There’s something hypnotic about watching a room full of about 20 young, white, drunk, shirtless men try to fight a couch. It invites so many questions.
- Why are they fighting the couch?
- Was it planned or spontaneous?
- Why does the couch seem to be winning?
- Why are so many of them shirtless? Did one person decide to take of their shirt and the others follow suit? Did a few of of them, simultaneously yet independently, just lose their shirts?
- Why does every group of drunk young guys seem to have one of those floppy wicker hats?
- Who owns this house?
- There are a lot of other broken chairs on the floor — is the couch fight the last step in a multi-stage war against seating?
- What are they going to sit on after breaking the couch? Is one person at this party constantly trying to get them to stop just because they’re asking themselves this same question?1
All valid questions, none of which has an answer. But there’s a bigger one to ask: what are we doing, as a society, that leads young men to do this kind of thing?
Yo, let’s headbutt some stuff
r/IdiotsFightingThings is the embodiment of “boys will be boys” energy. You don’t necessarily see that sentiment in the comments — it’s more a “lol really? they did this?” kind of place — but a lot of the things shared to the subreddit are the logical end point of everyone who ever hand-waved away a young boy’s destructive behaviour with “boys will be boys”.
There’s the young guy who walked passed a tree and then turned around to kick it. The guy who, after spilling a drink on someone else’s phone, decided to wail on the phone with this glass. The guy who casually breaks a TV because this team is losing. The guy who repeatedly tried to break a car windshield with his head. The guy who headbutted a bus stop. The guy who tried to headbutt an exit sign in a hotel corridor.
There’s a lot of headbutting in general. It’s a real niche in r/IdiotsFightingThings.
Now, sure, there are a lot of other kinds of idiocy going on in the sub. Some of the submissions are dumb stunts going awry. There are young kids being profoundly uncoordinated. The occasional animal being goofy. But there’s a real through line of young men being casually destructive or violent, usually with someone else’s property, either for a laugh or in response to something not going their way.
Kick it real good
You don’t do any of these things unless you think it’s either a good thing or an okay thing to do. Even if it’s spontaneous and you do it “without thinking”, it only happens because you’ve internalised the idea that you’re allowed to act on the world in this way. It’s also worth questioning how spontaneous or uncontrolled these sorts of things actually are: if this kind of violence is only ever directed at objects men can safely attack, chances are it’s not all that thoughtless.
Let’s be real: these guys aren’t outliers. Chances are, you’ve known at least a few of them throughout your life. And they don’t just happen. These men are raised a certain way. They’ve learned a certain set of lessons, either explicitly or implicitly, that told them that aggression, violence, and destruction are okay for them.
I mean, I’ve been one of these guys before, albeit on a wildly smaller scale. I’ve done some petty vandalism. I’ve once thought about getting into a fight, but didn’t follow through. I’ve hit a robotic toy dog with an acoustic guitar (with the owner’s consent).
Every instance of my behaviour here came from a time that, really, I wasn’t happy with myself. I didn’t believe that violence was ever justified but, in my lowest moments, my behaviour didn’t reflect that. There was a wellspring of aggression inside me. It was usually directed at myself and abstract ideas of “the world” but, in unguarded moments, it came out and was directed at very particular things (and always “for a laugh”).
Thankfully that didn’t become a defining part of my personality. But that didn’t happen by accident. I had (and have) a fantastic group of people around me who have helped me understand the parts of myself I dislike and to reject the worst parts of masculinity.
Unfortunately, a lot of young men don’t have that in their lives. You only need to spend a little while on r/IdiotsFightingThings to see that.
I’d never be at this party but, if I was at this party, this would be me. ↩