One of the more popular films of the last decade is Fight Club, which stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton and revolves around an underground fighting network for regular guys. The film’s fights, many of which are depicted as brutal and bloodied, are thought to reflect a way for otherwise disaffected men to feel meaningful–to feel like “men.”
Just as noticeably, the film depicts regular guys as being able to absorb a barrage of blows to the face in the quest of winning. In doing so, however, the film, like many other films, television shows, and video games, glosses over the unexpectedly severe, sometimes fatal, damage that may be caused by just one punch to the face. Michael Stetz of the San Diego Union-Tribune examines facial injuries caused by punches and whether Hollywood’s glorified depictions of hand-to-hand combat motivate people to engage in fist fights, under the false impression that such fights are not life-threatening. We have excerpted portions of his article below.
* * *
The human hand, when made into a fist, can do considerable damage. It can be deadly.
The May killing of a La Jolla surfer reportedly started as a one-on-one fistfight. Nobody had a gun, knife, pipe or baseball bat. It still turned very, very ugly.
* * *
Even a single punch can be as lethal as a bullet.
“I’m not certain if 20-something kids realize how much damage they can cause,” said Chris Cross, who does happen to know.
Cross teaches defense tactics for the San Diego Regional Public Safety Training Institute. Delivered with enough force, blows to the head, neck, spine, kidney and groin can cause serious damage, even death, he said.
Brian Walsh, a former Navy pilot, has two permanent metal plates in the left side of his face. Walsh can’t chew food on that side. He suffers headaches.
All from a punch to the face.
On July 4, 2005, Walsh and a fellow Navy pilot were barbecuing in the front yard of their rented La Jolla house as several cars driven by young men went speeding past.
Walsh, 27, a lieutenant then based at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, said he was “sick of it. So I sprayed a car with my garden hose and hollered, ‘Slow down!’ I figured I’d done my civic duty for the day.”
The enraged driver stopped, walked up to Walsh and shocked the pilot by punching him in the face. The blow shattered Walsh’s left eye socket and crushed his sinus cavity.
Walsh had been in the process of becoming an intelligence officer, but even if he wanted to go back to flying, he couldn’t. Walsh said he lost about 40 percent of vision in his left eye in the assault.
* * *
Guns far and away remain the top lethal weapon in America. More than 10,000 killings in 2005 involved firearms, according to FBI statistics.
Fists can kill and do, but there has been no increase in the number of people dying from weapon-less fights. In 2005, 892 such deaths were tallied nationally, compared with 927 in 2000.
Assaults are another matter. Their numbers aren’t growing dramatically, but in 2005, 25 percent of the 860,000-plus cases involved fists and feet.
There seems to be a growing popularity of no-holds-barred fighting in American culture. On the Internet, recorded fistfights are a popular posting.
Young people also seem to be fascinated by mixed-martial-arts fighting, which critics say is too brutal. Ultimate Fighting Championship events have outperformed baseball in TV ratings among men 18 to 34.
The La Jolla killing isn’t an isolated incident, said Robert Brager, a clinical psychologist who is referred clients through the San Diego courts for anger-management therapy. Brager regularly sees people in their 20s and 30s who have poor impulse control and are prone to violence.
It is anybody’s guess as to why men several years removed from high school were taking part in random assaults, picking fights and getting booted from bars – all the things that members of the Bird Rock Bandits have been accused of doing.
One explanation gaining traction is that cultural forces are causing a delay of adulthood. Young people are taking longer to finish college, start a career, get married, have children – pursuits that have maturing benefits.
* * *