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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bas Rutten's Punk Payback: How (Not) to Act During a Robbery

El Guapo
I love Bas "El Guapo" Rutten.  The Dutchman was a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, 3-time King of Pancrase, and an all-around badass.  Following his illustrious fighting career, he transitioned into MMA commentary.  I've found his commentary insightful and think that he comes across as a very humble and approachable person.

Recently, I learned that Fuel TV was producing a show for Rutten called "Punk Payback."  I immediately thought that the show would be a spin-off of MTV's "Bully Beatdown," a show in which professional MMA fighters confront and beat up bullies.   To me, this would make sense: Bas Rutten was bullied when he was younger and openly talks about developing self confidence/awareness through the martial arts.

I just watched a 10-minute clip of Punk Payback and am surprised to report that it isn't this kind of show.  Instead, the episode I saw featured Rutten providing colorful commentary on how to resist/disarm armed robbers.  In many ways, the show's premise reminded me of one of Rutten's famous online videos in which he shows you how to win a bar fight (by any means necessary). 

Rutten shows how to turn the tables on unsuspecting armed robbers
The episode of Punk Payback that I saw begins with surveillance footage of different armed robbery situations.  In one example, a masked robber runs into a take-out place and demands that the clerk empty the cash register into a plastic bag.  Rutten then shows audience members how they can effectively disarm and beat up an armed assailant if they are ever unlucky enough to be in that situation.

In a simulation, he empties the change into a plastic bag, and while talking to the would-be robber, rolls the bag up, moves his body safely out of the way of gunfire, and beats the fake robber with the bag full of change.  This and many other segments of the show are highly entertaining, but I worry that the show might be over-selling some of the techniques--particularly to lay audience members who may mistakenly believe that they too can execute such techniques.

"El Guapo" and many others trained in real life combat arts (a la Krav Maga) practice and drill this kind of stuff.  Through years of physical and mental training, they become conditioned to respond in ways that give them a higher probability of emerging from dangerous situations with the upper hand.  But, even with a lifetime of training, I'm sure that Bas Rutten and others well versed in combat arts would tell you that there is a high degree of uncertainty and risk in any kind of violence.  In spite of one's training, there are only a certain number of things that one can hope to control in a violent encounter.

The average person watching Punk Payback isn't drawing from the same well of knowledge or training.  In this way, does the show create unrealistic expectations amongst casual viewers?  Is it more dangerous to teach a lay audience very high risk kinds of self defense?   To me, the show's premise is a slippery slope: Although I think it's important for the general public to know self defense; I also don't know if it's responsible or reasonable to teach the mass public how to "effectively disarm" a gunman in 15-20 minutes.

In fact, much of what El Guapo outlines flies in the face of longstanding social science research on patterns of violence within armed robberies.  Social scientists like Frank Zimring and James Zuehl have a paper called "Victim Injury and Death in Urban Robbery."  Amongst other broad themes, Zimring and Zuehl show that victim noncooperation is strongly correlated with fatal violence.  They show that "active noncooperation" (refusals, flight, and physical force) is "...[A]ssociated with a death risk...14 times as great as cooperation or passive noncooperation (victim says they have no money)" (18).  If we take seriously this and other research, the most sensible response is to be totally compliant during an armed robbery.

In the end, I know that Punk Payback is a TV show and is supposed to be entertaining.  I was entertained and will probably watch it again.  Bas Rutten is a really great TV personality and seems like the last person anybody would want to mess with; my favorite story is one in which an unsuspecting Brian Urlacher (Chicago Bears Middle Linebacker) tries to start a fight with El Guapo until he realizes that he's trying to fight the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet.

At the same time, I worry that casual viewers will try to implement these techniques during dangerous situations.  I don't know if that's such a good idea.  If stunt shows like Jackass discourage amateur viewers from trying their stunts, shouldn't shows like Punk Payback do the same?