Category Archives: Popular Culture

Give me another hit: A brief look at gambling in popular music

Today’s blog is an intersection of my academic passion (gambling) and my personal passion (popular music). In my academic career I have published three papers examining the impact of music on gambling behaviour (and I’ll cover that topic in a future blog). However, today’s blog is about gambling content in music rather than something more academic. Although I had been collating material to write this blog for well over a year, it was a tweet I received the other day from Ian Peel (editor of Classic Pop magazine) in response to a blog I wrote about my Art of Noise obsession that provided the impetus I needed to actually write this article.

One of the problems I had in putting this article together was trying to decide what the precise focus should be. Should it cover the topic of gambling in music in its entirety or be very specific and focus on a particular type of gambling. For instance, some of my readers are aware that I did my PhD thesis on fruit machine playing. To my knowledge, at least five artists have released a song with the title ‘Fruit Machine’ (The Ting Tings, Paul Lekakis, The Fades, Fat and Frantic, Lissat and Voltaxx, and Homelife) and at least two albums have been released with the same title (LPs by Jens Buchert and L.A. Deluxe). However, apart from The Ting Ting’s song, I know little about the other releases so writing something very specific was probably not the best option.

Ian Peel’s tweet suggested I should write an article on “gambling/music crossover next, [for example] Alan Parsons Project’s ToaFC”. As a massive fan of The Beatles, I know of Alan Parsons’ engineering and production work on Abbey Road and Let It Be (as well as some solo Paul McCartney LPs) as well as his role as engineer on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon. However, I don’t own any albums by the Alan Parsons Project including The Turn of a Friendly Card (ToaFC).

ToaFC is probably the only concept album about gambling. (In fact the only concept album that has any crossover with my academic research is The Who’s LP Tommy (i.e., ‘The Pinball Wizard’), as I published a paper on pinball addiction in the journal Psychological Reports back in 1992 – see ‘Further Reading’ below). ToaFC was a progressive rock LP released back in 1980 and was the fifth album by the band (reaching the UK Top 40 albums chart and the Top 20 albums in the US). As the Wikipedia entry on the LP notes:

“[The album] focuses on gambling, and loosely tells the tale of a middle-aged man who grows restless and takes a chance by going to a casino and betting all he has, only to lose it all. The album has a 16-minute title piece, which was broken up into five tracks…with the five sub-tracks listed as sub-sections. The Turn of a Friendly Card spawned the moderate hits ‘Games People Play’ and ‘Time’.”.

There are lots of other albums that feature nothing but songs about gambling but these are all gambling-themed ‘various artists’ albums. What’s interesting about all these albums is that they all feature music made from the 1920s to the early 1970s and mainly from the genres of blues, folk, soul, and/or country and includes such LPs as Gambling Blues and Sinners, Loaded Dice – Vintage Gambling Songs, Life Is Like A Card Game (US Gambling Songs 1920s-1950s), Lady Luck – Classic Gambling Songs, and Bet You Haven’t Heard This – Poker, Casino and Gambling Songs. That’s not to say that there weren’t songs from other genres such as rock ‘n’ roll (Viva Las Vegas, Elvis Presley), ska (Long Shot [Kick De Bucket], The Pioneers), jazz (Blackjack, Ray Charles), lounge/swing (Luck Be A Lady, Frank Sinatra), and easy listening (The Lottery Song, Harry Nilsson) but the other genres appear to have far more songs about gambling.

Based on the research I did for this article I have come to the conclusion – and I may well be wrong – that there have been far more songs written about gambling up until the end of the 1960s than post-1970. If this is true, it may well be that back in the first half of the twentieth century, the number of leisure activities that were available for adults to participate in was significantly less than the latter half of the twentieth century. People wrote about what they did for pleasure before the rise of television and video games, and gambling was one of those activities that may have been more prominent in people’s leisure lives. As Jon Dennis writing in The Guardian noted:

“There’ve been songs about gambling since cavemen first found themselves feeling wreckless with too much time on their hands. It’s been a favourite theme of singers and songwriters, many of whom making the connection with life’s cruel throws of the dice…If you’ve ever wondered why Lonnie Donegan was one of the most influential figures in British music, listen to his version of Woody Guthrie‘s Gamblin’ Man. It has the furious, youthful energy of the best rock ‘n’ roll, and a manic dedication to the repeated refrain that would do Mark E Smith proud. Speaking of whom, the Fall’s Dice Man is based…(and Smith acknowledges on the sleeve of 1979 album Dragnet) on Luke Rhinehart‘s book ‘about a man whose life choices are decided on a dice roll’. It’s an uncharacteristically revealing song about Smith’s working methods…No shortage of slot junkies in Las Vegas, of course. Emmylou Harris first sang ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ as a duet with Gram Parsons  on Parsons’ Grievous Angel album. The song notes the relationship between booze and gambling, and the gambler’s fallacy (that a series of losses boosts the chances of an imminent win): ‘Third time I lose I drink anything/’Cos I think I’m gonna win’…The fact that gambling’s been a much-used metaphor lends [Amy Winehouse’s] Love Is a Losing Game a timeless quality”.

There are many songs that use gambling analogies as a way of expressing and talking about human relationships. Whether it’s the Rolling Stones’ ‘Tumbling Dice’ or Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, the language of gambling has almost become a clichéd rhetorical device for expressing human emotion. That’s not to say it can’t be done well. My own personal favourite from a lyrical perspective is Sting’s ‘The Shape Of My Heart’, my favourite couplets being:

“He deals the cards as a meditation/And those he plays never suspect/He doesn’t play for the money he wins/He don’t play for respect/He deals the cards to find the answer/The sacred geometry of chance/The hidden law of a probable outcome/The numbers lead a dance”.

Finally, I am always asked by my friends that know I love music what my favourite song about gambling is – and it can change from day to day (but it will never ever be ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers – even though I mentioned this in the very first journal paper I ever published in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Gambling Behavior). From a purely visceral viewpoint, it has to be Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ but I also like The Animals’ definitive version of ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’, and an obscure 1988 song called ‘Chance’ by the duo Act (formed by ex-Propaganda singer Claudia Brucken and Scottish musician Thomas Leer) from their great ZTT album Laughter, Tears and Rage.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Dennis, J. (2011). Readers recommend: Gambling songs – results. The Guardian, September 15. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/sep/15/readers-recommend-gambling-songs-results

Dixon. L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, 297-308.

Ekberg, A. (2009). 25 great gambling songs. Yahoo.com, April 30. Located at: http://voices.yahoo.com/25-great-gambling-songs-3228884.html?cat=33

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

Griffiths, M.D. (1992). Pinball wizard: A case study of a pinball addict. Psychological Reports, 71, 160-162.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: An observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue13/jgi_13_griffiths_2.html.

Music Jay (2013). Ten famous songs inspired by gambling. ZME Music, June 3. Located at: http://www.zmemusic.com/other/singles/ten-famous-songs-inspired-by-gambling/

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

Votaw, L. (2013). 13 awesome songs about Las Vegas. Billboard.com, May 17. Located at: http://www.billboard.com/articles/events/bbma-2013/1562827/13-awesome-songs-about-las-vegas

Tat’s my girl: Do tattoos on women make them more attractive?

Although I have already written a few blogs on extreme tattooing (including one on the television show My Tattoo Addiction), I have to admit that I don’t find excessive tattoos attractive in the slightest. I don’t mind one or two discreetly placed tattoos but women that are covered in them are a complete turn off for me. Most scientific studies that I have read on women’s tattoos tend to show that I am in the majority as seeing them negatively. For instance, a 1991 study carried out by Dr. Myrna Armstrong and published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship surveyed 137 career women all of who had tattoos. The authors reported that:

“Strong support for the tattoo was expressed by the significant person in the woman’s life and friends, while mild support was perceived from mothers, siblings and children. Respondents cited a lack of, or negative response from their fathers, physicians, registered nurses and the general public. Misunderstanding of what a tattoo means to the individual and stereotyping of women with tattoos continues”.

Dr. Daina Hawkes and her colleagues examined students’ attitudes towards female tattoos in a 2004 study in the journal Sex Roles. They examined both size and visibility of the tattoo. Among the sample, 23% of females and 12% of males were tattooed. The results showed that both men and women had more negative attitudes toward a woman with a visible tattoo than those without. The authors also reported that:

“The size of the tattoo was a predictor of evaluation only for men and women who did not have tattoos themselves. Finally, participants with more conservative gender attitudes evaluated all women more negatively, beyond the effects already accounted for by gender differences”.

In a 2002 issue of Psychological Reports, Dr. Douglas Degelman and Dr. Nicole Price examined what people thought about a photograph of a 24-year-old woman with a black tattoo of a dragon on her left upper arm compared to the same woman without the tattoo. Participants were asked to rate the woman on 13 different personal characteristics and results showed that the compared to the control photograph, the tattooed female was rated as less athletic, less attractive, less motivated, less honest, less generous, less religious, less intelligent, and less artistic. A similar 2005 study using the same technique – also in the journal Psychological Reports – by Dr. John Seiter and Dr. Sarah Hatch, found that a female model with a tattoo was rated as less competent and less sociable than the control photograph of the same woman without a tattoo.

