Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goths, Violence, and the Group Monkey Dance

This is my third Goth-related post (see my earlier posts on the Cure and the Crow) and it's about a serious topic applicable to many people, Goth or not.

I was inspired to write this by something shared on Facebook by the good folks at Gothic Volunteer Alliance (GVA)* of San Diego. The GVA is "an action league of individual volunteers who conduct humanitarian acts for the betterment of the local and global community." The organization has a sad origin:
The Gothic Volunteer Alliance (formerly Goth Help Us – San Diego; a part of the now defunct Goth Help Us International organization), was founded in October 2006 after the unfortunate, and unprovoked, brutal verbal and physical assault upon four Goths in a busy San Diego tourist area. The horrifying encounter left two of the four Goths with bruising and one requiring reconstructive surgery for orbital rim and socket fractures, a broken nose and dislocated jaw. What could have manifested as anger and hatred was instead channeled into the desire to undo the negative image that society and the media cast on the Gothic Subculture over the last several decades. From that, the San Diego Gothic volunteer base was formed.
Sophie Lancaster, killed for being Goth.
Recently, GVA brought a 
news story to my attention. It was about efforts by U.K. police to "note offences against Goths, emos and other groups as hate crimes, as they do already with crimes aimed at race, disability or sexual orientation. One report against Goths and others has been received every week since the recording began in April."

These efforts are part of a campaign launched by Sylvia Lancaster. Her daughter Sophie died after she was brutally attacked alongside her boyfriend simply because they were Goths. Sylvia Lancaster set up the Sophie Lancaster Foundation in her daughter's memory.

Sophie's story highlights a sad but true fact about the world: Those who are different, who are considered on the margins of society, are often victims of especially brutal violence. 

Rory Miller, in his excellent book Meditations on Violence and elsewhere, describes the many forms of violent behavior. Miller is 17-year law enforcement veteran with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology.

Miller writes that one of the worst is the Group Monkey Dance. The Group Monkey Dance (GMD) is "a show of group solidarity." 

According to Miller,

Rory Miller.
Most GMDs occur when an outsider is within the threat-group’s territory. There is an exception. You may remember the wildings in Central Park or the roving band of young men randomly beating people in Seattle. This pack behavior follows a similar dynamic and serves the same purpose as any other GMD—it strengthens bonds within the group. Causing fear in others (and fear is power) is just a by-product.
Outsiders—Goths, hippies, punks, skaters, nerds, the LGBTQ community, etc.—make ripe targets for the GMD. Their essential "otherness" offends those perpetrating the GMD. The violence directed at outsiders isn't merely a way to strengthen bonds among the attacking group. It serves to punish the victim for daring to exist in the first place. Because of this, the level of brutality is often far higher than in other violent encounters. "If you become the center of a Group Monkey Dance (GMD) it is hard to overstate the level of danger," writes Miller.What do you do if you find yourself the target of the GMD? Miller states that he knows of four tactics that can prevent a Group Monkey Dance:
The most obvious and the easiest was an act of such overwhelming violence that it shocks and scares the group…. The second is to make the threats laugh…. The third tactic is to increase either the doubt or the danger level…. The fourth and most effective tactic is to get the hell out of there. Run.

Miller notes that three of these options require special skills. For more details, please read the original article.

I  cannot stress the importance of running as an option. If you can escape, do so. If you never sprint, start. "Run Fu" is one of the most effective martial arts when it comes to staying safe.

Of course, running is not always an option, especially if you have someone with you who needs to be protected. What then?

To prepare for this sort of worst case scenario, be aware of this: You cannot truly prepare for violence of this sort. That being said, inadequately prepared is better than not prepared at all.

Get into better shape. I don't mean just body building. I mean functional strength and power training combined with the aforementioned sprinting. 

As for self-defense... Sadly, there's an awful lot of nonsense in the martial arts and self-defense community. Every instructor is different, so I won't make specific recommendations except for one: If you never spar, if you never have to deal with a resisting opponent, if all you ever do are "flow drill" or "forms" or "kata," then you are not learning to defend yourself. As my own instructor, Burton Richardson, says, "If you want to learn how to fight, you have to practice fighting against someone who is fighting back."

(Incidentally, Burton offers great books and DVDs that make excellent tools.)

My sensitive Goth days.
I should also mention that I am an instructor in both JKDU/MMA for Street Self Defense as well as Battlefield Kali and hold a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I'm also a Certified Natural Trainer II, trained by Jon Hinds at Monkey Bar Gym. If you live on Oahu and are interested in training with me, or live elsewhere and just want some advice, please visit Black Cat Kali and drop me a note. I would love to hear from and help out those from the sorts of outsider, marginalized groups I consider prime targets for violence.

All of this has special personal relevance for me. I've always been an outsider, and was both a Goth and a gamer through my late teens and early twenties. And while I'm straight, I was once nearly the victim of gay bashing. (I ran faster than my would-be bashers.) I am still not exactly the model of an average American, nor do I especially want to be. I remain a "let your freak flag fly" sort of guy, and it infuriates me when innocent people are punished by thugs merely for being who they are.

*: Sadly, as of August 24, 2016, it seems as if the Gothic Volunteer Alliance is no longer in existence.

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