The Cocktail Party Contrarian: Manhattan Riot Was Bred From Boredom

School may be out, but are summer jobs out, too? Does anyone go to camp, do volunteer work, fulfill an internship, or play sports in their free time anymore?

AP/Mary Altaffer
A person jumps on the top of a car as another punctures the tire near Union Square on August 4, 2023, at New York City. AP/Mary Altaffer

There are a lot of things to say about the riots that broke out at Manhattan’s Union Square last Friday over an announced giveaway by a Twitch personality, Kai Cenat, and none of them speak well of human nature, social media, the next generation, or consumer culture in America. 

Yet as I watched the shameful outburst happening, the deep moral and ethical questions it raised seemed connected to a very mundane and practical one: The mayhem occurred at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, so what were all of those young people doing out and about in the middle of the day? 

School may be out, but are summer jobs out, too? Does anyone go to camp, do volunteer work, fulfill an internship, or play sports in their free time anymore? Who is scooping ice cream at the mall for minimum wage? How were that many kids and young adults free to run loose in the streets all afternoon?

When young people have nothing to do, it doesn’t mean they do nothing. They often do things they shouldn’t do. Chronically bored and unsupervised, youngsters with nowhere to be, destructive tendencies, and no self-respect took this opportunity to be violent and menacing. The rest of the mob, those whose mothers successfully taught them not to spit on police officers or kick in car doors, treated the riot like a giant block party because they seemed to be unable to think of anything else to do on a sunny summer day.  

It is no accident that these people have chosen Kai Cenat as their hero. He, too, has nothing constructive to do, but he found a way to monetize his situation. He is called a “content creator,” but the only difference between him and those who watch him waste endless hours playing video games and carrying out pranks on his platform is the check he is collecting for successfully capturing the attention of millions of other “content creators.” 

It’s not a small difference: Mr. Cenat makes millions of dollars a year. So, when he offers to hand out PlayStations, gift cards, and other crumbs off his table, his audience can’t help but pour into the streets to collect what could be viewed as their “commissions.” It’s not like they have anywhere better to be: Most are at home trying to be “influencers” too.

That is the sad news: These young people will emerge from their basements and swarm the streets for a glimpse of a guy who makes his money off of their time spent in their basements, but they won’t leave the house to go to work and give themselves a shot at a life as anything other than Kai Cenat’s enablers.

In the end, they didn’t get their gaming consoles, as Mr. Cenat was hauled off by police, but they did get “content” they could record on their phones and upload to their own channels. Maybe they can use it to attract eyeballs and launch their own online empires. If that doesn’t work out, and it usually doesn’t, we will probably see them again the next time there is a good excuse for an afternoon riot. Boredom brings out the worst in people. 

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use