Using a different methodology, Dr. Viren Swami and Dr. Adrian Furnham published a paper in a 2007 issue of the journal Body Image and asked their students to rate social and physical perceptions of blonde and brunette females with different degrees of tattooing. The students were asked to rate how physical attractive and sexual promiscuous the women were as in addition to estimating of the number of alcohol units consumed by the women on a typical night out. The authors reported that:

“Tattooed women were rated as less physically attractive, more sexually promiscuous and heavier drinkers than untattooed women, with more negative ratings with increasing number of tattoos…[Additionally] blonde women in general rated more negatively than brunettes”

This latter study interested Dr. Nicolas Guéguen who has carried out many different studies examining what makes women more attractive. In a 2013 study on the effect that female tattoos have on males published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, he made the following observation about the study by Drs. Swami and Furnham:

“On the one hand, Swami and Furnham’s (2007) results showed that such negative evaluation associated with tattooed women would probably decrease their attractiveness for men. On the other hand, if such women are perceived to be more sexually promiscuous, this could lead men to perceive them as having greater sexual intent. Thus, physical cues that inform them regarding the receptivity of a woman are important. Hence, tattoos could lead male observers to infer that a woman may have greater sexual intent, which, in turn, could lead them to approach such a woman more readily…A survey recently conducted by Guéguen (2012b) showed that tattooed and pierced French women experienced early sexual intercourse. However, the study did not show whether early sexual intercourse can be explained by the fact that women reported interest in both sex and tattoos and piercings or whether women wearing tattoos and piercings experienced more sexual solicitations from men, which, in turn, increased the probability to have sex earlier. Thus, one way of evaluating the mechanism associated with this relation is to test whether men’s behavior changes depending on the presence or absence of a tattoo on a woman’s body”.

As a consequence of these studies and observations, Dr. Guéguen carried out an interesting experimental field study on a French beach and predicted that women with tattoos would be more likely to be approached on the beach by men. To do this, Guéguen placed a temporary tattoo on a woman’s lower back (or not in the control condition), and all the women were asked to read a book while lying flat on their stomach on the beach. Guéguen carried out two experiments and reported:

“The first experiment showed that more men (N = 220) approached the tattooed [women] and that the mean latency of their approach was quicker. A second experiment showed that men (N = 440) estimated to have more chances to have a date and to have sex on the first date with tattooed [women]. However, the level of physical attractiveness attributed to the [woman] was not influenced by the tattoo condition”

Despite the significant results, Dr. Guéguen did note that his studies had a number of limitations. Firstly, the women only had one visible tattoo. The study by Swami and Furnham (outlined above) showed that women were rated as increasingly unattractive the more tattoos they had (i.e., attractiveness was negatively correlated with the number of tattoos). Guéguen also noted that the previous experimental studies involving the visible showing of a single tattoo tended to involve the women’s upper arm. Here, the tattoo was on the woman’s lower back which (according to Guéguen) could have made a difference to the men because it “is near the genital area of female bodies”. Dr. Guéguen also went on to note that:

“It would be worth testing whether a tattoo exerts the same sexual attractiveness effect regardless of the body area where it appears. Only one tattoo design was tested in our two experiments, and it would also be worth testing various designs and the height of the surface area occupied by the tattoo. Furthermore, only attractive women confederates participated in these two studies, and researchers might elect to test the effect of tattoos depending on various levels of female attractiveness. Another issue is that the women confederates were not informed about the real objective of the study and previous research on this topic. However, they may have unconsciously behaved differently when wearing a tattoo, which, in turn, influenced the men’s behavior”.

There are clearly many different avenues that research in this area can go. However, this is one area where public perception may significantly change over time (now that tattoos are in the cultural mainstream). Although my own views on tattoos are unlikely to change, that doesn’t mean others won’t.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Armstrong, M.L. (1991). Career-oriented women with tattoos. IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23, 215–230.

Degelman, D., & Price, N.D. (2002). Tattoos and ratings of personal characteristics. Psychological Reports, 90, 507–514.

Gueguen, N. (2012). Tattoos, piercings, and alcohol consumption. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36, 1253–1256.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Tattoos, piercings, and sexual activity. Social Behavior and Personality, 40, 1543–1547.

Guéguen, N. (2013). Effects of a tattoo on men’s behavior and attitudes towards women: An experimental field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1517-1524.

Hawkes, D., Seen, C.Y. & Thorn, C. (2004). Factors that influence attitudes toward women with tattoos. Sex Roles, 50, 593–604.

Henss, R. (2000). Waist-to-hip ratio and female attractiveness: Evidence From photographic stimuli and methodological considerations. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 501–513.

Seiter, J.S. & Hatch, S. (2005). Effect of tattoos on perceptions of credibility and attractiveness. Psychological Reports, 96, 1113–1120.

Swami, V., & Furnham, A. (2007). Unattractive, promiscuous, and heavy drinkers: Perceptions of women with tattoos. Body Image, 4, 343–352.

Band aid: A brief look at my ‘Art of Noise’ obsession

“Their sources were scientific, their methods were artistic. They were breaking beats, setting up house, gliding through mental landscapes. They were masked, mechanical and, funnily enough, made up. Their image was daring, anonymous and addictive, and has more than stood the test of time. The music hasn’t just stood the test of time but fed the time that has passed; the Art of Noise are one of the most sampled groups in history” (Salvo Record Label)

“[The Art of Noise track] ‘Moments In Love’ graced a 7 [single]…Almost ambient, it was addictive” (So Many Records, So Little Time website)

[The Art of Noise’s record label ZTT] was a record label inspired by books and the addictive property of ideas as much as music” (from Paul Morley’s sleeve notes in the ZTT Box Set book).

The Art of Noise are one of popular music’s most unusual bands ever. The opening quotes claim both their image and their music is “addictive” and that their record label was inspired by the “addictive property” of ideas.That alone is enough ammunition for me to write a blog on them. And as chance would have it, the Art of Noise also happen to be one of my all time favourite bands as mentioned in my previous blog on record collecting as an addiction and my previous blog on my personal (and somewhat obsessive) record collecting behaviour.

Along with Factory Records (home of Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays), the ZTT label was of one of the most iconic record labels of the 1980s and 1990s (and home of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda, Seal, 808 State). ZTT Records was founded by the trio of record producer Trevor Horn (ex-lead singer of The Buggles), businesswoman Jill Sinclair (and Horn’s wife), and music journalist Paul Morley. The initials ZTT stand for Zang Tumb Tuum (although some of the record labels said Zang Tuum Tumb) and come from the poem Zang Tumb Tumb by Italian poet (and founder of the artistic and social Futurist Movement) Filippo Tommoso Marinetti.

The Art of Noise were the so-called ‘house band’ of ZTT and have been described by some an “avant-garde synthpop” band (but I would argue that their earliest releases with their original line-up almost defy categorization. The original (and I would argue ‘classic’) line-up comprised ZTT founders Trevor Horn and Paul Morley along with classically trained musician and musical arranger Anne Dudley, the engineer/producer Gary Langan, and programmer J.J. Jeczalik. Although best known worldwide for their collaborations with Duane Eddy (Peter Gunn) and Tom Jones (Kiss) it was their early (primarily) instrumental compositionsthat were the most novel and groundbreaking. The first time I heard ‘Close To The Edit’ on BBC Radio 1 in May 1984 I rushed straight out to my local record shop and bought the 7” vinyl version. That night I played it again and again. It was one of the most unique sounding songs I had ever heard. If there was ever an ‘addictive record’ this was it.If you’ve never heard the Art of Noise’s early recordings it’s hard to describe them as musical recordings as such. As the Wikipedia entry on them notes:

“[The] compositions were novel melodic sound collages based on digital sampler technology, which was new at the time. Inspired by turn-of-the-20th-century revolutions in music, the Art of Noise were initially packaged as a faceless anti- or non-group, blurring the distinction between the art and its creators. The band is noted for innovative use of electronics and computers in pop music and particularly for innovative use of sampling…The technological impetus for the Art of Noise was the advent of the Fairlight CMI sampler, an electronic musical instrument invented in Australia. With the Fairlight, short digital sound recordings called samples could be ‘played’ through a piano-like keyboard, while a computer processor altered such characteristics as pitch and timbre. Music producer Trevor Horn was among the first people to purchase a Fairlight. While some musicians were using samples as adornment in their works, Horn and his colleagues saw the potential to craft entire compositions with the sampler, disrupting the traditional rock aesthetic”.

Before the Art of Noise officially formed in 1983, four of the five ‘classic’ line-up (i.e., everyone bar Morley) were already working together as the production team behind such records as ABC’s The Lexicon of Love (1982) and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock. However, it was while they were (some would say bizarrely) working on the Yes album 90125 that (while bored) Jeczalik and Langan took a scrapped riff by Yes’ drummer Alan White and sampled it using the Fairlight sequencer (which according to Wikipedia was the first time that an entire drum pattern had been sampled into the machine). Non-musical sounds were then layered on top of the sampled drum riff. Jeczalik and Langan then played their musical creation to Horn and was subsequently released as the ‘Red & Blue Mix’ of Yes’ US No.1 single ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ (which if you’ve never heard it does indeed sound like a Yes-Art of Noise mash-up). Many of the samples originally used on the yes LP ended up on the Art of Noise’s first (9-track) EP in 1983 (Into Battle With The Art of Noise) – a truly wonderful record made even better with the 2011 deluxe reissue expanded into 27 tracks.

