Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The "Purge" and our Fascination with Anarchy

One of the most interesting details about the Baltimore riots was the way the trouble began last night, with a confrontation between the police and rock-throwing kids right after high schools let out for the day:
Police Commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, said the violence on Monday began with word of a “purge” set to take place at Mondawmin Mall, led by local high school students. Those students confronted about 200 police officers and attacked the police with rocks and cinderblocks after school let out.
Purge? In case you missed it, The Purge was a movie released in 2013 about “an annual 12-hour national holiday in which Americans are legally absolved from every crime, including robbery and homicide.” The film was generally considered pretty bad, but the idea still managed to strike a chord with many viewers. Ever since, police departments around the country have been dogged with rumors of purges:
Last fall, police in Windsor, Conn., tightened security in response to rumors of a “Windsor Purge,” in which teenagers were allegedly planning to spread chaos with BB and paintball guns. No purge occurred.
There have also been postings on the internet about alleged purges, like one in Chicago in which more than a hundred people were supposed to have been killed.

We are fascinated with this myth of a time without rules, when the veneer of civilization would be stripped away and our animal ferocity would emerge unchecked. This explains some of our obsession with post-apocalypse scenarios, from Mad Max to The Walking Dead. And, I suppose, with war. As much as we enjoy civilization, there is a part of us that chafes against its limits, and yearns for a liberating darkness. One way to explore this fantasy is through the notion of a brief window when the limits would be discarded and anarchy would reign. After 12 hours of terror and thrilling freedom, order would return and we could get on with our lives.

But most of us would really rather watch a movie about anarchy, or play the video game, than experience its ugly reality.

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