I have only known a few people who like being beaten up. Tony, a bus-boy at a restaurant where I once worked, was one of the more extreme cases. Quite often Tony would turn up for work on a Sunday night sporting a black eye or split lip. There had been a bit of silliness over the weekend, he would say. He had been sitting in this pub, minding his own business, when someone said something way out of order and, well, things had got a bit out of hand.
Tony, I had always assumed, was just a bit unlucky. Then I saw him in action. He was off-duty when a group of young , male Australian tourists walked into the restaurant. Within 10 minutes, there was an altercation; within 15, Tony was outside and fists were flying. His mates poured out of the kitchen, the police were called, the Australians were carted off to Chelsea nick. Tony, his face blotched and bruised, was triumphant. It had been a hell of a night.
I thought of Tony and his propensity for getting beaten up Wednesday last week when I was caught up in a minor football brawl. Our team was in a tournament and came up against a team which, we have discovered in the past, is not known for its Corinthian spirit.
It was a niggly, unpleasant match and, after about 20 minutes, something happened off the ball - a push, a head-butt, a knee in the groin - and all hell broke loose. Other players piled in gleefully from different parts of the pitch.
Others tried to restore calm. I found myself with my hands on the chest of an infuriated and very large scouser from the other team, like someone pushing a car up a hill. A group of children who were passing by whooped with joy to see grown men indulging in a playground spat.
This was not about winning, an excess of competitive spirit, but a few Tony-like individuals had simply fancied a bit of a barney. That, one assumes, was their main reason for playing football.
Then I thought of Tony again on Sunday while watching the professional wrestling on TV. There was big trouble when The Rock, one of the good guys ("baby faces", as they are known in the business) told World Wrestling Federation president Vince McMahon that his great rival "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was hiding backstage. Vince flew into a paranoiac rage. Pursued by the cameras, his henchmen searched the premises for Stone Cold. They attacked a janitor who looked a bit like him and pushed his head down a lavatory. They punched a life-size cardboard cut-out. The air reverberated with cod fear, bleeped expletives and threats of violence.
The wrestling craze has become very strange indeed. It is mass, family entertainment, which appeals particularly to children and, somewhere along the line, those behind it have realised that faked fights within the ring are not enough; a carefully scripted, mock-authentic soap opera of rage and confrontation is enacted for the cameras. Violence - humorous, over-the-top, ironic but extreme - is the point and focus of the show.
Maybe I am the last person in the world to realise a simple reality of modern life. Punching, kicking, gouging and swinging people around by their hair is, essentially, fun. Children and mums and dads, pumped up to a frenzy of partisanship, enjoy watching it on TV; adults enjoy doing it.
Finally, I thought of Tony on Monday as pictures of the anti-capitalism demo in London were on the TV news. Presumably, somewhere in the crowd were to be found hundreds of sensible people who despair of our cash-obsessed culture, but most of the footage shown suggested that, for many, this event was not a matter of principle or protest. It was a wing-ding, a great Bank Holiday of violence, bricks and broken heads. I wonder if Tony was there.Reuse content