Horn loved the new and innovative sound and brought in Morley as the fifth member of the band to develop the concept and marketing strategy, write the press releases, and shape the artistic style of the project’s visual imagery. The Futurism movement not only provided the name of the ZTT record label but also provided the name of the new group. Morley had read Luigi Russolo’s essay (and Futurist manifesto) ‘The Art of Noises’ (dropping the final ‘s’ at the insistence of Jeczalik). In a 2002 article in The Observer Sunday newspaper, Morley wrote:

“I loved the name Art of Noise so much that I forced my way into the group. If over the years people asked me what I did in the group, I replied that I named them, and it was such a great name, that was enough to justify my role. I was the Ringo Starr of Art of Noise. I made the tea. Oh, and I wrote the lyrics to one of the loveliest pieces of pop music ever, Moments in Love”.

One of the things I loved about the Art of Noise was that they were completely faceless and did little promotion outside of the verbose (and arguably pretentious) print advertisements written by Morley. Band photographs never appeared on their records and they never appeared in their own videos. Morley was the “face” of the band but a non-musician. As a teenager still discovering the wonders of music I was transfixed by the group’s [non-]image and the compelling nature of their music. The first album (Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?) was unlike any LP I had ever heard before.

During my first year at university (1985), the original line-up split acrimoniously with Langan, Dudley, and Jeczalik (who kept the Art of Noise name) divorcing themselves from Horn, Morley and the ZTT label. The new Art of Noise line-up made further good albums on the China Records label – In Visible Silence (1986), In No Sense? Nonsense! (1987) and Below The Waste (1989) – but none as compelling as the early recordings. In 1990, the Art of Noise (that since 1987 had been a duo of Dudley and Jeczalik) disbanded.

In 1998, the original line-up (minus Jeczalik and Langan) temporarily reformed (adding the ex-10cc guitarist Lol Crème) and released the critically acclaimed concept LP The Seduction of Claude Debussy back on the ZTT label in 1999. The new line-up then performed some live shows in the UK and US, but disbanded again shortly afterwards. A live CD (Reconstructed) using various performances from these shows was released in 2003.

Despite the group splitting up in the early 2000s, August 2006 saw the release of a 4-CD boxed set of unreleased tracks from the ‘classic’ 1983-1985 period (And What Have You Done with My Body, God?) which was an Art of Noise collector’s Holy Grail. The Art of Noise disciples amongst us lapped it up and it fed our need and obsession for new musical product. Over the last few years more unreleased Art of Noise recordings have surfaced on various compilations and deluxe editions of the early recordings, and there is another boxed set (3CD/1DVD) of unreleased recordings due for issue later this year (Art Of Noise At The End Of A Century). No, I’m not addicted to the Art of Noise, but they’re not a group that I ever want to give up.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Art of Noise (2014). Art of Noise authorized website. Located at: http://theartofnoiseonline.com/Home.php

Wikipedia (2014). Art of Noise. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_Noise

Wikipedia (2014). ZTT Records. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZTT_Records

ZTT records official site (2014). Located at: http://www.ztt.com

Geek or chic? A brief look at video gamer stereotypes

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have spent well over two decades carrying out research into various aspects of video gaming. Online video gaming has become an increasingly popular activity amongst teenagers and adults alike. For numerous reasons, perhaps in part because of its rapid growth, online gaming is also an activity that has become highly stereotyped. That is, it is an activity that has come to be associated in popular culture with a highly specific, caricatured and also negative image. This image is reflected in numerous television shows, print media, news reports, current affairs programs and other sources of popular culture. As Dr. D Williams and his colleagues noted in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Monographs:

“Game players are stereotypically male and young, pale from too much time spent indoors and socially inept. As a new generation of isolated and lonely ‘couch potatoes,’ young male game players are far from aspirational figures”.

Understanding the formation of stereotypes about this group and how they are internalised may help us understand society’s attitudes towards this activity and how its participants are positioned within the status hierarchy. Where the stereotype of the pale teenage gamer came from and whether there is any truth to it are clearly important and interesting questions. Our recent research concerns the extent to which this social stereotype has been transformed into a cognitive stereotype, what form this cognitive stereotype takes, and what this can tell us about society’s attitude toward gaming as an emerging form of social or asocial activity.

Within popular culture, a clear characterisation of online gamers has emerged. Frequently caricatured, this ‘stereotype’ has been disseminated throughout the print media, as well as television and web based programs. One poignant example comes from the popular U.S. animated series South Park. In an episode devoted to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, the stereotypical gamer was portrayed as overweight, lazy, isolated, and aggressive. Additionally, the four main characters of the series became increasingly overweight, lazy, and developed acne as their immersion into the game deepened. One of the main characters (Penny) in the U.S. television series The Big Bang Theory also conforms to stereotypic expectations as she becomes obsessive, reclusive and unkempt upon playing a fantasy-based online game.

The highly successful web series, The Guild, took a more comical approach as they followed a group of online gamers who decide to meet each other in the offline world after many months of regular online interaction. In the opening scene of the first episode, the main character is told by her therapist that her online friends do not constitute a genuine support system, and that immersion in an imaginary social environment is stunting her personal growth. Within the first few minutes of this episode, themes of obsession, addiction, reclusiveness, and loneliness arise.

The stereotypical portrayal of an online gamer has also taken more serious forms. In an episode of Law and Order: SVU, a popular U.S. television series, two individuals are arrested and accused of neglecting their child due to their immersion in an online gaming world. In addition to the depiction of the more physical aspects of the stereotype (both suspects are overweight and have poor personal hygiene), the obsessive and addictive qualities of online gaming are implicated in a much more serious context of child neglect.

The problematic and addictive nature of video games is often highlighted by the news media, and a variety of internet websites, magazine articles, and news articles dispense advice for individuals with problematic playing behaviours. Taken together, these media portrayals, news reports, and internet articles present a consistent and negative image of online gaming and its participants. Online gaming is presented as a dangerous activity that may lead to social withdrawal, physical and mental ill health, and even suicide. These concerns are reflected in stereotypical portrayals of online gamers as socially anxious and incompetent, mentally stunted and withdrawn, and physically unhealthy (e.g., overweight, pale). The origins of this stereotypical image are unknown. It may be an extension of pre-existing stereotypes about similar activities (e.g., the violent film or video game and aggression hypothesis), a subtype of a broader ‘nerd’ stereotype, or a general cynicism about a new and rapidly spreading form of social activity and interaction. The social, psychological and historical factors that led to this stereotype are clearly interesting and worth exploring.

The occurrences of the cultural stereotype described are largely examples of the stereotype of an MMORPG player, rather than online gamers more generally. MMORPG players appear to be the prototype of online gamers, as caricatured by numerous television and web-based programs. In a study published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, Dr. Rachel Kowert, Dr. Julian Oldmeadow and myself collected some data on video gamer stereotypes. We asked our participants (both gamers and non-gamers) to indicate what most other people think online gamers are like. To the extent that stereotypical portrayals of online gaming and gamers have given rise to shared trait associations, there should be strong agreement across both gamers and non-gamers with regards to how gamers are perceived by others in general. A further aim of our study was to examine the extent to which these trait associations about gamers have been internalised as personal beliefs. A total of 342 participants completed our online survey in which they rated how applicable each of a list of traits was to the group of online gamers. Ratings were made for both personal beliefs (how participants themselves see gamers) and stereotypical beliefs (how most others see gamers). While these beliefs were highly consensual as stereotypes, personal beliefs varied suggesting that the cultural portrayal of online gamers is beginning to shift into cognitive associations.

Participants were asked to evaluate the list of adjectives and rate each one in terms of how applicable they believed the trait to be of online gamers. Responses were given on a 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (“not at all applicable”) to 7 (“very applicable”). Participants were first asked questions relating to basic demographic information, as well as information about their online gaming habits (which games they play or had played, frequency of play, and whether they consider themselves a gamer). They were then asked to rate each of the 30 adjectives according to how they personally perceived online gamers (stereotype endorsement), and how they thought other people perceive online gamers (stereotype). The tasks were presented in this order to maximise the independence between personal and stereotypical ratings.

Even though online gamers are a relatively new social category within society, our results demonstrated that a collective stereotype about this population has emerged. All our participants showed an awareness of a shared stereotype that is in accordance with the anecdotal characterisations commonly portrayed by popular media. Stereotype ratings were consistent across gamers and non-gamers, suggesting that these beliefs are widely shared within society. Based on the results of this study, we concluded that the current stereotype of online gamers is largely negative, based on the traits of popularity, attractiveness, idleness, and social competence. Online gamers were stereotypically viewed as unpopular, unattractive, idle, and socially incompetent, a characterisation that seems to match common stereotypical portrayals in the media, television, and internet articles.

