A Short History of Car-Tipping

Slate's Culture Blog
June 16 2011 6:38 PM

A Short History of Car-Tipping

When Vancouver's beloved hockey squad, the Canucks, lostGame 7 of the Stanley Cup finals last night, the team's hometown fans took partin a time-honored ritual: the sports riot. Videos show violent Vancouveritestaking out their anger on the usual scapegoats in such situations: storewindows, the police, one another, and of course, cars.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

Advertisement

The flaming undercarriage of an automobile has become such afamiliar image in the aftermath of riots, sporting-induced and otherwise, thatit has long since lost its shock value. These days, if a bunch of hooliganscongregate and all the cars are right-side-up at the end, it hardly counts as ariot. But when did car-tipping become derigeur?

In the pre-Henry Ford era, street mobs tended to make theirfeelings known mainly through the hurling of ballistic objects. The BostonMassacre, for instance, was touched off when restive colonists chucked sticks,stones, and snowballs at redcoats to protest the Townshend Acts of 1767. That practicemakes sense: It's instantly destructive and it's easy, even for those in thecrowd who may be less than sober. But toppling a 3,000-pound Toyota?

"That requires a real coordinated effort," says ClarkMcPhail, a University of Illinois sociologist who specializes in the study of crowdbehavior. "It takes some people pushing and other people lifting just in orderto get the car rocking. It's not something you can do in an instant on a whim."

It makes sense, then, that some of the earliest historicalexamples of angry crowds upsetting large transportation vessels had a practicalpurpose beyond simple chaos. In the American railroad strikes of the 1880s and1890s, irate workers (or possibly opportunistic thugs) overturned Pullman carsin order to block the tracks, inflicting direct economic harm on the industry.From there, it was not a great conceptual leap to modern-day car-tipping,although here in the United States, the exercise seems to have really taken offwith the race riots of the 1960s, when burning chassis provided irresistiblevisuals for news accounts. McPhail hypothesizes that this widespread, massmedia exposure is what led to the acceptance of car-tipping as standardpractice.

The Canucks' demise, painful as it may have been forCanadian fans who haven't sniffed the Stanley Cup north of the border since1993, would seem to offer a weak excuse for mayhem compared to the plight ofpoor urban blacks in the 1960s. But the sports riot has a long, not to sayproud, history of its own. As early as 1879, Australians stormed a cricketpitch in rage at an umpire's contested call. More recently, Chicagobasketball fans and OhioState football fans , among others, have shown that victory can spur human-on-carviolence as readily as defeat can. And Canada, despite its peacefulreputation , has never been immune to hockey-related hell-raising. Nor has Vancouver ,despite its reputation as theworld's most livable city .

Follow  Brow Beat on Twitter . For more culture coverage, like  Slate  Culture  on Facebook.   

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.