Fear Before Love: The Status Seeking Show

I’m sure we all have seen the news report where a helpless person is seemingly beaten at random, like this:

News report here.

Although the only person who can be certain for the reason of this attack is the man who did it, but in my opinion, this is most likely a status seeking show. At first glance, a Status Seeking Show or SSS, may seem like a random act of violence, but it is not. The target was selected because of the individuals inability to defend oneself. This is different from predatory violence, because the attack requires an audience. The point of an SSS is to gain reputation, hence the name status seeking.

We have to understand that the purpose of an attack will greatly depend on the type of violence that is presented. In some sub-cultures of our society, particularly the criminal sub-culture, being known for violence holds it’s weight in gold. A good comparison would be a school bully. The bully beats up on the smaller kids and gains a reputation within that grade or school. There is a major difference though. The amount of violence used in a SSS is not going to be limited by social rules. For example, in the Monkey Dance post we discussed that there is a set ritual for the steps of the dance and that it is typically meant to be non-fatal. That is not the case for the SSS. The SSS is done to gain a violent reputation, and the amount of brutality will depend on the purpose of the attacker. This includes beatings, shootings, stabbings, rape, and murder.

Recently, we have heard a number of reports in the news about a “knockout game.” This is essentially a Status Seeking Show. Although, I’m not sure about the accuracy of the attacks or numbers reported by the media. I will, however, say that from the reports this is a SSS. According to reports, teens will pick an unsuspecting target and attempt to sucker punch the individual in hopes of knocking that person out. The purpose of these types of attacks are to gain status within their group. The attackers do not attack someone who is perceived to be of the same status, meaning that males will attack females and young will attack the elderly, weak, disabled, etc. As Rory Miller stated in Facing Violence, “the Status Seeking Show can violate almost all the rules of normal social violence and that is the point.” [1]

Understanding this type of violence may be difficult for some of us because of the way that we perceive that the world works. We need to understand that it’s reality and our world view can be quite limited (mostly). If attacked, the only world view that will matter is the attackers.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the sixteenth century Italian politician, describes the exact reasoning behind the Status Seeking Show in his writings The Prince:

“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” [2]

As you can see the uses for the SSS can range from senseless status gain within a group of teens to instilling fear in allies and/or adversaries. It is important to understand the differences in the types of violence, because the deescalation techniques will be different for each. I will have posts detailing each in the future.

1. Rory Miller Facing Violence ( Wolfeboro, N.H.: YMAA Pub 2011), 34
2. Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince (Oxford, N.Y.: Oxford University Press 2005), 57-58

3 thoughts on “Fear Before Love: The Status Seeking Show

Add yours

  1. And of course, behaviors that seek to instill fear or to gain negative attention are indicative of a severe low self-esteem and acutely fractured self-image. Social predators most likely come from abusive and neglectful childhoods and have little hope for rehabilitation due to a thoroughly developed sociopathic personality.


    1. Heather, thank you for your valuable insight on the psychological aspect of these individuals. I noticed that you do not have a contact me page on your blog. Is there a way I can contact you? I believe your knowledge and experience can be valuable in understanding some of psychological aspects of violent individuals. I would like to discuss some of these aspects with you in the future. If you’re interested, please message me via my contact me page. Thank you!


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