As this investigation was largely exploratory, care needs to be taken in interpreting the results and further research is needed to confirm the factors that emerged here. For instance, it is uncertain if the results found here are reflective of the generalized stereotype of gamers (including online gamers more generally) or the popularized prototype of the MMORPG gamer. While some have found that MMORPG gamers are viewed more negatively than the generalized construct of the online gamer, future research is needed to further examine the general stereotype in relation to the subgroups contained within it. This will hopefully provide clarification into the stereotypical differences amongst the broad categorization of online gamers as compared to more specific subgroups, such as MMORPG gamers or casual online gamers (e.g., individuals who play online games that require no major time commitment or special set of skills to complete, such as the highly popular Zynga game, Farmville). Future research may provide further insight into the progression of the shared beliefs about online gamers ‘out there’ developing into internalised cognitive associations ‘in here’. Somewhat fortuitously, the stereotype of online gamers is still undergoing formation within society, providing researchers with the unique opportunity to study this characterisation as it continues to evolve.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input: Dr. Rachel Kowert and Dr. Julian Oldmeadow

Further reading

Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10(4), 575 – 583.

Griffiths, M., Davies, M., & Chappell, D. (2003). Breaking the stereotype: the case of online gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6(1), 81 – 91.

Kowert, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Oldmeadow, J. (2012). Geek or Chic? Emerging stereotypes of online gamers. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 32, 371-379.

Kowert, R., & Oldmeadow, J. (2012). The stereotype of online gamers: new characterization or recycled prototype. Paper presented at the Nordic DiGRA, Tampere, Finland.

Lucas, K., & Sherry, J. (2004). Sex differences in video game play: a communication-based explanation. Communication Research, 31(5), 499 – 523.

Ogletree, S., & Drake, R. (2007). College students’ video game participation and perceptions: gender differences and implications. Sex Roles, 56, 537 – 542.

Williams, D., Yee, N., & Caplan, S. (2008). Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Monographs, 13(4), 993 – 1018.

Yee, N. (2006). The demographics, motivations, and derived experiences of users of massively-multi-user online graphical environments. Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15(3), 309 – 329

Blame it on the boogie: A brief look at dancing as frotteurism

In a previous blogs I have examined both choreophilia (sexual arousal from dancing) and frotteurism (sexual arousal (sexual arousal from non-consensually rubbing up against other people). However, while researching these previous blogs I came across a number of academic papers on ‘dancing frottuerism’. For instance, in a book chapter on frotteurism by Dr. Richard Krueger and Dr. Meg Kaplan, they outlined four case studies of frotteurs in treatment, one of which was a 58-year old male that had engaged in various types of frotteuristic behaviour over a 40-year period (estimated 20,000 acts of frotteurism). This included “dirty dancing” where he would go to nightclubs and deliberately rub himself up against women while dancing with them. He estimated that he engaged in this type of frotteuristic behaviour on approximately 100 nights of the year (compared to other frotteuristic behaviour such as rubbing himself against women on buses and in train subways approximately 200 days a year).

In a short online article concerning frotteurism on the Anxiety Zone website, the term ‘dry humping’ (aka ‘grinding’) is viewed as a form of modern dancing style. The same article also notes that frotteurism may not always be non-consensual:

“Frotteurism carries a connotation of ‘anonymous and discreet rubbing’ in a public place – like on a crowded train. The contact may be mutual or a one-way perpetration…As with most other sexual practices, frottage with a non-consenting person is regarded as a form of sexual assault in most jurisdictions…Frot is a term used among homosexual men to refer to penis to penis rubbing in a conventional private context. It is also known as ‘phrot’, ‘swordfighting’, ‘cockrub’, ‘penis fencing’, ‘bumping dicks’, ‘frication’ and ‘the Princeton rub’. Advocates of this practice represent it as a safer and more erotic alternative to anal sex. Two people engaging in clothed frottage in a manner that simulates intercourse is known in the vernacular as ‘dry humping’. A modern dancing style which involves partners rubbing their clothed bodies on one another is called grinding”

The online Encyclopedia Dramatica also appears to concur, and notes in its article on frotteurism that sometimes, bump and grind dancing in clubs is also thought of as being frottage”. Frotteurism in the form of dancing appears to be an accepted part of leisure life in the Caribbean. According to a short online article (‘Frottage and Frotteurism in the Caribbean’), dancing frotteurism occurs when couples are dancing (“typically with the man behind the woman. It is something like freak dancing in the US except that nobody is scandalised by it and it is not restricted to teenagers. In Jamaica there are dance events called ‘rubs’ where pelvic thrusting is meant to happen”).

However, some academics do not see this Caribbean practice as socially acceptable. For instance, Dr. Hari Maharajh published a 2010 book chapter entitled ‘Dancing frotteurism or rubbing at the Carnival celebrations in Trinidad’. (Although this appears to be based on an earlier paper published in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Chinese Clinical Medicine). Dr. Maharajh noted that Trinidad and Tobago had been influenced by a variety of cultures that finds its greatest expression during the Carnival season. More specifically, it was reported that:

“During this [Carnival time] a local dance form of wining with suggestible sexual movements is pervasive. It is associated with distortions of normal courtship behavior with paraphilic disturbances. In a case presentation, a young male is presented showing paraphilic disturbances touching, holding, rubbing and coercive sex. This behavior of frotteurism and other paraphilias are common occurrences at carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and are considered to be cultural normative practices”.

The Carnival occurs on many Caribbean islands (not just Trinidad and Tobago) and is celebrated just before Lent. Dr. Maharajh’s case study attempted to identify a number of sexual paraphilias such as “toucherism, frotteurism and preferential rape” during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival celebration and then looked at some of the legal ramifications of such behaviour. Similar observations were also made in a 2013 paper by Annette George et Darlington Richards in the online journal Études Caribéennes.They noted that two specific behaviors continue to be of concern during the Carnival: (i) the high levels of alcohol consumption during the Carnival’s festivities and, (ii) the erotic dancing and wining expressed by the Carnival participants. They wrote that:

“[In addition to the amount of alcohol consumed during the Carnival, the] second major concern of the celebrations is the dancing or wining. Wining, a term used to describe sensuous pelvic gyrations of the hips and waist, is considered to be suggestive and sexually stimulating not only to the revelers but also to on-lookers (Maharajh & Konings, 2007; Miller, 1991). It is also considered expressions of enjoyment, happiness and freedom…Similarly, Miller (1991) reports that wining between men and women during Carnival, is clearly a sexual expression that encourages rape”.

Maharajh also concurred that excessive alcohol consumption is a key feature of the Carnival and that it is seen as a “time to free up, break away and get on bad” including promiscuity and other “immoral and inexcusable” behaviours. George and Darlington argue that for these reasons, the Trinidadians as a group have a ‘carnival mentality’ that equates to a never-ending all year-round ‘party mentality’. Maharajh claims that in Trinidad, sex is a “comparative performance for both men and women”, and that an activity such as wining “is viewed as either a form of ‘virtual sex’ or as an expression of sexuality”.  Citing the work of Dr. C.L. Green (2007), George and Darlington note that the “Carnival is nothing more than an orgy of sexuality and hedonism appealing to the fetishistic fantasies of the potential tourist”, George and Darlington then go on to claim that:

“This contextual, if tantalizing environment for the ‘carnival spirit’ for the locals have an equal, if not more, tantalizing allure for the tourists. The prevailing environment of social, and cultural permissiveness and intermingling, allows for the indulgent tourist to be part of the rascality and the attendant exposure”.

As a backdrop to any debate concerning whether sexual dancing is a legitimate form of frotteurism, it is clear that appropriate sexual behaviours depend on the surrounding context (cultural and/or social) including the time and the place of where the behaviour occurs. Some sexual behaviours that may be unacceptable under most circumstances (e.g., being nude in public, sexual contact between individual dancers) appears as though they are encouraged during celebrations like Mardi Gras or the Carnival.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Anxiety Zone (2013). Frotteurism. Located at: http://www.anxietyzone.com/conditions/frotteurism.html

Encyclopedia Dramatica (2012). Frottage. Located at: https://encyclopediadramatica.es/Frottage

George, A. A., & Richards, D. (2013). Tourism in Trinidad and Tobago: The evolving attitudes and behaviors and its implications in an era of HIV/AIDS epidemic. Études Caribéennes, 19. Located at: http://etudescaribeennes.revues.org/5314

Green, G.L. (2007). ‘Come to life’: Authenticity, value, and the carnival as cultural commodity in Trinidad and Tobago. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 14, 203-224.

Krueger, R.B., & Kaplan, M. S. (1999). Evaluation and treatment of sexual disorders: frottage. Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book, 18, 185-197.

Maharajh, H.D. (2010). Dancing frotteurism or rubbing at the carnival celebrations in Trinidad. In: Maharajh, H.D., Merrick, J., Social and cultural psychiatry experience from the Caribbean Region. (pp.117-122) New York, Nova Science Publishers Inc.

Maharajh, H. D., & Konings, M. (2007). Dancing frotteurism and courtship disorder in Trinidad and Tobago. Journal of Chinese Clinical Medicine, 2(7), 407-411.

Miller, D. (1991). Absolutely freedom in Trinidad. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Man, New Series, 26(2), 323-341.

Fanable Collector: A personal insight into the psychology of a record-collecting completist

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have described myself as a music obsessive and that I am an avid record and CD collector. When I get into a particular band or artist I try to track down every song that artist has ever done – irrespective of whether I actually like the song or not. I have to own every recording. Once I have collected every official recording I then start tracking down unofficially released recordings via bootlegs and fan websites. I have my own books and printed lists (i.e., complete discographies by specific bands and solo artists) that I meticulously tick off with yellow highlighter pen. (In some ways, I am no different to a trainspotter that ticks off train numbers in a book).

