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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jack White Cries Seizure in a Crowded Theater, Proves He's a Jack Ass

by Kari Tervo

Never cry wolf.

Don't shout fire in a crowded theater.

These are maxims we learn as young children. We hear the fable of the boy who repeatedly falsely warned his village that they were in danger, only to be ignored when a wolf really came around. Americans have all learned about not calling false fire alarms ever since the 1913 Italian Hall Disaster in Calumet, Michigan. Our parents and teachers take the time to make us unequivocally understand that it is unacceptable to fake a serious safety or emergency situation. 

Why are all children taught these phrases? And why are there serious civil and criminal consequences for people who, say, call in a fake bomb threat? There are three obvious reasons: 

1) To fake an emergency leads to an unnecessary mobilization of important resources. 

2) It may result in actual tragedy.

For instance, in the Italian Hall disaster, 73 people died in a trampling stampede after someone falsely shouted "Fire!" at a community Christmas party.

And 3) When there actually is an emergency at a later time, those fooled may not respond.

These are things we all know. This is common sense. People with moderately-severe cognitive problems (e.g., mental retardation, dementia) can be taught not to do these things. If they are at risk for irresponsible behavior on this level, they require constant supervision.

So what the hell is wrong with Jack White? Did you hear what Rolling Stone said he did in a recent London show?


Let me sum it up: Under the guise of "creativity," Jack White (nee Mr. Meg White) faked a seizure at the end of a ridiculous and offensively-themed "psych ward" show.

Now, let me first note the many layers of wrongness to a show in which participants are asked to change into hospital gowns in a fake psych ward and are subjected to a "decontamination." There are so many levels of unacceptability, but I just. . .can't with it right now. It's exhausting to even consider. Let me just talk about the most pressing safety issue here:

You are not allowed to fake emergency medical conditions in the guise of "performance art." You are not allowed to say, "Oh, they'll get it's just a joke. Cuz look! Spooky hospital show!" You're a freaking moron if you think, "Hey, it's obvious I'm faking it this time! Everyone will know and respond appropriately if I have a real seizure!"

Jack White cried wolf. He cried seizure in a crowded theater in the name of "art." With people in whom he had purposefully created a psychiatric vulnerability! According to Rolling Stone, which is not written by psychologists, some were "near panic." The experience of panic is not always apparent from the outside, so if there were any visible indicators from the perspective of observing journalists, I can imagine there was likely some real panic going on.

The attendees had no clear idea of what they were getting into. They were unlikely to refuse the pre-show "warning" after putting considerable effort into a scavenger hunt to get into the surprise show. It is unlikely there was adequate warning of potential untoward psychiatric effects for easily-triggered attendees (e.g., those who had been in psychiatric wards, suffer the stigma of such hospitalization, or get panic attacks).

Moreover, White failed to predict whether emergency services might actually be called in the context of his "seizure," thereby mobilizing important resources away from actual emergencies.

Most importantly, Jack White contributed to the unraveling of legitimate social expectations. We have a general shared trust that if someone says or looks like they are having a medical emergency, they actually are. We understand the potential widespread and negative effects of crying wolf or shouting fire in a crowded theater. We are taught from young childhood about one of our most basic responsibilities: You don't mess around with emergency resources.

This is not a watching-a-movie situation, or this-guy-has-seizures play. It was a musical performance in which audience anxiety was provoked, and then presented with an unexpected serious situation: This is a concert! There wasn't anything about seizures! So what looks like a seizure could be serious! But it's also a spooky situation I don't know much about! Is he having a seizure, or is he not? Do I call emergency services, or do I applaud? Will I look like a jerk if I call someone? Will I regret it later if I don't? These are unacceptable moral quandaries to present to the average concert-goer.

What Jack White did is not "art." It is an irresponsible action. Your right to personal expression certainly ends when it interferes with fundamental social expectations regarding safety.

Maybe the show blew some people's minds on an entertainment level. Maybe the FX were A-plus. But who freaking cares? It could reasonably be expected to trigger someone into unexpected psychiatric symptoms. Maybe it created feelings of helplessness in people who had no idea whether White's behavior was seizure or for show. I know it created feelings of distrust that people will adhere to basic societal expectations about medical emergencies. That is something you just don't do

In this context, free expression does not trump public safety.

What's next? He pretends he's drowning and then is lifted from apparent certain doom by a friendly dolphin? He holds a knife to someone's throat and then says, "Ha ha! This is just to represent the uncertainty of trust in your fellow man!" No matter his intent in this shitnanigan, the inability to trust Jack White was certainly represented here.

Jack White may be a great musician, but he's indisputably one of the most irresponsible entertainers of our time. And in a world that includes Anthony Cumio and the Duck Dynasty guys, that's saying something. Jack White should change his name to Jack Ass.

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