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29 February 2016

As I sat in my small South London room, I surveyed the world’s maddest crowds

This week, I have decided to trust to algorithms rather than observation. I offer you Google's top “lucky seven” maddened crowds.

By Will Self

It’s difficult, simply sitting alone in a small room in south London, really to get a feel for how mass human behaviour is affecting the world. But it’s too cold in late February to go out much, and besides, by this point in winter, my sense of autonomy has been so savagely eroded that I fear for what little sense of individuality I have – if I stand next to as few as two others I can sense myself being sucked into a maelstrom of the masses. So, this week, I have decided to trust to algorithms rather than observation and I offer you the top “lucky seven” maddened crowds as compiled on our behalf by Google News. It took 0.53 seconds for the HMRC-compliant search engine to come up with a humongous crowd of 91,600,000 results – so I hope you’re grateful I’m not doing the entire countdown.

OK, that’s right! Sit tight! In at number seven is someone called Adele; I’d never heard of her before, but apparently she’s a popular crooner. Anyway, this Adele woman performed a concert on 12 February in Los Angeles, and the “historic” Wiltern theatre was stacked with some 2,300 fans who, it seems, “knew the words of every song”. Adele charmed them all, remarking that she felt so hot, “I feel like my make-up’s about to slide off me face!” But the true insanity ensued when she revealed that it was at her own insistence that the ticket price had been held at $50. According to the Yahoo Music website, this drew “thunderous applause”. Of course it did! I remember attending a Martha Argerich recital at the Wigmore Hall where her ethereal rendition of Bach’s partitas was entirely drowned out by the drumming of elderly, bunion-ridden feet, as we noisily protested at having to pay over the odds.

A new entry at number six are the crowds who, crazed by Promethean scientific advance, flocked to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) near Hanford, Washington State, after it was announced that scientists there had detected the existence of the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein. Setting to one side the observation that there was absolutely nothing to see at all, we can still marvel at their marvelling.

Annette Cary reported in the Tri-City Herald that Jason Jones of Seattle had driven 200 miles to visit the observatory. “I’m in awe of the science that happened in this place,” he told Cary. “It could fundamentally change our view of reality.” This may be true, although so far it hasn’t had any effect on people nonsensically massing.

Number five is an old favourite that’s perennially re-released – a sports crowd kicking off. In this case, they were Corsican, so naturally they took their anger outside the ground, and to a . . . police station. About a hundred hardcore Bastia fans launched the attack, which followed another of their number being injured in a scuffle with police during Saturday’s away match in Rheims. I, for one, think this widening of footie fracas is a heartening development – perhaps West Ham’s so-called fans can take on the so-called Islamic State?

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At number four is another crowd they might cheerfully lay into: the estimated 230,000 people who attended the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra over the weekend. Given that Canberra is a distinctly white and triumphantly dull city, this hardly surprises – last year 73 local people were killed attending the opening of a Tetra Pak carton.

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Still, all power to those ockers – they’ve come a long way since they granted their own indigenous people citizenship in 1968, to embrace multiculturalism by keeping refugees in concentration camps.

Number three are the police in the Indian state of Haryana who’ve abandoned their rubber bullets and water canon, and taken to subduing angry mobs with “specially designed” and locally manufactured slingshots that fire plastic balls full of chilli powder. But lest we imagine these followers of the Mahatma are becoming too non-violent, they’ve said they’ll catapult marbles if the chilli powder doesn’t work.

At number two is the ageing meerkat lookalike and tedious “raconteur” Garrison Keillor, who apparently addressed a crowd of more than 2,000 the other afternoon at the Holland Centre in Omaha, Nebraska. They were febrile to begin with but Keillor’s signature monotony soon pacified them, and several elderly audience members died when their hearts skipped too many beats. They should get out less.

And finally, at number one – for now, then, and for all eternity! Yes! That’s right! Sit tight! It’s the Supreme Father, His Holiness Pope Francis, who addressed a vast crowd in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec. Numbering around a third of a million, the flock of faithful was shepherded by some 10,000 armed police. The Pope told the adoring crowd: “With the devil, there is no dialogue . . . although I’m reliably informed he has the best tunes,” a reference to the drug-fuelled violence that has made Ecatepec one of the most dangerous ’hoods in the world – especially if you’re a woman. And if you’re a Mexican woman living in terror from a bunch of super-violent misogynistic bastards, where better to seek succour than from a cross-dressing celibate who hears voices? 

This article appears in the 24 Feb 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Boris Backlash