I wouldn’t say I am a particularly materialistic person but I love knowing (and feeling) that I have every official recorded output by my favourite musicians. My hobby can sometimes cost me a lot of money (I am a sucker for deluxe box sets) although most of the time I can track down secondhand items and bargains on eBay and Amazon relatively cheaply (plus I have downloaded thousands of bootleg albums for free from the internet). Tracking down an obscure release is as much fun as the listening of the record or CD (i.e., the ‘thrill of the chase’). Almost every record I have bought over the last decade is in mint condition and unplayed (as many records now come with a code to download the record bought as a set of MP3s).

As a record collector, one of the things that make the hobby both fun and (at the same time somewhat) infuriating is the number of different versions of a particular song that can end up being released. As a collector I have an almost compulsive need to own every version of a song that an artist has committed to vinyl, CD, tape or MP3. However, I am grateful that I am not the type of collector that tries to own every physical record/CD released in every country. (My love of The Beatles would mean I would be bankrupt). I only buy releases in other countries if it contains music that is exclusive to that country (e.g., many Japanese CD releases contain one or two tracks that may not be initially released in any other country).

For most artists that I collect from the 1960s to early 1980s, it is fairly easy to collect every officially released song. Artists like The Beatles may have up three to four official versions of a particular song (the single version, the album version, a demo version, a version from another country with a different edit, etc.). With bootleg recordings, the number of versions might escalate to 30 or 40 versions by including live versions, every studio take, etc.). It can become almost endless if you start to collect bootleg recordings of every gig by your favourite artists. (I know this from personal experience).

It was during my avid record buying days in the early 1980s that the ‘completist’ in me started to take hold. Some of you reading this may recall that in 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) became only the second band ever to reach the UK No.1 with their first three singles – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’ (the first band being – not The Beatles, but their Liverpool friends and rivals – Gerry and The Pacemakers). One of the reasons that FGTH got to (and stayed for weeks at) number one was there were thousands of people like me that bought countless different versions of every variation of every single released. For instance, not only did I buy the standard 7”, 12”, cassettes, and picture discs of both ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’, I bought every new mix that FGTH producer Trevor Horn put out.

Every week, all of the money that I earned from my Saturday job working in Irene’s Pantry would go on buying records from Castle Records in Loughborough. I didn’t care about clothes, sweets, books, etc. All I cared about outside of school was music. Some of my hard earned money went on buying the NME (New Musical Express) every Thursday along with buying other music weeklies if my favourite bands were featured (Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Smash Hits to name just a few).

When I got to university to study Psychology at the University of Bradford, my love of music and record buying increased. Not only did I discover other like-minded people but Bradford had a great music scene. One of the first things I did when I got to university was become a journalist for the student magazine (Fleece). Within seven months I was one of the three Fleece editors and I was in control of all the arts and entertainment coverage. The perks of my (non-paid) job was that (a) I got to go to every gig at Bradford University for free, (b) I was sent lots of free records to review for the magazine (all of which I kept and some of which I still have), and (c) I got to see every film for free in return for writing a review. I couldn’t believe my luck.

During this time (1984-1987) my three favourite artists were The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and (my guilty pleasure) Adam Ant. I devoured everything they released (especially The Smiths). As a record collector I not only loved the Smiths music but I loved the record covers, the messages scratched on the vinyl run-out grooves, and Morrissey’s interviews in the music press. It was also during this period that I discovered other bands that later went onto become some of my favourite bands of all time (Propaganda and The Art of Noise being the two that most spring to mind). As a Depeche Mode fan, collecting every track they have ever done has become harder and harder (and more expensive) as they were arguably one of the pioneers of the remix. Although Trevor Horn and the ZTT label took remixing singles to a new level for record collectors, it was Depeche Mode that arguably carried on the baton into the 1990s.

During 1987-1990, my record buying subsided through financial necessity. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter and the little money I had went on food, rent, and travel (to see my then girlfriend who lived over 300 miles away). I simply didn’t have the money to buy and collect records the way I had before. Buying singles stopped but I would still buy the occasional album. This was the only period in my life that I didn’t really buy music magazines. (My thinking was that if I didn’t know what was being released I couldn’t feel bad about not buying it).

In the summer of 1990 I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer in Psychology at Plymouth University. For the first time in my life I had a healthy disposable income. My first purchase with my first pay cheque was an expensive turntable and CD player. I also bought loads of CD albums on my growing wish list. What I loved about my hobby was that I could do it simultaneously with my job (i.e., I could listen to my favourite bands at the same time as preparing my lectures or writing my research papers – something that I still do to this day).

When CD singles became popular in the 1990s I became a voracious buyer of music again. Typically bands would release a single across multiple formats with each format containing tracks exclusive to the record, CD and/or cassette. Artists like Oasis and Morrissey (two of my favourites during the 1990s) would release singles in three or four formats (7” vinyl, 10”/12” vinyl, CD single, and cassette single) and I would buy all formats (and to some extent I still do). It was a collector’s paradise but I could afford it. In fact, not only could I afford to buy all the music I wanted, I could buy all the monthly music magazines at the time (Vox, Select, Record Collector, Q, and then a little later Uncut and Mojo), and I could go to gigs and still have money left over.

Since the mid-1990s only one thing has really changed in relation to my music-buying habits and that is there are less and less new bands that I have become a fan of. I still buy lots of new music but I don’t tend to collect the work of contemporary bands. However, the music industry has realized there are huge amounts of money to be made from their back catalogues. I am the type of music buyer that will happily buy a ‘classic’ album again as long as it has an extra disc or two of demo versions, rarities, remixes, and obscure B-sides, that will help me extend and/or complete music collections by the bands I love. Over this year I have already bought box sets by The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie (to name just four). I have become a retro-buyer but I still crave “new” music by my favourite artists. Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it – and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The schlocky horror show: Why do we like watching scary films?

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love horror films (based on articles I have written such as the psychology of Hannibal Lecter). Although I am not a great fan of the archetypal ‘slasher’ movies (franchises such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.), I do like a bit of ‘schlock horror’ (such as the David Cronenberg’s films Scanners and The Fly) as well as ‘psychological horror’ (such as Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan). But why do we love to watch scary films? Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht (and for who I have written book chapters on various aspects of video game play) in a 2013 interview for IGN (formerly Imagine Games Network) was quoted as saying:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects…[Horror films must] provide a just resolution in the end. The bad guy gets it. Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise”.

According to a 2004 paper in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters, the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism. Walters made reference to a number of psychological studies to support his argument. For instance:

“Haidt, McCauley, and Rozin (1994), in conducting research on disgust, exposed college students to three documentary videos depicting real-life horrors.  One clip showed cows being stunned, killed, and butchered in a slaughterhouse; a second clip pictured a live monkey being struck in the head with a hammer, having its skull cracked opened, and its brain served as dessert; a third clip depicted a child’s facial skin being turned inside out in preparation for surgery.  Ninety percent of the students turned the video off before it reached the end.  Even the majority of individuals who watched the tape in its entirety found the images disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film with much more blood and gore than was present in the documentaries that most of them found repugnant.  McCauley (1998) posed the logical question of why these students found the documentary film so unpleasant when most had sat through horror pictures that were appreciably more violent and bloody.  The answer that McCauley came up with was that the fictional nature of horror films affordsviewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film. In fact, there is evidence that young viewers who perceive greater realism in horror films are more negatively affected by their exposure to horror films than viewers who perceive the film as unreal (Hoekstra, Harris, & Helmick, 1999)”.

According to research published by Dr. Deirdre Johnston in a 1995 issue of Human Communication Research into motivations for viewing graphic horror, there are four main different reasons for why we (or at the very least a small sample of 220 American adolescents) like watching horror movies (gore watching, thrill watching, independent watching and problem watching). These four reasons were also discussed in relation to various dispositional characteristics such as fearfulness, empathy, and sensation seeking. Dr. Johnston reported that: “The four viewing motivations are found to be related to viewers’ cognitive and affective responses to horror films, as well as viewers’ tendency to identify with either the killers or victims in these films”. More specifically she reported (i) gore watchers typically had low empathy, high sensation seeking, and [among males only] a strong identification with the killer, (ii) thrill watchers typically had both high empathy and sensation seeking, identified themselves more with the victims, and liked the suspense of the film, (iii) independent watchers typically had a high empathy for the victim along with a high positive effect for overcoming fear, and (iv) problem watchers typically had high empathy for the victim but were characterized by negative effect (particularly a sense of helplessness).

A really good article on the psychology of scary films by John Hess on the Filmmaker IQ website claimed there were many theories on why we love to watch horror films. I wasn’t able to check out all of the original sources (as there was no reference list) but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the theories outlined. For instance, the psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung believed horror films “tapped into primordial archetypes buried deep in our collective subconscious – images like shadow and mother play important role in the horror genre”. However, as with almost all psychoanalytic theorizing, such notions are hard to empirically test. Another psychoanalytic theory – although arguably dating back to Aristotle – is the notion of catharsis (i.e., that we watch violent and frightening films as a way of purging negative emotions and/or as a way to relieve pent-up aggression (an argument also proposed as a reason as to why some people love to play violent video games). Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) is arguably an extension of catharsis theory. Hess’ summary of ETT notes:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph? And even in some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after”.

