Happy slapping is a new social phenomenon which has recently emerged in the United Kingdom where groups of teenagers slap or otherwise assault unsuspecting members of the public and record the incident on their camera phones. The resulting short videos or photographs of the assaults are then circulated amongst friends and acquaintances of the perpetrators and sometimes also on the internet.
There appear to be two distinctive feature of a 'happy slap'. Firstly, that the point of the assault is not to injure the victim, or to steal anything from them, but rather simply to humiliate them. As one exponent of the art put it, "You see someone just sitting there, they look like they're dumb. You just run up to them and slap them. And run off. It's funny." And secondly the point is to record the assault in some way, and technology in the form of 3G mobile phones has now placed that capability within the hands of many teenagers.
A Guardian journalist reported on seeing one such example of a 'Happy slapping' going by the title of 'Bitch Slap', where "a youth approaches a woman at a bus stop and punches her in the face" and another named 'Knockout Punch' where "a group of boys wearing uniforms are shown leading another boy across an unidentified school playground before flooring him with a single blow to the head."1
Some people, such as a certain Dr Graham Barnfield, a media lecturer at the University of East London, have blamed stunt shows such as Jackass and Dirty Sanchez for the rise of 'happy slapping'. Others however remember the You know when you've been tangoed2 advertising campaign of a few years back, (which featured a fat orange bloke slapping an unsuspecting Tango drinker in the face, which led to a brief craze where schoolchildren allegedly imitated such behaviour) and argue that this is the true inspiration.
Quite where the term 'happy slapping' comes from isn't clear. World Wide Words claims that the term is "a pun on happy snapping for taking photographs, which goes back at least to the 1940s", although it equally might be a playful reference to happy clapping.
It has been suggested that 'happy slapping' originated either from the UK garage music scene or from south London, (and possibly both, since the two are not neccessarily mutually exclusive) before spreading across London school playgrounds in the autumn of 2004 and becoming a nationwide phenomenon in early 2005.
It first appears to have come to the public's attention in January 2005 when the British Transport Police announced that they were specifically targeting groups of youths who were slapping commuters in the face for no apparent reason, and recording pictures of the assaults on their mobile phones and then texting them to their friends. The British Transport Police stated that eight people had already been charged over this type of assault and were later to claim that there had been around two hundred such cases since November 2004.
Since the beginning of the year reports of 'happy slapping' incidents have appeared at regular intervals in the British media with various reports of schools in the London area banning mobile phones as a result. In March Surrey Police announced that they were to make an arrest after an incident at a Leatherhead school where an 11-year-old was slapped. In June a boy was knocked unconscious in Manchester while a gang of five boys filmed the attack, whilst the Scotsman was reporting on the first happy slapping attack in Edinburgh and the Shropshire Star similarly referred to a incident in Telford.
But whereas it is clear that there have been incidents of happy slapping it is not clear how widespread or numerous they are. One of the problems being that journalists have now begun applying the term 'happy slapping' to almost any kind of assault.
On the 21st May 2005 it was reported that Caroline Monk, a columnist in Closer magazine (and girlfriend of TV presenter Matthew Wright) had been attacked by a group of youths who knocked her to the ground and called her a 'slaphead'. However the incident was not recorded by her assailants and simply appears to be yet another example of random street violence that has long been a feature of British society.
Similarly on the 18th June 2005 there are reports of the first 'Happy Slapping rape' referring to the case of three 14-year-old boys accused of raping an 11-year-old girl and filming it on a mobile phone. But this isn't the first time that alleged rapists have supposedly recorded the details of the act and no particular reason why this particular incident should be considered different simply because a mobile phone has been used rather than a Sony Handycam. There was also the report in The Times of a teenager who was shot in the leg and found her assailant photographing her injuries or the recent case in Bolton where a boy was tied with masking tape to a tree which was set on fire whilst his assailants recorded the results.
None of these incidents appear to meet the strict definition of 'happy slapping' but what they all share in common (apart from the Caroline Monk incident) is the use of a mobile phone to record what is happening. Perhaps the real point is that 80% of the population of the United Kingdom now possess a mobile phone and it is clear that in a few years every single one of those phones will also have some kind of digital camera capabilities so that almost everyone in the country will be walking around with a movie camera in their pocket.
The mobile phone companies would have us believe that people will use this functionality to send each other short clips of themselves having snowball fights and gamboling in sunny meadows. In reality what people will use it for is circulating clips of themselves giving or receiving blow jobs or of somebody bleeding to death on the road after being hit by a truck. Or indeed recording themselves in the act of committing sundry crimes.
Happy slapping is just about groups of male teenagers relieving their boredom by going out and making a nuisance of themselves by humiliating random strangers. There is nothing particularly new about this, it has been going on for centuries, and the modern 'happy slappers' seem no different from the Mohawk gang of the eighteenth century who went around pricking people's behinds with their swords. As a phenomenon it will pass and became a footnote to the social history of Britain, but what will remain is the movie camera in everyone's pocket and the question of what use they will put it to.
NOTES AND SOURCES
1 The words of one Manny Logan, aged 16 from south London, as featured in the Tonight with Trevor McDonald special, Mugging for Kicks.
2 The advert was withdrawn from television in the light of a number of complaints. For the uninitiated Tango is a British carbonated Orange flavour drink.
Sourced from various news reports from www.guardian.co.uk such as Concern over rise of 'happy slapping' craze by Mark Honigsbaum, Tuesday April 26, 2005 and www.bbc.co uk see Does 'happy slapping' exist? by Alexis Akwagyiram, Thursday, 12 May, 2005
See also the defintion of World Wide Words at