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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Happy slapping: the sequel

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the park ...

Not long ago, happy slapping was declared dead. I didn't quite agree with this quasi-official inquest, because the real pattern is a steady stream of low-level assaults that sometimes make the local newspapers. The point is that happy slapping has shifted from being a national news story to a local one, reversing the process 18 months ago that nationalised a south London and Tyneside craze.

The trend was clearly on the wane among teenagers too. My field research in Tower Hamlets suggested that, while 16-18 year olds had all seen the footage, they treat it as something that only younger kids would want to do. When Canadian TV reporters came down to the borough to test this out, local youth wanted to know why they were covering happy slapping at all, rather than the war in Iraq.

There are few situations that can't be made worse by bringing in new legislation. Step forward Jack Straw, who "raised the issue in the Commons on Thursday after Iain Wright, Labour MP for Hartlepool, said he was concerned about a posting from his constituency showing a man being kicked unconscious"*. Straw's proposals, as reported, are flawed for a number of reasons:
  • Why single out YouTube, when there are a growing number of websites accepting uploaded videos?
  • How does he propose separating staged footage involving consenting parties from the genuine assaults? (See Sir Ian McKellen's acting masterclass in a recent episode of Extras for an explanation of pretending to do things).**
  • Why not simply use the video as evidence in future assault prosecutions, and be grateful to the morons who supplied it? (Assault is already illegal in the UK, and covered by a multitude of laws.)

    Dubious uses of "pro-am" video are becoming routine. But selectively criminalising happy slapping clips will provide a lifeline to what was a declining delinquent activity.

    * Patrick Wintour, "Move to ban happy-slapping on the web", The Guardian, Saturday October 21, 2006.


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