Hess then goes onto outline the thoughts of Noël Carroll (a film scholar) who claimed that horror films are played out outside everyday normal behaviour, and comprise curiosity and fascination. Hess writes:

“Studies by [researchers such as Zillman] have shown that there is a significant correlation between people who are accepting of norm-violating behavior and interest in horror movies. But that doesn’t explain why some viewers respond positively when the norm violators such as the sexual promiscuous teenage couple, the criminal, the adulterer – are punished and killed by the movie monster. This ‘enjoyment’ of the punishment of those that deserves it makes up the Dispositional Alignment Theory. We like horror movies because the people on screen getting killed deserve it. But this may give us insight into who the audiences want to see eat it but it’s not a clear picture of why horror films are popular in the first place. Another theory put forth by Marvin Zuckerman in 1979 proposed that people who scored high in theSensation Seeking Scale often reported a greater interest in exciting things like rollercasters, bungee jumping and horror films. Researchers have found correlation but it isn’t always significant. Even Zuckerman noted that picking only one trait misses the fact that there are lots of things that draw people to horror films”.

Dolf Zillmann (along with James Weaver, Norbert Mundorf and Charles Aust) put forward The Gender Socialization theory in a 1996 issue the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (and sometimes referred to as the ‘Snuggle Theory’). Zillman and his colleagues exposed 36 male and 36 female undergraduates to a horror movie in the presence of a same-age, opposite-gender companion of low or high initial appeal who expressed mastery, affective indifference, or distress. They reported that men enjoyed the film most in the company of a distressed woman and least in the company of a mastering woman. Women enjoyed the movie most in the company of a mastering man and least in the company of a distressed man. Hess says these findings don’t explain why some people go to horror films alone or what happens after adolescence. Finally, cultural historian David Skal has argued that horror films are simply reflect our societal fears. As Hess notes:

“Looking at the history of horror you have mutant monsters rising in 50s from our fear of the nuclear bogeyman, Zombies in the 60s with Vietnam, Nightmare on Elm Street as a mistrust in authority figures stemming from the Watergate scandals and Zombies again in the 2000s as a reflection of viral pandemic fears. But for as many horror cycles that fit the theory, there are many that don’t. And horror films work on a universal level crossing national boundaries while still working in different cultures”.

Basically, none of these theories fully explain why we love watching scary films. Different people like watching for different reasons and no theory has been put forward that explains everyone’s motives and reasoning. I will continue to enjoy watching even though I don’t fully understand my own motives.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Haidt, J., McCauley, C., & Rozin, P. (1994). Individual differences in sensitivity to disgust: A scale sampling seven domains of disgust elicitors. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 701-713.

Hess, J.P. (2010). The psychology of scary movies. Filmmaker IQ. Located at: http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/the-psychology-of-scary-movies/

Hoekstra, S. J., Harris, R. J., & Helmick, A. L. (1999). Autobiographical memories about the experience of seeing frightening movies in childhood. Media Psychology, 1, 117-140.

Johnston, D.D. (1995). Adolescents’ motivations for viewing graphic horror. Human Communication Research, 21(4), 522-552.

McCauley, C. (1998). When screen violence is not attractive. In J. Goldstein (Ed.), Why we watch: The attractions of violent entertainment (pp. 144-162). New York: Oxford.

O’Brien, L. (2013). The curious appeal of horror movies: Why do we like to feel scared? IGN, September 9. Located at: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2013/09/09/the-curious-appeal-of-horror-movies

Walthers, G.D. (2004). Understanding the popular appeal of horror cinema: An integrated-interactive model. Journal of Media Psychology, 9(2). Located at: http://web.calstatela.edu/faculty/sfischo/horrormoviesRev2.htm

Zillmann, D., Weaver, J. B., Mundorf, N., & Aust, C. F. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3), 586-594.

The write stuff: Diary writing and psychological wellbeing

Since my first day as a university student back in October 1984, I have kept a diary. What started out as my attempt to write a real-life Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has turned into 30 years of detailed journals where my whole life has been detailed and catalogued in 400-500 words every single day. Sometimes I wish I could stop as they have certainly got me into trouble (as a number of my ex-girlfriends will testify). But I won’t. The advantages of writing about my day-to-day life far outweigh the disadvantages. Even though I have never published any research on diary writing, I did appear on Radio 4’s All In The Mind radio programme where I was given free reign to speculate on why people write diaries.

Writing a diary is nothing new. Millions of people do it. A 2011 article in The Times of India on ‘Why we keep diaries’ noted that being able to keep a diary over a long period is not easy to do as it takes time, effort, patience, and most of all discipline (something that I can vouch for). Nalini Nair, a psychologist interviewed by the newspaper claimed that writing diaries is a form of catharsis (i.e., a process of cleansing or purging our emotions out on paper). She was quoted as saying:

“We relieve our emotional tension through several outlets like art, music and writing a diary is one of them. People who record daily events and jot down everything that they feel are more in touch with their inner emotions”.

A number of psychologists have done studies showing that diary writing is far more than writing for posterity. Some – such as Dr. James Pennebaker in his 2004 book Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval – have gone as far as to say that writing down your feelings is psychologically good for you (something I’ve known personally for years). His research has demonstrated that those who spend time writing about emotionally bad feelings visit their GP less than those that write about non-emotional feelings. More generally, Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found people that benefit the most from expressive diary writing typically use more causal analysis and express more emotion while writing. Therefore, expressive diary writing may be helping individuals simplify and organize their fragmented memories. A summary of Pennebaker’s research on the General Psychology website reported:

“Pennebaker surmised that the Theory of Catharsis can be applied to writing as well. (Sigmund Freud’s theory of catharsis states that people find relief from emotional distress and consequent psychological symptoms by simply expressing their emotions to a trained listener)…He found that college students who wrote about their upsetting and traumatic experiences, along with the associated emotions, reduced their illness visits to the student health center. They were significantly healthier than those students who wrote objectively (without emotions) about negative life events, and those who wrote about topics unrelated from their experiences. Follow-up studies supported Pennebaker’s findings. Pennebaker, Riecolt-Glaser and Glaser (1988) tested the blood samples of the participants and found that cathartic writing boosts the immune system. Additionally, Pennebaker, Spera and Buhrfeind (1994) found that cathartic writing among middle-aged engineers, who were fired after 30 years of service in a company, lead them to overcome their frustration and find alternative employment, compared to those who did not and remained angry and unemployed. This and other success stories strongly suggest that the theory of catharsis can be modified to include writing as a means to improve physical health and psychological wellbeing”.

In 2009, research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by US psychologist Professor Matthew Leiberman claimed that keeping a diary makes people happier (and termed ‘The Bridget Jones Effect’). Although I have been unable to track down the original conference paper, the research findings were reported in countless newspapers around the world. In the UK, The Guardian reported that:

“Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in [the amygdala] which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions. Psychologists who discovered the ‘Bridget Jones Effect’ said it worked whether people elaborated on their feelings in a diary, penned lines of poetry, or even jotted down song lyrics to express their negative emotions. When people wrote about their feelings, medical scans showed that their brain activity matched that seen in volunteers who were consciously trying to control their emotions…The psychologists investigated the effect by inviting volunteers to visit the lab for a brain scan before asking them to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Half of the participants wrote about a recent emotional experience, while the other half wrote about a neutral experience.Those who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in [the] right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which in turn dampened down neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings.Men seemed to benefit from writing about their feelings more than women, and writing by hand had a bigger effect than typing…The study showed that writing about emotions in an abstract sense was more calming than describing them in vivid language, which could make people feel more upset by reactivating their original feelings. The findings suggest that keeping a diary, making up poetry and scribbling down song lyrics can help people get over emotional distress”

Another study published by Dr. Kitty Klein and Dr. Adriel Boals in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology (General) examined expressive diary writing and found that it increased working memory capacity. They did two experiments with their students. In their first study, undergraduates were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about coming to college. The researchers found that when compared to a control group that were asked to write on a trivial topic, the experimental group showed larger working memory gains when tested seven weeks later. In their second study (and compared to students that wrote about a positive experience and students that wrote about a trivial topic), undergraduates that wrote about a negative personal experience showed (i) greater improvements in working memory, and (ii) greater declines in intrusive thinking. The researchers believed that the improvements in working memory may help free up cognitive resources for other mental activities, including the ability to cope more effectively with stress. Talking to the press, Dr. Boals said:

“[The results] hint at a way to short-circuit that destructive process. They suggest that at least for fairly minor life problems, something as simple as writing about the problem for 20 minutes can yield important effects not only in terms of physical health and mental health, but also in terms of cognitive abilities”.

In a 2008 issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology (BJHP), a study led by Dr. Y. Seih examined the benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing. Their study investigated a new emotional writing paradigm called ‘psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing’ (PDDP). The authors wrote that:

“PDDP instructs participants to write diary in first-person pronoun first, and then narrate the same event from a different perspective using second-person pronoun. Finally, the participants write it again with third-person pronoun from yet another perspective. These three narrations were to be written in a consecutive sequential order. Results demonstrated that diary writers indeed benefited from features of PDDP. It also showed that highly anxious people received most long-term therapeutic effect from PDDP”.

