Thursday, October 04, 2018

Bar Fights: Normal or Abnormal?

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum writes that "Viewing Bar Fights As Normal Male Behavior Encourages Violence." Naturally, the basis for the piece is Brett Kavanaugh's questioning over one in 1985:

[A]ttempts to use the story against him have provoked a revealing debate about how common it is for young men to get into bar fights. Broadly speaking, Kavanaugh's defenders think bar fights are a rite of passage for men, so they are no big deal, while his detractors say most men don't get into bar fights, so Kavanaugh's involvement in one reflects on his character.

Sullum cites an online survey by Esquire in which 74% of respondents say they've never been involved a bar fight. If 26% of people have done something, can it really be that abnormal? I can think of a lot of things that fewer than 26% of people do that I wouldn't consider violations of social norms. Just as an example, buying a Taylor Swift album. OK, well, maybe a bad example.

Anyway, I'd say that my own bar fight history deserves to be divided into two categories.

Category 1: The Marine Corps

Bar fights were certainly normal in that culture when I was in (1984-95). Especially in base enlisted clubs where the patrons were from rival government organizations (e.g. Marine Corps and Army, or Marine Corps and Navy). I know, it's really hard to get one's mind around the idea of a strong correlation between 1) inviting a bunch of young, mostly male people whose jobs involve killing other young, mostly male people (or at least constantly training to do so) to come together and drink unusually cheap alcohol and 2) brawls breaking out, but in my experience such a correlation exists.

How many military bar fights was I in? Enough that I'm not equipped to offer an accurate count. Enough that at least three in particular stick out in my mind (my first, which also involved crawling across a base in ditches to avoid the base military police; another in which the MPs turned dogs loose on the crowd; and a third which started at an e-club on an Army base with a large Special Forces presence, when a Marine stood up on his chair and sang "one hundred Marines/took a shit today/and wiped their ass/with a green beret"). So definitely more than three.

Category 2: Not the Marine Corps

I can only think of three.

In the first one, I was not yet 21 and was confined to an upstairs "under-age" area of a nightclub/music venue. The exit happened to coincide with the exit from the bar area. A college-age drunk noticed my earring and called me a name. I just answered "f--k off" and was willing to leave it at that. But he took exception and broke my nose. I, taking similar exception, picked him up by his shirt, and used him to put a dent in the open metal door to the bar area, and his friends carried him away (to be fair, they were already mostly carrying him anyway). That dent was still in the door last time I saw the bar, years later (I worked there as doorman/bouncer for a couple of years after turning 21 -- I think maybe the club owner remembered that little dust-up; I only ever had to bounce one guy, and he didn't have any fight in him).

In the second one, I was at a different bar, hanging out with the doorman, Tiny (so-called for being maybe 7 feet tall and 350 pounds). A gentleman in line to enter, already either drunk or high, decided to slap his date around right there. Tiny told him to leave. The gentleman decided to fight instead. So Tiny heaved him through the plate glass door to the bar. The gentleman still wanted to fight, so Tiny obliged. The gentleman's date wanted to fight too, so I got scratched up a little (by her fingernails and by shattered glass) trying to keep her off Tiny's back while he banged the gentleman's head against the sidewalk every time the gentleman tried to get up to fight some more, until the police arrived.

I'm not sure that the third one doesn't belong in the Marine Corps section as well. I was out of the Marine Corps, but at a sports bar right off of an Army base. Another (intoxicated) patron decided to try to slap my (then) wife. So we fought, and genuinely tried to kill each other until security pulled us apart and kicked him out. His fighting style seemed familiar to me, and shortly thereafter when some of his friends came up to let me know they'd be waiting to pound me when I left, I discovered that he was (and they were) Marines who were at the Army base for a school. Once that was clarified, we were good friends for the rest of the night.

I'm open to the idea that bar fights are abnormal. But looking back, I'd have to say that they weren't abnormal for me between the ages of, say, 19 or so and 30 or so.

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