Tribal Socialization


I have no idea what the boundaries for this tribe are, but still the cultural structures around 40 seconds of activity caught on a school yard tape are hardly arcane or even foreign.  The specific setting, though, is Australia,

The original tape:

The interview with the bullied child:

The interview with the bully, who is 12 years old:

14 thoughts on “Tribal Socialization

  1. Is the OP using “tribe” in a specific, anthropological sense? Also, does the note that the original clip is “hard to watch” mean that it could be a trigger for some people? (As opposed to a general statement about the video.)

    And what are the cultural structures alluded to? I’ve been trying to puzzle out what the commentary is that I should take away from this post.

  2. I think I messed up here, Logoskaieros. I was struck as I put it on that I’ve watched so many videos about initiation rituals in various cultures, and that some of the surrounding commentary was similar. In particular, the one person who says Casey is now a man.

    The cultural surroundings? This sort of stuff is going on all over the ‘developed’ world at least, and suddenly adults are suprised, the school is suspending the boys, etc. So there’s the denial of something, which might be incompetence or it might be the actual belief that bullying fat kids is normal and can’t really be controlled. Then there are millions of adults on the sidelines cheering. I mean, really! And one sees this right away, with almost no thought. I also thought that in some way Casey seems to have internalized a lot of his understanding from some other resource.

    I’m afraid this isn’t very satisfactory, but maybe it helps to solve the puzzle.

  3. JJ: In other words, your mention of “the boundaries for this tribe” was meant to be ironic?

    As for Kisolo’s comment: I agree that the incident, though it may well point to a conversation we need to have, is “unremarkable.” Why has it drawn so much attention, then? Well, that’s just the modern phenomenon of viral videos for you. If there were no YouTube, if the only way of relating the fight were a written article in an Australian newspaper, it very obviously never would have become a sensation, and we wouldn’t be talking about it right now.

  4. Erin, it’s perhaps more tongue in cheek.

    I suspect the video went viral because it fits into an established narrative.

  5. I see nothing shocking here. I was a chubby kid. I was often bullied. If you’re big, then you’re a big target. It hurts; it can cause you lifelong emotional issues. The shocking thing is that someone might stand up to a bully.

  6. Todd, the object of attention for me was less the individual act and more the setting. For example, the boys were punnished with suspension, but this sort of thing had been going on for years. It seems the only solution was in the hands of the bigger boy, but that solution was also considered bad.

    I wish I had more experiencing in analyzing this sort of thing, and I suspect I put it up with the hope that it might start an enlightening discussion. But we can look at some of it analytically. The sort of behavior we see seems to be considered something like “typically male.” Sure, girls can be horrible bullies, but videos of girls physically fighting seem to get quite distinction reactions.
    So what we are shown appears to be familiar boy behavior. But notice all the adults seem taken aback. And the school had done nothing, it seems, for years. So the behavior leading up to the incident, although completely familiar, is also pretty completely ignored by adults and put outside of any regulating. The resolution is then condemned by the school and applauded by the rest of the world. One learns again that what is considered typican and now even laudatory has to remain unknown to the regulating authorities.

    Is it a result of this that we end up with a culture of men who feel the personal sphere, even when it includes a wife and children, is no body else’s business but theirs? And that knocking people about might be the only solution, even if it has to be kept hidden?

  7. I’m a professional philosopher. I was bullied in middle school, but not for being “husky.” At that time there was no question of adult authorities intervening. I fought back, and hard.

    I did not find that first video hard to watch. Children who are picked on, in the absence of any adults who want to take institutional responsibility, have a moral obligation to strike back, individually or collectively, at bullies. I will not deter my daughter from defending herself in any way, as I am sure that school officials will usually fail regarding these issues.

  8. I find it difficult to believe that one who fights back against real bullying would find her long-term situation improved. The bullies I knew would have *loved* their victims to fight back, I suppose because it justifies further harassment and empowerment.

    Anyway, many victims of bullying can’t reasonably fight back. For that reason alone (though there are others), I find it extremely unlikely that one has a moral obligation to strike back. In general it seems rather odd to talk about victims having a moral obligation to respond in a certain way purely due to their victimhood.

  9. I agree with j.j. Don’t get me wrong, I feel terrible for Casey and the oppression, teasing, bullying, but when a kid body slams another kid in “defense” I am simply disgusted when this is congratulated as virtuous. This seems the very seed that leads to the very problem of patriarchal brotherhoods–ie, one must respond in the manner of the oppressor in order to be accepted by the community of the oppressors. It is this very sort of justification, the “s/he struck first” or “s/he had it coming” that leads to justification of war, genocide, rape, et al other such brotherhood violences. The fact that the news video honors the violence, treats it as something to be celebrated (David/Goliath analogy), particularly with the white male commentator responding, “Casey–you’re a man,” it seems that Casey has entered into the brotherhood–this was his rite of passage, the crossing of the threshold. The video seems to be saying there is a sphere in which violence is acceptable (when the other “deserves” it? hits first?) and that violence is masculine and we should all pat Casey on the back for entering tribal manhood.

  10. I didn’t find that was my experience, Jay, #12. Of course, past the age of eleven (YES! ELEVEN!) most of the bullying I encountered took the form of sexual harassment, unless I was going through a chubby phase. Screaming insults about the attacker’s inability to fight one on one, or against someone his own size, in an 80 decibel tirade loaded with obscenities usually works for me. When I am forced to counter violence with more of the same, I DO find my long-term situation improved. My body. My territory. Invaders beware. My primal chest beating displays will turn painful if they are ignored.

    I’ll side with you about Slocum’s statement on moral obligation, tho. We have a moral obligation to first, NOT bully others, second, to prevent others from bullying with words and examples. Hitting back is a last resort, when all else fails. Teaching children that violence is a ‘moral obligation’ is a ruined life and a ruined community waiting to happen.

    In this case, I think the victim was justified in what he did. He’d been bullied for years. Nobody stepped in, not even the school officials. The fight was 3 on 1, and after Casey slammed the first kid, the second looked like he wanted to go. Casey walked away when the second boy didn’t attack. It’s over, and the bully claims he’s learned his lesson.

    I do however, feel that some of the comments I’ve seen floating around the net are WAY out of line. The bully’s going to burn in hell? Puh-LEASE! There’s no point in torturing him for his crime.

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