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Happy Slappy Sociology

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Russian mystic and novelist Leo Tolstoy said everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. And you know the world is changing when the slang word used for cool is book, the first option given by the predictive text on mobile phones when typing cool. And from the Daily Mirror last week comes an offering and translation of London street slang from the baffling phrase:

“I hope these skangers are wankstas because if they’re langers we could get happy slapped – be careful, some of the kutas are carrying chibs.”

to the Collins English Dictionary translation:

“I hope these casually dressed working class youngsters are pretend gangsters because if they are disagreeable men we could get beaten up and filmed. Be careful, some of the nasty youths are carrying knives.”

Filmed with a camera phone in a craze that has reached sufficient penetration in the general London population that it is not unusual to hear on a night bus one say to the other, only half joking: “Don’t fall asleep! You’ll get happy slapped!” Naturally there has been discussion of how these acts might relate to the violent tv and video games available in the market.

When Frankie Roberto first published his take on the happy slapping phenomena he never could have guessed that the article would become the most popular page on his website overnight. Scroll down on this page to read the comments (commenting no longer permitted) for an idea of the slang used in discussion of the fad, probably by teenagers searching for happy slap videos. Living in south London where the craze is said to have emerged it is a recognizable meme, on the lips at watercoolers and bus stops. Recently the idea of using your phone to capture video to later show off has led to the even grimmer bravado of ‘train chicken’ in some kids.

It is difficult to reconcile this craze of filming violent attacks on mobile phones with the fanfare that greeted the initial sale of 3G licenses and the subsequent, if delayed, arrival of the advanced networked multimedia capabilities delivered by the third generation mobile networks.

I first heard about the fad months ago when speaking with a young man living in Kennington who told me about it as he frantically texted a friend: “They just slap you silly. You fall asleep or they just come across you in numbers. It’s crazy innit?”

Issues of appropriate use of camera phones is an issue all over the world, see this article for example from the early days of the technology in Japan, or this piece on how Rumsfeld banned camera phones from US military installations in Iraq out of fear of misuse (not much imagination needed here). And Africa is the fastest area of global growth in mobile phone use.

The sociological conclusion is that camera phones are a technology like any other, open to benefit or misuse depending on who is in control. As a society we need to evolve flexible ways of interpreting, understanding and responding to the impact of the technologies on our communities and social interaction. Policy makers are slowly adjusting to the new forces of power introduced by technologies like mobile camera phones. Or maybe we just need to admit that we haven’t actually advanced much further beyond life as apes, who would undoubtedly find a happy slap a funny gag.

See also on the Chris Brauer Media Project:

Sociology of Racism in Brockley
Living a Culture of Consumption
The Sweatshops of our Mind

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About Chris Brauer

  • http://nightdragon.diaryland.com Mark Edward Manning

    I remember in the early ’90s, there was a disturbing phenomenon known as the “slap-down.” No different from what’s happening in London today, only the miscreants are filming it.

  • manny lal

    I would slap those idiot silly if i could get my hands on them. They are a bunch of cowards and wimps those slappys. They are the wimpy opportunists who prey on weaker folk. One never sees them slap a large man or someone who can fight.