Inner City Squalor as Home Entertainment

Shepherd Express | March 19, 2007
Shortly after the brawl begins, a clear winner emerges. One of the two dueling women is pinned to the ground, her opponent’s knee pressed against her throat. A breast has fallen out of the downed woman’s shirt and she appears to have wet her pants, but the woman on top does not let up. She grabs a fistful of the defeated woman’s hair and uses it to pound her head into the pavement. A bystander cheers.

The scene is a typical one from the Ghetto Fights 3, the latest in a series of DVDs compiling amateur footage of violent altercations. Over its hour run, faces are gauged, teeth are knocked out, pool balls are chucked and a man is sent airborne when a vengeful driver plows through him.

The videos are set amid the same gritty urban backdrop depicted on so many Cops episodes, but while Cops is ostensibly about enforcing law and order, these videos celebrate the absence of those things. The police are nowhere to be found, and although scores gather to watch these fights, more are there to laugh than to intervene.

“My eyes!” a beaten woman shrieks in one scene. “I can’t see!”

“You can’t see?” a reveler cackles back. “With them big-ass eyes?”

The DVDs allow viewers to share that man’s mean-spirited amusement, to sit back and enjoy the chaos from the safe distance of a living room. The zippy turntable scratches between segments assures viewers that these videos are supposed to be fun.

Chris Monroe is the co-founder and president of Fall Thru Entertainment, the California-based operation behind these DVDs. He says Fall Thru has sold about a million videos since it began as a small-start up eight years ago, when he came up with the idea for fight compilations while watching football and drinking beer with friends.

Although the Fall Thru Entertainment releases similarly themed videos like Bar Brawls and Cat Fights, the Ghetto Fights line, which depicts mainly altercations involving black people, has been its most popular.

“It must be the urban stuff that the average everyday Joe doesn’t see,” Monroe says of the appeal of his signature series. “These are neighborhoods that people like me or you don’t see, and wouldn’t be able to make it out of alive from, so I guess it’s something that people are really intrigued by, seeing what happens inside the ghettos.”

Monroe says high-profile rappers, NBA and NFL players are among the series’ followers, but he won’t name them since they haven’t officially endorsed the company. Public fans include Method Man, who plugged a DVD in a GQ article, and Lil Jon, who has borrowed footage for his music videos. Widely circulated rumors held that 50 Cent wanted to buy the whole company, but those talks didn’t lead anywhere, Monroe said. Monroe had previously been in business talks with Joe Francis, the industrious Girls Gone Wild founder.

Through a barrage of horrifying images, the Ghetto Fights DVDs paint an unrelenting picture of inner city squalor, but they’re too busy dishing out the titular fights to make any sort of larger statement about the dehumanizing effects of severe poverty.

Clips are introduced without any context. The viewer never learns who slept with whose boyfriend or what caused two shirtless men to street box, they’re just dropped right into the throw down. As soon one brawl ends, the next begins.

Monroe maintains the fights in his DVDs are not staged, but rather are a real depiction of life in the inner city.

“We have people that work for us that we pay for footage that live in the ghetto, and it’s not like these guys are going out handing out fliers saying, ‘let’s all meet on the corner and start a fight,’” Monroe said. “This stuff happens day in and day out.”

Fall Thru employs five or six cameramen, Monroe says, and the rest of the footage for Ghetto Fights is submitted from inner cities across the country. As graphic as the videos that make the final cut are, Monroe says there’s plenty he turns down, like gang-submitted footage of drive-by shootings or scenes where victims die.

“I mean, I’ll be the first one to say the stuff we put out it pretty bad, but we’re definitely no Faces of Death,” he said. “There is a limit.”

Although Monroe says he refuses any footage that is set up, some scenes are ambiguous.

In the abrupt final scene of Ghetto Fights 3, a man is shot at (whether he was hit is unclear). The steady camera shot, however, hints the cameraman might have been aware of the impending incident or could have even been in on it.

Immediately after the gun blast, a screen flashes, in capital letters, “Get paid for footage!” It directs viewers to a Web site that promises up to $1,000 for submissions.

The Ghetto Fights series can be criticized for a variety of reasons—like the way it turns violence into entertainment, or it’s unflattering depiction of African Americans—but the harshest charge could be that it actually encourages these acts. Could some would-be criminals, motivated by Fall Thru’s promise of an easy $1,000, set up and film assaults they otherwise wouldn’t have committed?

“I mean, that’s a hard one to answer,” Monroe says with a pause. “Who knows what anybody would do?”

Monroe goes on to reiterate that this violence happens every day and would occur regardless of whether a camera was present.

So could these videos be considered documentaries of sorts then?

Sure, he says, they’re kind of like documentaries, “but we’re just cutting out all the boring stuff.”

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