsible were the physically small and weak people who went to the centre front only to be crushed and complain about it afterwards; they should have known better.

But after seeing those teens being told off, I realised that like many things, it was just my own subjective judgement. And that got me wondering whether I should be angry at the rioters at Leeds, as in that situation I was being just like the middle aged fuddy duddies. It’s all relative. I thought about this for about three nanoseconds and then stopped myself. The rioters were putting people’s lives at risk, and that cannot be dismissed as a bit of harmless fun. That isn’t a subjective value I’m placing on it, it’s pretty objective. They’re the ones who tipped the balance too far. It didn’t put me off completely because it was such a good weekend, but if one year the line-up isn’t as amazing as it was this time around, I won’t bother going, it’s not worth the hassle.

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2 Responses to Mob Mentality

  1. AlexMagd says:

    The Mathew St Festival is always pretty naff: they insist on having cover bands as the main attraction playing on the outdoor stages. This year they had a poorly-advertised and not-very-well-implemented ‘fringe’ element: essentially all the upcoming young bands with original songs played the indoor venues where nobody could just wander up and see them.

    I was at the rioting in Leeds in 2005 and thought it was fantastic. That was when it was still run by Carling, and they employed very heavy-handed security that apart from being abusive and aggressive would thunder down the tent lanes in a fucking armoured car, throwing tents set up in the lanes into other people’s tents, confiscating stuff (including my mate’s camera!) and generally being bastards. That, combined with £3 a pint-of-warm-Carling drove everyone mental and on the last night they started setting fires (back then it wasn’t allowed) and drumming on upturned bins to make a freaky tribal scene.

    They resisted a few attempts by the security guys to charge them, including a bit where the guards snuck up on them with their hands over their LED chest-lights and then revealed them all at once: a big line of security appeared surrounding the rioters from nowhere like in some Hollywood epic and everyone was shouting at them to run. In the end though they retreated to a secure compound and the rioters knocked down a telegraph pole, used it as a battering ram to break into the Cold Carling van and then distributed crate upon crate of beer to the crowd. Carling never tasted so good!

    Obviously highly irresponsible and dangerous, but the way the security treated the festival-goers was disgusting. I felt more like the price of my ticket rather than a person the whole time, and it was gratifying to see their “we’re well hard” cod-SAS bravado crumple in the face of some drunken students on pot. The security for the last few years has been brilliant and laid back though, so I’ve little sympathy for anyone rioting at Leeds these days. Probably just doing it for the hell of it, as opposed to 2005 where everyone was super-pissed off at the security. Did you see the stylish kids in the riot…

  2. grammarking says:

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that if we’d been provoked by heavy-handed security I probably would have joined in, but it was so laid back all weekend that I really didn’t think there was any need. At one point my mate handed a glass bottle full of vodka to a security guard saying “dya want some?”, and he took a swig and handed it straight back (glass is banned for anyone who doesn’t know)! Then we shouted “BAGHEERA!!” across the whole campsite with his megaphone. From the sounds of things a few years ago (this was my first full weekend but my mates have been going for years) you’d get kicked out for something like that.

    As it turned out, a couple of my friends stayed the whole night, and when the mob turned its attention to our tents, one of them just stood up shouting with a piece of wood and asked why they were doing it, calling them all sheep, and apparently you’re absolutely right, most of them weren’t really rioting at all, they were just following a few gimps who wanted a laugh at the expense of other people’s safety.

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