Rapper Eminem faced criticism following his June 9, 2018 headlining performance at the annual Bonnaroo Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. During a song ironically entitled “Kill You,” a crowd of nearly 70,000 heard multiple gunshots causing large numbers of fans to suddenly panic, scream and duck. A spokesperson later clarified that the sound effects were actually a “pyrotechnic concussive effect which creates a loud boom.” Judging from the video, I’d say that’s debatable.
This came just a year removed from the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States, the 2017 Las Vegas Mandalay Bay concert massacre. Many wondered if it was appropriate to incorporate multiple gunshot sounds as part of a performance. Truth be told, Eminem has often used rapid machine gunfire blasts. However, the Bonnaroo Festival featured a wide range of entertainment, from rap to country to metal to pop music. So not everyone may have had prior knowledge as to Eminem’s musical tendencies.
A handful of rock’n’roll bands and rap musicians use strobe lighting. The flashing lights have been known to produce nausea and even full blown seizures. This has led performers, and venues in certain states, to explicitly disclose their usage and provide ample warning beforehand. Some venues also warn about the dangers of mosh pits and slam dancing. My point: precedent and familiarity can result in tangible, proactive legal disclaimers.
In the past, I’ve written about how unsuspecting gunshot sounds can have unforeseen ramifications. One such incident incident was the 2016 New York City panic at JFK International Airport. Preceding the highly anticipated 100 meter dash at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics, a starter’s gunshot reverberated on virtually every television screen in every terminal. Followed by screams and shrieks from travelers which immediately gave way to random chaos.
Just this year, there was a spontaneous stampede at an India railway station in the darkness of night. But this time it wasn’t perceived weapon fire. It was slabs of asbestos sheets falling from a ceiling which sparked rumors of an earthquake. Over 50 travelers were injured in the ensuing mayhem.
Back here in the United States, various shopping malls across the country have witnessed spur-of-the-moment panics. It’s often anything that creates a loud, sudden bang. Large promotional placards tipping over, stacks of metal folding chairs sliding off a carrier, or even a random gust of wind blowing out a window. Anything that causes a sudden jolt can produce “fright and flight” consequences.
Have you ever been driving down the road and heard a police or ambulance siren? Then, instinctively look to see if it’s safe to pull over. Only to find out that the siren was actually emanating from a song on the radio or an attorney’s commercial for DUI services. Again, my point is that unanticipated, synthetic sounds produce real-world reactions.
Back in 2011, I created the term “artificially generated stampede.” My intention was to describe something which embodies the notion of a cellular or wireless induced panic. But more and more, I’m beginning to wonder if there should be a corollary term — “accidentally” generated stampede.
Reflecting back on the Eminem concert gunshot controversy, perhaps he would consider a new slogan akin to his candy counterpart. Instead of “melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” how about “heard in your head, not in your ears?” Hey, I’m just sayin’… perception lies in the mind of the beholder.