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The Global Sociology Blog – Reading The Situation as Social-Interactive Skill

Being a competent social actor involves the mastery of a wide range of skills, including the ability to “read” situation and use Cooley/Mead type skills to figure out the expectations and make the correct interpretation of other people’s behavior and adjust one’s accordingly. Obviously, this guy lacked such skills:

“A Malaysian karaoke enthusiast hogged the microphone for so long that people set upon him and stabbed him to death.

Abdul Sani Doli refused to hand over the microphone at a coffee shop that doubles as a karaoke bar in the town of Sandakan, Borneo. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of murder after the altercation erupted a few minutes before midnight.

The town’s police chief, Rosli Mohammad Isa, said initial investigations showed the victim had sung several numbers on Wednesday night. Other patrons fumed as Abdul Sani hogged the microphone, a scenario perhaps familiar to karaoke devotees the world over.

Three men on a neighbouring table confronted him on the pavement outside the coffee shop and witnesses saw a heated argument break out. It turned into a punch-up and Abdul Sani was killed.

Karaoke rage is not unheard of in Asia. There have been several reported cases of singers being assaulted, shot or stabbed mid-performance, usually over how songs are sung.

Frank Sinatra’s My Way has reportedly generated such outbursts of hostility that some bars in the Philippines now no longer offer it on the karaoke menu. In Thailand this year, a gunman shot eight people dead after tiring of their endless renditions of a John Denver tune.”

Reading the situation and other people right is especially crucial when important (symbolic) things are at stake. Karaoke is a symbolically valued activity and people seem to consider that there are “sharing” norms in place such as “not hogging the microphone”. Note that nothing is said about the quality of the performance. The more symbolically valued the activity, the more likely it is that informal norms will be enforced and that sanctions (not necessarily as drastic as a stabbing) will be implemented by the other participants, especially when interactive clues (warning shots, so to speak) were given by the audience.

This is not entirely different than actions from individuals deliberately breaking the norms of the situation for their own purposes and bringing sanctions upon themselves for symbolic gains.