On this Saturday morning, after enduring a wet, rainy visit to our local Farmers Market to get some of my favorite things, I sat down with my raspberry scone and tuned into a cable news station to see if there were any updates on some of the terror activities that I had seen reported over the last couple of days. Arguably, this is not the best way to start the day, but it was what I chose this morning. The first story that I saw, though, was nothing I expected.
The story was related to the events in Charlottesville, VA earlier in the week. It was a report of a white man sharing with film maker, CJ Hunt, last Saturday that he was not a white supremacist, but that he was participating in the white supremacist march “for fun”. He said, “To be honest, I love to be offensive. It’s fun” (report on this story can be found here). I was shocked. I was shocked for many reasons, but perhaps, as a leisure scholar, I was shocked about how his young man experienced fun.
In the second year of my Recreation Management degree (many moons ago), I had a course in Leisure Behaviour with Dr. Brenda Robertson. It was in her class that I was first challenged to think about and acknowledge the dark side of contemporary leisure and the idea that people engage in criminal activities for fun. Her dissertation work (Robertson, 1994) had examined why young men engaged in delinquent activities for fun, thrills, and excitement. While there are several theories to explain why individuals engage in criminal behaviour, one of the things I learned from her sharing the narratives of her study participants was that they engaged in delinquent activities to meet many of the same needs that I and others seek to meet during leisure. Some were looking for a challenge or to accomplish something. Others were wanting to feel a sense of belonging, relieve boredom, get an adrenaline rush, and to have fun. I could relate to each of these needs because at one point in time, I had also chosen activities during my leisure time to meet these same needs. I, however, had chosen socially acceptable activities.
This morning, I realized that marching with white supremacists (when you claim not to be a white supremacist) and being offensive is another way to experience fun – for at least one person. I also realized that despite studying leisure for over 20 years, I still have so much more to learn about how people use their free time and what they consider to be “fun.” Perhaps, given my understanding that individuals engage in delinquent activities for fun, I should not have been shocked by what this young man said. Marching with white supremacists is considered by most in North American society to be delinquent. Why would this be any different from any other delinquent activity that an individual might engage in for fun? But, I was shocked nonetheless. Maybe this reflects my bias against engaging in offensive behaviour as fun.
Dr. Robertson’s work has highlighted the importance of leisure education in helping individuals develop the values, attitudes, skills, and interests so that they can identity and engage in socially acceptable activities to meet their needs (Robertson, 2000; 2001). If this event of last Saturday had happened when I was taking her course, I imagine that she would have presented our class with the plethora of activities one could choose to engage in in Charlottesville, VA and ask, “Why…when you could go to any number of museums, historic sites, wineries, parks, restaurants, and recreation facilities; when you could bike Walnut Creek park, check out the city market, experience a themed mystery in the Cville Escape Room, or ride over the Blue Ridge Mountains in a hot air balloon….why would you choose being offensive as your way to have fun?” I don’t know why this particular individual made this choice. Perhaps he lacks values related to engaging in socially appropriate activities during leisure. Perhaps his leisure repertoire is limited – he doesn’t have the skills to engage in many socially acceptable activities. Maybe he had no money for any of the above mentioned activities and could not think of other free or low-cost ways of having fun (e.g., read a book, take a nature walk). Perhaps he doesn’t have peers to engage in socially appropriate leisure activities with. Maybe he hasn’t developed interests in any of the activities that are available to him (e.g., no interest in history, nature, the market). Although I don’t know what exactly drew this individual to meet his need for fun through marching alongside white supremacists, it seems that he and others who may have participated for a similar reason could benefit from some reflection of other ways to have fun. He did seem to stop having fun when the counter protestors approached him. Maybe he had not thought through all the consequences of this “fun” activity.
Perhaps I’m most bothered by the idea that being offensive is “fun”. Fun for who? Fun for how long? And fun at whose expense? Are there limits to what we, as a society, consider to be acceptable offensive behaviour? I do wonder if consuming offensive entertainment (e.g., comedy, television, movies, video games) has supported a desensitization that has resulted or could result in some individuals moving from having fun while consuming offensive entertainment to engaging in offensive behaviour for fun. Do the activities we engage in during leisure and experience as fun influence how we conceptualize “fun” and how we might seek to meet that need? I would argue yes – when we have fun doing something, we consider that experience positive and are more likely to see to have it again. Some research has suggested that youth who view bullying as “fun” are more likely to engage in bullying behaviours (Van Goethem, Scholte, & Wiers, 2010) – an example of how our attitudes can influence our behaviour.
In my research and teaching, I always had opportunities acknowledge the detrimental outcomes of some leisure behaviour (e.g., sedentary leisure, criminal behaviour), to explain that not all leisure experiences are positive, and to emphasize that some leisure can indeed oppress or exclude. However, I also focus on the power of leisure to make a positive impact – on one’s self and on one’s community and have seen that leisure time and activities can support positive youth development, be transformative, help individuals cope, be a site for equity and inclusion, and strengthen family relationships. So, perhaps this is why I find it disheartening to see someone getting media attention for using their leisure time to offend others, to participate in the promotion of hate, and to hear that the individual perceived that his participation would be fun. I believe the idea that this kind of being can be fun, needs to be challenged.
Robertson, B. J. (1994). An investigation of the leisure in the lives of adolescents who engage in delinquent behavior for fun, thrills, and excitement. Dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.
Robertson, B. J. (2000). Leisure education as a rehabilitative tool for youth in incarceration settings. Journal of Leisurability, 27(2), 27-34.
Robertson, B. J. (2001). The leisure education of incarcerated youth. World Leisure Journal, 43(1), 20-29.
Van Goethem, A. A. J., Scholte, R. H. J., & Wiers, R. W. (2010). Explicit- and implicit bullying attitudes in relation to bullying behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 829–842.