• Going to concerts is a rite of passage for young people. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Your first gig is a milestone event. Will deadly attacks like the Manchester Arena bombing mean that young people forgo this rite of passage out of fear of terrorism?
By
Nicola Heath

25 May 2017 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2017 - 4:08 PM

I love live music and have been to hundreds of gigs over the years, so many that they have become blurred memories of venues, friends, drinking, singing and dancing. But I vividly recall the first show I went to: Powderfinger at the Enmore Theatre. My younger sister and I set out on a four-hour road trip to Sydney to get to the concert. 

We had the worst seats in the house, stuck at the back of the crowd. By the encore, we had edged our way to be close enough to touch the stage, jumping along with exuberant fellow fans. We were squashed and jostled and trod on, unbothered by the droplets of strangers’ sweat that splashed on our clothes. I was hooked.

A live music gig offers more than simple entertainment for young people. It’s a type of escape, an in-between zone known in anthropology circles as a ‘liminal space’ where, for a short time, normal rules don’t apply. The everyday barriers that exist between people melt away and we experience new ways of seeing the world.

A live music gig offers more than simple entertainment for young people. It’s a type of escape, an in-between zone known in anthropology circles as a ‘liminal space’ where, for a short time, normal rules don’t apply. 

“We might find ourselves interacting with people we barely know, and everybody is dancing, and everybody is singing, and everybody is in an enthusiastic, ecstatic state,” says Dr Mark Jennings, a sociology lecturer at Murdoch University

At that Powderfinger gig all those years ago, all I had to protect my sister from was being knocked over in the mosh pit. At the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena this week, Kelly Brewster died protecting her niece from flying shrapnel when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in the foyer. She was one of 22 people killed in the bombing. According to reports at the time of writing, another 60 people were injured.

It wasn’t the first attack on a music gig in recent times. In November 2015, 89 people were gunned down at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theatre in Paris, one of a series of attacks in the capital that killed 130 people in one day.

Public events like pop concerts and sporting matches are increasingly popular ‘soft targets’ for would-be terrorists. According to Australian National University counter-terrorism expert, Dr Clarke Jones, we’ve seen a shift from large-scale attacks that require a lot of planning to smaller attacks carried out by individuals and small groups of people. “That doesn't mean they're not going to be catastrophic or extremely deadly, but they're simple attacks compared to 9/11,” says Dr Jones. “We're still looking at a significant casualty rate, but a lot smaller and simpler types of explosives that can be assembled by what they see on the internet.”

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Will people stop going to gigs in the fear they will be caught up in a deadly incident like the Manchester Arena bombing or the Bataclan theatre massacre?

Dr Jones says people do change their behaviour immediately after terrorism attacks but soon after, complacency sets in. “People slowly do start to forget and become more relaxed again,” he explains.

Will people stop going to gigs in the fear they will be caught up in a deadly incident like the Manchester Arena bombing or the Bataclan theatre massacre?

“Extra security is required to make public events like Grande’s concert in Manchester safer, but you don’t want to “over-secure” an event so that it is no longer enjoyable and people don’t go.”

There is the possibility that young people are particularly susceptible to the fear of terrorism. A recent World Vision survey found that 35 per cent of Australian children name war and terrorism as their top fear, even if there is a very small chance they will ever experience a terrorist attack first-hand. “The more the media play on it, the worse it gets,” says Jones.

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The ubiquity of social media means that even though the attacks in Manchester and Paris took place on the other side of the world, it feels much closer to home. For many of us, “it's as though we experienced it,” says Dr Jones.

The Manchester bombing, where so many of the victims were young, is a double tragedy, adds Dr Jennings. Thousands of people had come together to “experience something that's more beautiful or makes more sense to them than the world that they live in everyday…and then that just shatters in front of them.”

The ubiquity of social media means that even though the attacks in Manchester and Paris took place on the other side of the world, it feels much closer to home. For many of us, “it's as though we experienced it,” says Dr Jones.

He adds that, as young people and their parents become less assured of their safety at public events, there is a risk they will stay away.

“If we didn't have gigs anymore, I think there would be an enormous loss to us as a society,” says Dr Jennings.

“If it becomes too hard for us to come together in groups, then that also has enormous implications for the way we express solidarity with each other in political action.

“And it and further contributes to us becoming more and more individualised.”

Love the story? Follow the author on Twitter: @nicoheath or Instagram: @nicola_heath


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