Crowd mentality reared its ugly and funny-looking head at the University of Maryland Monday night after the Terrapins won their first-ever NCAA National Championship.
The scene sounded like the plot of MTV’s show “Asshole.” Men yelled “show your tits” whenever a woman rose on a pair of shoulders and the women coyly obliged, often in a strange shy girl-turns-exhibitionist manner. Then there were the guys who tore down street signs and lined up to bend over and take one in the rear. They formed a circle and body-slammed each other onto the signs, yelling things like “fuck the police.”
But the fun really began with the fire. Or “FIRE, hee-hee, FIRE,” as Beavis would say. A strange allusion to draw in this column? Not really, because the antics some of the group of about 10,000 college students pulled in the name of celebration were certainly something any TV station would use a disclaimer for before showing. Kids dangling in trees above a giant bonfire to tear down branches for, you guess it, a bigger fire. Streakers, mooners, looting, broken windows, fights and lots of profanity . this riot had it all.
Which begs the question: why? Why is destruction a popular method for celebrating sports victories? The alcohol, drugs, testosterone, a need for a release? Yes, plus loads of group dynamics at work.
During the four hours Hatchet staff members spent from the last tick of the game clock to the dissipation of crowds, predicting crowd movement became a science. If there was a rush of people, there was one of three things: a) a breast sighting, b) Prince George’s County police marching forward with tear gas or c) a new fire on the horizon to run to. Fire, sex and safety: the three most basic needs (or was food one of them?).
But group mentality played out in more interesting ways. Students prodded others to taunt police officers by mooning them. They yelled “shoot him” to police when a gullible student obliged. Men pleaded for peep shows with wide grins and compliments. When they got what they asked for, they asked for more and starting grabbing like angry vultures. Some fans turned their attention away from a stare-down with riot-geared police to attempt turning over a person’s car who attempted to leave the area. They soon quit after realizing a Lincoln is one heavy car.
Nobody will ever figure out how to stop crowd behavior from taking over like it did at College Park this week. But its predictability can allow spectators to keep safe when signs of it appear. A helpful hint: just don’t follow the herd.
This article appeared in the April 4, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.