The authors argued that PDDP enacts the needed mechanism to balance psychological distance prolonging and self-disclosure making in emotional writing. Some of the authors of the BJHP paper followed up this study and published a paper in a recent 2013 issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies. In this latest study (led this time by Dr. Jen-Ho Chang), the researchers attempted to investigate whether the PDPD had both immediate and short-term psychological benefits. Individuals in either a PDPD group or comparison group were randomly assigned to write about their recent negative life experiences twice a week for two weeks. Results showed that the PDPD group showed a decrease in negative emotion and an increase in positive emotion immediately after each diary writing session. The PDPD group also showed an increase in psychological wellbeing relative to the control group for at least two weeks.

Interestingly, there appears to be more research on why writing diaries are good for people rather than on why people write diaries in the first place. As the article in The Times of India concludes:

“Keeping diaries have always been a mystery. Why we keep them and why we record them is something worth probing into. Years later, you can always flip through these diaries and see what you were. The kind of person you evolved from. Perhaps that will give you a better clarity to life on the whole”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Chang, J.H., Huang, C.L., & Lin, Y.C. (2013). The psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing (PDPD) and its psychological benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 155-167.

General Psychology (2013). How can writing improve your health? Located at: http://general-psychology.weebly.com/how-can-writing-improve-your-health.html

Grey, J. (2009). 8 benefits of writing in a journal or diary. Located at: http://hubpages.com/hub/10-Benefits-of-Keeping-a-Journal

Hiemstra, R. (2001). Uses and benefits of journal writing. In L. M. English & M. A. Gillen, (Eds.), Promoting journal writing in adult education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 90, pp. 19-26). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Located at: http://www-distance.syr.edu/journal1.html)

Kareem, R.A. (2011). Why we keep diaries. The Times of India, August 25. Located at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-08-25/man-woman/29926572_1_diaries-anne-frank-emotions

Klein, K., & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 520-533.

Pennebaker, J.W. (2004). Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

Sample, I. (2009). Keeping a diary makes you happier. The Guardian, February 15. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/15/psychology-usa

Seih, Y. T., Lin, Y. C., Huang, C. L., Peng, C. W., & Huang, S. P. (2008). The benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing when using different pronouns. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13(1), 39-41.

Whitbourne, S.K. (2009). Tracking your travels through time: The benefits of writing in diaries. Psychology Today, December 16. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/200912/tracking-your-travels-through-time-the-benefits-writing-in-diaries

Below the waste: A brief look at the extreme world of bodily fluid art

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have a long-standing psychological interest in any extreme human behaviour. This also encompasses the world of popular culture and includes individuals that engage in extreme art (such as surrealists like Salvador Dali), extreme fashion (such as those that wear extreme lingerie, extreme body art (including both extreme tattooing and extreme body modification), and/or fetishistic body costumes), and extreme music (such as bands like Throbbing Gristle and the Velvet Underground).

Back in 1997 I was one of the many people that visited the controversial art exhibition Sensation at the Royal Academy of Art that featured a wide range of work by the ‘Young British Artists’ (and all owned by Charles Saatchi) such as the ‘shock art’ by Damien Hirst (‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’), Tracy Emin (‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995’), Jake and Dinos Chapman (‘Great Deeds Against the Dead, 1994’), Marcus Harvey (‘Myra’), and Ron Mueck (‘Dead Dad’). One of the pieces that I was particularly struck by was ‘Self’ a sculpture by Marc Quinn that was a cast of the artist’s own head made from approximately nine pints of his own frozen blood. As the Wikipedia entry on Quinn notes:

In interview in 2000, reflecting on the iconic artwork, [Quinn] remarked, ‘Well, I think it’s a great sculpture. I’m really happy with it. I think it is inevitable that you have one piece people focus in on. But that’s really good because it gets people into the work’. Described by Quinn as a ‘frozen moment on life support’, the work is carefully maintained in a refrigeration unit, reminding the viewer of the fragility of existence. The artist makes a new version of ‘Self’ every five years, each of which documents Quinn’s own physical transformation and deterioration”.

In interviews about his body of work (no pun intended), Quinn has said that he has gravitated towards the use of unconventional materials that address his “preoccupation with the mutability of the body and the dualisms that define human life”. In a short (but interesting) interview with The Huffington Post, he was asked how the metaphorical immortality in his work given that his work literally contained a part of him. He replied that:

In a funny way I think ‘Self’, the frozen head series, is about the impossibility of immortality. This is an artwork on life support. If you unplug it, it turns to a pool of blood. It can only exist in a culture where looking after art is a priority. It’s unlikely to survive revolutions, wars and social upheaval, I also think that the total self portrait-ness of using my blood and my body has an ironic factor as well, in that even though the sculpture is my form and made from the material from my body, to me if just emphasises the difference between a truly living person and the materials which make that person up. The sort of literalist point that has been missed by the cryogenicists who freeze themselves for supposed future regeneration”.

I was reminded of Quinn’s extreme art more recently when I was interviewed about the art of 36-year old Australian-based artist Dr Rev Mayers for the Discovery television series Forbidden (a program on which I am the resident psychologist. You can see Dr. Rev and my appearance on this programme here). As the documentary’s production notes made clear:

“Dr. Rev loves to paint. Like most artists he tries to put something of himself in to all his creations. But Dr Rev takes this concept to a whole other level. His paintings are created using his own blood, pumped fresh from his own veins and sprayed direct on to the canvas…He’s a natural born showman, lapping up the attention he gets while performing his death defying blood art stunts in front of live audiences. He’s survived his last feat – a live show painting with the blood being pumped directly from his arm – though he’s vowed never to try it again. ‘It’s a dangerous process if the airbrush had have blocked up, blood could have been pushed back into my body. I could have suffered a heart attack and died’…Mayers has just quit the tattoo business and blood painting is now his fulltime job. He’s been doing it for 6 years ever since he convinced his nurse to let him take home a vial of his own blood”.

Mayers describes himself as borderline bipolar, a showman and a talker. The motivation behind his art appears a lot less intellectual than that of Quinn with a seemingly simple rationale for doing what he does – contradiction and shock value. As he noted in the television program: “I don’t mean to sell myself but I’m certainly not boring and if it’s shocking that you guys want then you’ll get shocking!” Mayers also claimed that he likes the idea of contradicting the stigma that surrounds blood: “It’s not scary. It’s what gives us life” 

Quinn and Mayers’ artworks might be considered less extreme than examples of other ‘bodily fluid’ art that I came across during my research for this article. Many of you reading this may be familiar with the art of English Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili who often incorporates elephant dung into his paintings. However, the late Italian artist Piero Manzoni (who died in 1961 at the age of 29 years) filled ninety 30-gram tin cans with his own faeces (labeled ‘Merda d’artista’ that translates as ‘The Artist’s Shit’). Each in was valued as its weight in gold and the most recently sold can went for about £100,000. It is thought that none of the 90 cans has ever been opened so no-one is entirely sure whether they really contain Manzoni’s excrement or not. In an online essay about Manzoni by Stefano Cappeli, the author briefly made reference to the more psychological (in this case psychodynamic) elements of the faecal artwork:

“Manzoni’s cans of Artist’s Shit have some forerunners in the twentieth-century art, like Marcel Duchamp’s urinal (‘Fontaine’, 1917) or the Surrealists’ coprolalic wits. Salvador Dalì, Georges Bataille and first of all Alfred Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’ (1896) had given artistic and literal dignity to the word ‘merde’. The link between anality and art, as the equation of excrements with gold, is a leitmotiv of the psychoanalytic movement (and Carl G. Jung could have been a point of reference for Manzoni).
 Manzoni’s main innovation to this topic is a reflection on the role of the artist’s body in contemporary art”

Another controversial piece of art containing the artist’s own bodily fluid was American Andres Serrano’s 1987 photograph Piss Christ. The photograph depicts Jesus on a small plastic crucifix drowning in a glass of yellow liquid (i.e., Serrano’s own urine). His artworks also include other iconic statuettes in liquids such as blood and milk. Unsurprisingly, accusations of “cheaping Christianity” have been made towards the artist. But Serrano has consistently stated that Piss Christ is itself “a commentary on the cheapening and commercialization of Christian icons in the modern age”.

Other artists that have incorporated bodily fluids into their artworks include those that have used human sweat (e.g., ‘Waste to Work: Everyman’s Source’ by Daniela Kostova and Olivia Robinson that explores the relationship between work, sweat, pay, and unemployment), vomit (e.g., ‘Nexus Vomitus’ by Millie Brown, a half-hour operatic vomit performance), and menstrual blood (e.g., Ingrid Berthon-Moine’s portrait photographs such as ‘Forbidden Red’ and ‘Rouge Pur’ where lipstick is always replaced by menstrual blood).

The psychological motivations and eccentricities of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dali have long been the discussion of both academics and non-academics alike. Abnormal psychology specialist Professor Gordon Claridge noted that many psychological studies have examined the minds of artists. This research has often showed a pattern of unhappy and/or lonely childhoods, and that artists are often highly sensitive individuals that may have experienced trauma (pushing them into art as a form of escapism, self-expression and/or therapy).

