We've Seen This 'Knockout' Game Hysteria Before, And We'll See It Again

Another social media-fueled trend that wasn't.

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If you're worried about the "knockout game"—the alleged "epidemic" which involves a teenage male sneaking up behind a person in public, then punching the the back of the person's head as hard as possible in an attempt to knock them out—let me ask you this: Did you ever see a "gallon prank" while you were shopping? 

Back in February, a trio of Virginia teenagers posted video of themselves pretending to slip and fall in a grocery store while holding a gallon of milk in each hand. The fake fall was an opportunity for the kids to toss the gallons up in the air and see them explode on the floor of their local supermarket. The video followed a common trajectory: It was shared on social media and went viral. Then copycats got to work, inspiring local news outlets to report that "gallon pranking" was now happening in their cities. Eventually Good Morning America got wind that something new was happening on the Internet, and next thing you know, it was a trend. Except not everybody was doing it, and now absolutely no one is. When's the last time you even thought about the gallon prank, assuming you heard about it in the first place?

Or what about the "trend" of kids setting themselves on fire using Axe body spray? This was a "trend" back in 2010. Or how about #smackcam? That one involved kids slapping each other in the face (usually after putting a substance in the palm of their slapping hand) and then posting the video on Vine. For a while people were calling that one a trend, too. Were you worried about Smack Cam way back in July 2013?

Over at Slate, Emma Roller argues pretty convincingly that there's just no data supporting the claim that this "knockout game" is actually some kind of a trend. It's also unlikely we'll ever see any such data refuting her post. If you've heard of the so-called "knockout game," it's because it followed the same rise to fame as the gallon prank and teens setting themselves alight using Axe body spray. A video was circulated on social media, emulated by idiots, and then exaggerated by a mixed herd of worriers ("We need to legislate this away, so that it doesn't happen to me/my kid"), golden age thinkers ("America is in decline"), and the media ("This is something people are talking about, so let's find a way to ride the wave.")

If we're still talking about the "knockout game" after Christmas, I'll eat my hat—on video. 

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