A girl was to celebrate her sixteenth birthday in a small village in the Dutch countryside. She announces her birthday party in the form of an event, on Facebook. Invitations went to her friends, but because of the event’s public ‘privacy settings’ it was possible for anyone anywhere to be invited.
Quite randomly, the event is usurped by an internet troll located in Berlin, Germany. User name Ibe der Fuhrer, his Facebook profile flaunting Hitler hails. Ibe musters up another internet troll to take over the organisation of the party’s hijack from a safe distance. Some random guy called Jesse - location New Zealand.
The event, now renamed as Project X Haren—after Project X, Hollywood blockbuster—goes viral. Within an hour 5000 are invited, within a week, 30,000. Day 8, 12,479 confirmed. 4000 Maybes. 400,000 Twitter posts.
“In advance of the event t-shirts could be bought on the internet showing a man on all fours drinking from a bottle.”
The girl, the parents, the village mayor, are worried. Broadcasted warnings on national news every day for a week; the mayor proclaiming that there will be no party. Was it all too much attention to nothing?
On the actual day it seems quiet. Gloomy weather, village inhabitants feeling uneasy. Policesquadsriotcontrolfiremen seem all geared up for no reason, and the helicopter evacuation of the birthday girl and her family appears overly theatrical.
But then in the evening, they all came anyway; thousands arrived with trainsbusescars. Were they guided to a place to create destruction?
Fire in cars. Fire in bins. Smashed cars, smashed windows, smashed anything.
The situation created, in its visual appearance, lived up to the looks of more clearly politically motivated ‘riots’ in other European countries around the same period. Whatever the scale or (in-)significance of what took place, the turmoil the event left behind supplied the camera’s eye with all the elements it requires; the burnt cars, the girl dragged over asphalt by riot police, the smashed shop fronts, the boy with blood on his face, the throwing of stones.
Blame the girl. Blame the trolls. Blame social media for not stepping in earlier. Blame other media for hyping. Who instigated what, and why?
“It was all done by a group of nutcases. I just don’t understand it.”
Blame a lust for destruction. Blame the presence of an infrastructure all too obviously provoking violence; riot police, pepper spray pellets.
Blame hard times. Blame boredom.
Violence lacking clear motivations.
“I feel the need to provoke, looking for danger is a way to sense that I’m realizing my fullest potential.”
Creating conflict as a way to feel that you are alive. Violence because of the preference of short-term advantages over a consideration of long-term consequences. “It’s the same in the cities. It’s a generation thing, they were promised just about everything in their future and now their parents spoil them because they feel guilty.”
As if following a model of restricted rationality, the individuals prepared themselves, they mobilized themselves, went after certain goals, taking the risks into account.
In theory, collective behaviour remains the adding up of several individual behaviours, with agency remaining on an individual level. Yet moving in a horde serves as a way to perform and feel alive while covered by the protective cloak of collectivity.
This horde’s motivation, like dark grey-brown grit sloshing down a gutter of aimlessness, appears fruitless. They stand with their feet on our dead previous culture, with their collective action and the aftermath thereof contributing to the encrustation of the culture we live in.
“This is fun. Being destructive feels so constructive!”