A study of 291 world famous men by Dr. Felix Post in a 1994 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry found that over two-thirds (69%) had a mental disorder of some kind. More specifically, scientists were the least affected by mental health problems, while artists and writers had increased diagnoses of psychosis (i.e., mental conditions that involve losing touch with reality and may in extreme cases result in various types of hallucination). In her 1996 book Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness And The Artistic Temperament, the psychiatrist Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison concluded that, among eminent artists, the rate of depressive illnesses (particularly bipolar disorder) was 20 times more common than in the general population. For instance, Picasso, Gauguin, Michelangelo and Jackson Pollock are all thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder, and Andy Warhol appeared to demonstrate all the signs of Asperger’s syndrome (i.e., a type of autism). Whether those engaged in extreme art activities are any more psychologically prone to mental disorders than ‘normal’ artists remains to be seen.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Capelli, S. (undated). Artist’s shit: Consumption of dynamic art by the art devouring public magic bases – Living sculptures. Located at: http://www.pieromanzoni.org/PDF/EN/Manzoni_Shit.pdf

Frank, P. (2011). Marc Quinn discusses self-portraits made of his own blood. The Huffington Post, June 8. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/marc-quinn_n_1581132.html

Jamison, K.R. (1996). Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness And The Artistic Temperament. New York: The Free Press.

Jones, J. (2011). Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is the original shock art. The Guardian, April 18. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/18/andres-serrano-piss-christ-shock

May, G. (2013). 10 crazy pieces of art made from bodily fluids. Listverse, July 27. Located at: http://listverse.com/2013/07/27/10-exceptional-pieces-of-art-made-from-bodily-fluids/

Post, F. (1994). Creativity and psychopathology. British Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 22-34

Smith, S. (2011). When blood runs cold. Big Tattoo Planet, June 22. Located at: http://www.bigtattooplanet.com/features/artist-interview/when-blood-runs-cold-dr-rev

Spooky (2012). Dr. Rev’s creepy artworks are painted in blood. Oddity Central, May 8. Located at: http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/dr-revs-creepy-artworks-are-painted-in-blood.html

Hopelessly devoted to you: The Church of Maradona

“Our Diego/Who art on earth/Hallowed be thy left foot/Thy magic come/Thy goals be remembered” (excerpt of The Lord’s Prayer, Church of Maradona)

For some people, football could arguably be described as a religion. However, I discovered earlier last year while being interviewed for a television documentary that for some people, there is a football-related religion with Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona as its deity (arguably an extreme form of celebrity worship that I examined in a previous blog). I thought this was a joke or hoax, especially as a Wikipedia entry claimed that:

“The Iglesia Maradoniana (English: Church of Maradona; literally Maradonian Church) is a parody religion, created by fans of the retired Argentine football player Diego Maradona, who they believe to be the best player of all time. The Iglesia was founded on October 30, 1998 (Maradona’s 38th birthday) in the city of Rosario, Argentina. It could be seen as a type of syncretism or as a religion, depending on what religious definition one chooses to use…Supporters of the Maradonian Church, supposedly from all parts of the world, count the years since Maradona’s birth in 1960… [D10S] is popular, among the followers of this religion (and also among other football fans), the use of the neo-Tetragrammaton D10S as one of the names of Maradona: D10S is a portmanteau word which fuses 10 (diez in Spanish), Maradona’s shirt number, and dios, the Spanish word for god”.

Most football fans here in England generally accept that Maradona was a footballing genius and the best player of his generation. However, our abiding (if not the most painful) memory is his goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Finals (where he scored with a clear handball but was not spotted by the referee). After the match, Maradona described it as the ‘Hand of God’.

However, many Argentinians say the Church of Maradona is not a joke or parody but a “serious celebration of their love for the soccer legend”. In the home to the church (Rosario), Maradona worshippers frequently gather for mass, and sing songs to honour and venerate Maradona. Alejandro Veron who runs the Church of Maradona website says: “Our religion is football and, like all religions, it must have a god. We will never forget the miracles he showed on the pitch and the spirit he awoke in us, the fanatics”.

The church also has its ten commandments: (1) The ball must not be stained, as D10S has proclaimed; (2) Love football over all things; (3) Declare your unconditional love of football; (4) Defend the colours of Argentina; (5) Preach the words of ‘Diego Maradona’ all over the world; (6) Pray in the temples where he preached, and to his sacred mantles; (7) Do not proclaim the name of Diego in the name of a single club; (8) Follow the teachings of the Maradonian Church; (9) Let Diego be your second name, and that of your children; and (10) No ser cabeza de termo y que no se te escape la tortuga (that translates to “don’t be a hothead and don’t let the turtle escape you”). [I ought to add that some online versions of these ten commandments omit the final one and split the ninth commandment into two separate commandments].

It is estimated that the numbers of members of the Church of Maradona is 15,000 worldwide (although the church founders claim the number of followers is 200,000). In the TV programme that I was interviewed for, two people were interviewed (Pamela, aged 22 years, and Ivan, aged 23 years). They met and fell in love in 2009 at an event on Maradonian New Year (October 30, Maradona’s birthday), and were planning to get baptized and married at the Church of Maradona. Pamela says: “For us this will be a traditional wedding, contrary to what people think. We’ve been dreaming to make this happen for years”. They had asked Maradona himself to marry them but he was ‘otherwise engaged’. According to the television program’s research team:

“The baptism is a joint event, which will gather around 15 fans of all ages…Called in to the altar, one by one, each will try to do the most accurate simulation of Maradona’s prolific ‘Hand of God’ goal…Once ‘admitted’ into the group, Pamela and Ivan take the equivalent of the host – Napolitan pizza – Maradona’s favorite. They’re now ready to get married. Instead of an ordained clergyman, Hernan Amez, church founder, will be getting them married – wearing a football shirt…Their families won’t be present, because they find the notion of Pamela and Ivan getting married through the Maradona Church ridiculous. For the young couple, it doesn’t matter. Other friends and Maradona followers will join the celebration…The bride’s dress is carried by two children with D10S t-shirts…They will promise their love for each other in front of the Maradonian bible – Maradona’s autobiography”.

There are some other interesting journalistic accounts of members of the Church of Maradona. One of the most detailed is a 2008 article by Jonathan Franklin for The Guardian who was there to cover the Church’s tenth anniversary after being founded in 1998. Franklin reported that the “Iglesia Maradoniana does not yet have its own building. It is a travelling display of love and affection, whose icons and statues visit all corners of Argentina”. Franklin gives his account of his time at the Church’s ceremony:

“I walk up to the stage, take off my top, and the crowd screams as I slip on the No 10 shirt and remember my rehearsals. Just one shot. Do it right, I tell myself. The baptism ceremony aims to recreate the sacred moment during the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Maradona scored his famous mano del Dios (hand of God) goal by swatting the ball into the England net with his fist. Match officials stuck with a poor angle assumed Maradona had used his head, but replays clearly show Maradona punching the ball away from the England goalie, the startled and then indignant Peter Shilton. At a press conference after the game, Maradona would not admit his hand had touched the ball. ‘The hand of God’ sent it into the net, he claimed. I move over to a life-size poster of Shilton jumping at Maradona. In this version, Maradona and the ball have been Photoshopped out of the frame. This is where the baptism ceremony begins. I prepare to leap. As the ball is tossed in, I jump, trying to shield my hand with my head, then ‘pow!’ I punch. It works! My re-creation is worthy of a certificate and now I am signed into the register, an official member of the Church of Maradona”.

Franklin also notes in his article that Maradona’s fans from all around the world have come to celebrate the Church’s tenth anniversary including people from the Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and USA. As Franklin reports:

“Some take pictures; others simply toast their god. A pile of gifts and tokens piles up – old photographs, sports cards, even an oil portrait of Diego with brushed curls and a yellow halo. The Maradona Bible lies near the altar – a worn copy of Maradona’s bestselling biography ‘Yo Soy El Diego’ (I Am Diego)”.

Parody or not, the Church appears to have some genuine believers including Jose Caldeira, the author of La Iglesia Maradoniana, a book that recounts the Church of Maradona’s first ten years. I don’t think the Catholic religion in Argentina has anything to worry about in terms of competition, but at least the Church of Maradona can claim their deity actually exists. As another article by Johnny Chadwick in The National Student concludes:

“No footballer inspires such devotion and unconditional fandom. Diego Maradona transcends his status as merely the most talented footballer of all time. He provides an example of someone who made countless mistakes and errors of judgement, yet still managed to rise from the streets of Rosario to world champion and international icon. While the obsessive following is extreme, it is in part understandable for a man who is at once a heavily flawed human being and a God”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Chadwick, J. (2012). What people believe: The Church of Maradona. The National Student, August 13. Located at: http://www.thenationalstudent.com/Features/2012-08-13/the_church_of_maradona.html

Franklin, J. (2008). ‘He was sent from above’. The Guardian, November 12. Located at: www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/nov/12/diego-maradona-argentina

The Offside (2007). Worshipping at the Church of Maradona 10 years on. October 25. Located at: http://www.theoffside.com/south-america/worshipping-at-the-church-of-maradona-10-years-on.html

The Original Winger (2013). The Church of Maradona. February 6. Located at: http://theoriginalwinger.com/2013-02-06-the-church-of-maradona-documini-from-vice-d10s

Wikipedia (2013). Iglesia Maradoniana. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iglesia_Maradoniana

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