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Home > Culture and Society

You know when you've been happy slapped

15 May 2005

Picture the scene. You're off down the local chemist for a box of Nurofen and some Odor Eaters when suddenly you notice that there is a young man, probably about 14 or 15, walking towards you.

You stiffen, because you live in a fairly rough area and you know the kind of thing that goes on, but it's not even dark yet, so you decide not to be such a pussy and keep walking; maybe you puff out your shoulders a tad, straighten your back, attempt to butch it out. Or else you allow memories of Julie Andrews whistling a happy tune whenever she feels afraid to steel you against the paranoia of urban blight.

Then, just as the youth draws level with you, you become aware of three or four other youths arriving from behind. You turn your head slightly to face them when suddenly the first youth punches you as hard as he can in the side of the head. It is the shock more than anything that sends you to the ground. Before you have time to right yourself, another of the youths runs up to you and bounces a traffic cone off the side of your face. When you finally manage to scramble to your knees and focus on the group of hoodlums - who have not yet run off as you realise you were rather hoping they might - you notice that two of them are pointing their mobile phones at you. They are laughing fit to bust to gut. And they are filming you.

You have just been happy slapped. Happy now?

'Happy Slaps', the latest teen sensation sweeping the nation, is generally believed to have evolved sometime late last summer, most likely around the time that the necessary multimedia messaging technology became widely available and easily affordable. It is generally believed to have started in London and over the last six months spread like Satan out to the rest of the country. There is however, some dispute as to whether it actually kicked off at UK garage gigs or not. The Guardian says it did. The 15-year-old son of a friend says, 'Nah, man. It just happened.' Which somehow seems more plausible.

Some commentators have pointed a finger at other Fun in Pain, high-humiliation cultural artefacts, such as Jackass and Dirty Sanchez, Tango ads and Bum Fights, which of course have had an impact, but Happy Slapping is more probably just a natural progression and unpleasant offshoot of kitting out a generation of vicious schoolchildren with pocket-video cameras. It was bound
to happen sooner or later. And it has. It has arrived. Why, it even crept back into the Sun this week, and for once their hell in a handcart sensationalising didn't seem quite so hugely far-fetched.

Here's a moderate example: http://www.hotniss.com/page.php?id=92

As teen trends go, Happy Slaps has to be one of the nastiest ever to have emerged. There is something chilling about it. Something ultra-cold. Mugging people is one thing. Not a good thing obviously, but if someone is hurting you in order to make it easier for them to take your possessions, there is at least a heartless logic to that. On the other hand, someone hitting you merely because they enjoy putting pain on random strangers is a little bit more difficult to understand. But it happens. Violent nutters are out there. You resign yourself to this sad fact of life and pray that you're lucky enough to avoid them. Happy Slappers however, are something different again. The disconcerting thing about Happy Slaps is that it has elevated the visitation of arbitrary pain upon complete strangers to adolescent artform.

Happy Slaps films are this decade's skiffle. This is how our teenagers are choosing to channel their creativity, and the challenge is to make Violence as funny and as entertaining as they can. Happy Slaps targets are almost always alone, often dozing on trains or relaxing on park benches: the key is that they must not be expecting the attack. The more cruel the violence, and the more flustered the reaction to it, the better the film is received amongst their peers. Films are then sent backwards and forwards like they're something to be proud of.

It has echoes of something sickening and futuristic from some 70s novel where technology has helped create a generation of children who have lost all sense of right and wrong. It's the kind of thing, as you can see, that brings out the screaming reactionary in otherwise quite staid reactionaries. You find yourself saying things like, 'It wasn't like that in my day.' Thing is, it wasn't. The worst that happened a generation or so ago was that kids beat each other up, attacked and sometimes even raped and/or murdered each other; they killed animals, destroyed property and hated everything and everyone. So naturally, most of us thought, sometime between the Bulger case and watching City of God for the first time, that our children could not become any less innocent, that their antics could not become any more unreasonable, terrifying and seemingly inhuman.

Then MMS came along and made techno-savvy Peeping Tom droogs of our already well-warped little angels. Plus, the fact that the majority of the perpetrators are said to be black males is sure to make the whole issue just that little bit more difficult to deal with. Goodo.

On a slightly more optimistic note, it is of course possible that this is merely a phase. However, on a slightly more pessimistic note, if it is merely a phase, it is a phase that is sure to get a great deal worse before it dies out. It isn't implausible that Happy Slaps will turn to Man Bites Dog-style ultraviolence before very long, and here we're talking torture, rape and murder, and we fear we're not exaggerating. One thing is certain: something absolutely must be done, and we at TFT are happy to join concerned parents, teachers and lawmakers alike in holding up our hands and admitting, we haven't got a fucking clue what that something is.

Remember those Tango ads though? The ones that were banned?

Halcyon days.

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