Deindividuated Hipsters? How Ironically Ironic.

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This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a concert at First Avenue. Social psychology being on my mind, people-watching took on a special shade. More than just the individuals meandering through the dimly lit, downtown danceteria, I noticed them in context of their groups, and how those groups fell into the crowd at large. Once the concert began, I even enjoyed observing myself and how easily I could shift between enjoyment of collective enthusiasm and detached, autonomous surveillance.

As is unfortunately a common occurrence at these sorts of events, I often found myself having to scootch aside (lest I be knocked aside) for someone bustling past -- "Excuse me, just gotta squeeze through here," -- apparently so he could get closer to the stage. The first few times, I couldn't help but indignantly think to myself, "What, you don't think I would do the same thing if I thought it were actually appropriate? You think we all wouldn't like to be closer to the stage, or that you're the only genius who thought to sidle on up past other audience members?"

After apathy to this behavior set in (and after reminding myself not to too hastily commit a fundamental attribution error), I got to wondering which social psychology process was responsible for this behavior. Deindividuation came most quickly to mind; perhaps because it was dark and because they were part of a crowd, these people felt less personal responsibility to adhere to common etiquette. I kept thinking, and began to ponder crowd etiquette and how it differs depending on the sort of concert one is attending.

Rock concerts allow for more liberal behavior than classical piano concerts. How does a common purpose--and the sort of purpose--affect crowd etiquette? Can crowd etiquette, and varieties of it, be observed in animals other than humans? How often does crowd etiquette arise from a shared purpose?

crowd etiquette

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Isn't it appropriate and socially demanding to want to get closet to the wild, loud, social group that pulses with a beat that somehow sends 100s-1000s throbbing together in a wild mass of collective joy?

How fun to be able to do that with a small group of friends and how difficult it might be to maintain that creativity for long as a group.

Bands like the Rolling Stones and U2 have mastered the art of music and have created amazing spectacles for maximum deindividuaization and joy. Music and sport remain some of the few sanctioned forms of collective joy in our society.

Perhaps we then should forgive small transgressions like bumps and violations of personal space when witnessing attempts at the collective positive feelings possible at at a rock concert.

Etiquette kinda takes a back seat in social situations when dancing is involved.

Funny to think about crowd etiquette in animals and imagine that it can often get quite unruly with primates yet also quite orderly with fish and insects, quite beautiful with fireflies and birds.

Human history is laced with tales of how the effective use of crowds expresses ritual and religion, excites sexual arousal and encourages drinking. It has also been used to raise armies, from the Romans to Hitler.

Always with the shared purpose to survive and thrive.

What is social etiquette and socially "appropriate" behavior at a concert? What is it to be an engaging member of the audience? People who are determined to become closer with the crowd they are in and to become closer both physically and emotionally with the performer is something a lot of people strive for - myself included. I am what you would call one of those "annoying" and inappropriate audience members. Perhaps it comes from my experience of going to more punk and hardcore local shows to begin with that drives me to really engage with the performer and rock out like there is no tomorrow.

For some people, they just would like to observe the performer and the environment. Which is completely fine and I have no problem with those people. But for some others, like myself, I go to concerts to let loose and show bands what their music DOES for me. Bands and performers really enjoy when the crowd really interacts with what they are dong on stage and most of the time, it is what brings them back.

What it comes down to is I have basically zero social etiquette when it comes to going to a concert and I rarely expect the same from others (unless of course they are being purposely violent or have an intent to physically harm someone). If someone wants to push me around I will push them back. But it will all be in good fun and a way to engage with my fellow concert goers.

I have also been going to concerts for many, many years and many different types. I enjoy every type of music and have gone to several "mellower" concerts that have forced me to sit in a chair and just watch. But my heart belongs in the punk/hardcore scene where I am able to both physically and emotionally engage with the performer and the audience.

It's now clear to me that I wasn't precise enough in my original language. "Scootch," "bustling," and "squeeze" sound benign enough, while these individuals were actually pretty forceful. Someone dropped his drink in their wake, and most of those who were in the front row already were there because they'd gone through the great pains of waiting there for a very long time before the show started in order to ensure a good spot.

I'm also not sure if this was clear, but I don't believe that there is one fixed, appropriate concert etiquette and that one type of concert tends to adhere to it better than another. I'm basing this post on the assumption that etiquette of one sort of concert can be very different from a separate etiquette of another sort of concert. To sit quietly at one is just as appropriate as jostling and cheering is at the other.

All that aside, good points. It's possible the behavior wasn't deindividuation after all—at least not entirely—but was maybe just part of the crowd etiquette I'd ended up contemplating.

Certainly small violations of the usual boundaries of personal space and a good amount of unexpected jostling can be forgiven, and even enjoyed! After I'd become really accustomed to the atmosphere, in fact, I was very much enjoying the strange sensation of being partly out of control; the crowd swayed me, and I knocked into a number of other people as a result of both my own self-initiated dancing and of my accidental, domino-like topplings. We all seemed to be one big body; it was truly mesmerizing.

Jhon, I love that you bring up how "human history is laced with tales of how the effective use of crowds expresses ritual and religion, excites sexual arousal and encourages drinking." While I was at the concert, I actually could not stop thinking of Apollo and Dionysus, who (I am sure you know) are the complementary Greek gods of individuation/order/restraint and deindividuation/chaos/revelry. I love depictions of Dionysus especially; he's usually looking sort of cheeky, holding a wine glass or something suggestive of primal urges. I had never thought of Dionysian collectivism in relation to raising armies or politically captivating nations before, but that's a great thought to keep in mind...

Burke471, it seems like what dictates appropriate behavior at musical concerts is the volume and delicacy of the music in question. For instance, if we were at a cello concert, everyone would have to be very quiet in order to pick up on the subtlety and beauty of the uniquely quivering strings. Because the audience are there with a common purpose of experiencing that particular sort of music to its fullest, etiquette would guide us toward physical restraint with hopefully no ill effect on how emotionally evocative we found the music. At your common First Avenue concert, of course, things are different. There, the music is not about the fragility of finesse and quiet drama. It's just as much about vocalized and displayed enthusiasm on the part of the audience as it is about audio-spectacle. Our bodies, at those concerts, are meant to more observably react to the music, whether it's through dance or just feeling the bass shake our cores. To act boisterously, to some extent, isn't a lack of social etiquette but rather a participation in it. The common purpose includes the enjoyment of it. I'll refer back to my first paragraph for clarification of what I saw to be possibly inappropriate.

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This page contains a single entry by E. Carriere published on December 4, 2011 9:29 PM.

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