Thursday, June 26, 2008

Crazed crowds call for sound minds

Ever since sitting through lessons about the Holocaust in middle school, crowd mentality has scared the hell out of me. So last Friday, when I was in Mexico City for the Cafe Tacuba concert, I was relieved to be on the other side of the fence, in the VIP section, watching the crowd scream ''todo VIP, todo VIP.'' (everyone's VIP) The faces of those on the front lines were hot with sweat, pushing back against the monstrous crowd. I kept waiting for the fence to topple and the tidal wave of people to crash down upon us, but it didn't. We ordered our beers, drank them down, and enjoyed the concert.

It was only by chance I was not part of the mob. My friend Sophia and I had purchased normal tickets, but when we picked them up, they gave her two VIP tickets instead of her one normal one. We accepted our fortune as good fans should and sold my ticket. As a result, we got to see Cafe Tacuba, one of Mexico's most famous bands, front and center. It was an incredible concert. The whole crowd hung on every word. They moved from the low-key to the intense with amazing fluidity. The instrumentals focused mainly on electric guitars, keyboard, and a little base, and they had such a purposeful sound to each song, like we were all getting something done together, watching the lead singer with his two braids pace around the stage. I felt myself pacing in place too, buying completely into his intuitive assertiveness, as did everyone else. One of the great things about a concert is the group mentality. We were all trying Cafe Tacuba's attitude on for size, all of us on the same wavelength at once, riding it out.

But not everyone in Mexico City was so lucky this past weekend. On Saturday night, when Sophia and I were busy strolling through Zocolo to see the castle-like cathedral, crowd mentality turned sour at a club called News Devine. According to news reports, 200 police decided to raid the place in search of illegal alcohol and drugs. Maybe they chose that club because they knew most of customers were minors, which they reportedly were. The result was a mad rush to get out, at which point the police closed all the doors and refused to let anyone through. Squashed up against the doors by the crazed crowd, twelve people died.

The story sickens me. Why 200 police had to raid a night club is beyond me, especially because I have not found any reports that there were serious drugs involved. It really makes me wonder...what are we thinking when we are in a crowd? There should not be 200 police involved in one raid. That makes them part of a crowd, and then it's easy to develop an army-like approach, where anyone without a uniform is just the enemy, not a citizen to protect. It became an issue of authority against the people, which has a tendency to cut to the core of the Mexican psyche. Not trusting the government, the kids must have gone crazy with fear, clawing their way towards the door, ignoring the deadly trauma they were inflicting on some.

As the second largest city in the world, Mexico City is teeming with people. They are everywhere, selling you things, cutting in front of you on metros, swarming through the streets. It's a great place to enjoy Mexican culture, from the cutting-edge-modern to the traditional, which still thrives. They dance wearing headdresses and soccer jerseys in the street. But if you don't think for yourself, you might just end up in the wrong crowd.