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The new conformity: why 'rebels' like Shaun McNeil no longer stand out

Ink premonition: Shaun McNeil is accused of striking Daniel Christie, who is now fighting for life in a Sydney hospital.

Ink premonition: Shaun McNeil is accused of striking Daniel Christie, who is now fighting for life in a Sydney hospital.

On beautiful Bondi Beach over the holidays there's always an ugly influx of blokes similar to Shaun McNeil, the man charged with king hitting and hospitalising 18-year-old Daniel Christie.

Heavily muscled, heavily tattooed, often heavy with attitude, some of these blokes walk pit bulls and staffies on the promenade or lead their bikini-clad girlfriends along the hard sand - all with a similar air of ownership.

The great irony of the stage-managed strutting emerges when a person dares stare a little too long at the jiggling muscles and mammaries and is asked aggressively, "Whatta ya lookin' at?"

Man in the mirror: Shaun McNeil has a penchant for 'selfies'.

Man in the mirror: Shaun McNeil has a penchant for 'selfies'. Photo: Facebook

The answer, of course, is we're looking at the image these men have carefully crafted and advertised in ink on their bodies, as well as online on Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere.

If it's possible to measure a person's self-absorption, surely the percentage of their epidermis illustrated as autobiography is a good metric.

On a certain modern man's body you'll now commonly find appropriately sentimental dates, as well as names and faces of dead relatives or newborn children.

Quotes and phrases are ripped screaming out of context from literature, scripture and film, while foreign words and symbols - the owner's captioned cartoon of their trip to Thailand or Bali - are awkwardly added to the skin-billboard.

The mistake we make, however, as observers of this display is to think the McNeils of the world are attempting to communicate or connect with us with their derma-doodlings.

Kings Cross, the honey pot that drew McNeil and Daniel Christie on New Year's Eve, is where Pastor Graham Long of the Wayside Chapel has spent years watching and wondering at the messages sent by these men.

"It's not relational. It's promotional," says Long, who has written and spoken at length of the "privatisation of the self", the illusion so many people have that "I" comes before "us" in the human alphabet.

There can be no more graphic image of this than the "selfie" - where one turns the camera on oneself to take one's own picture; the world narrowing from infinite to individual.

As we now know, Australia has been credited by the Oxford Dictionary with coining the term "selfie" - so it should surprise no one we also produce gross fanatics of the form, such as McNeil, who managed to generate an online archive of more than 3000 public photos of his 25-year life.

Like many of his ilk, I have no doubt Shaun McNeil considers himself an "individual" and in one regard, argues Long, he's probably right.

"An individual comes to know themselves as different from others, while a person comes to know themselves in relation to others."

Individuals are in competition, people are in a community. An individual is focused (camera in hand) on "my car", "my body", "my Facebook feed", "my girlfriend ", "my night out", "my protein shake", "my dinner".

"A person knows themselves in light of others," says Long in his recent book Love Over Hate.

Neither rock nor sports star, McNeil nevertheless stole their swagger. His personal PR created an image of a "hard man", a mixed martial arts proponent who seemingly longed to be seen as a rebel.

That's the final irony of the almost endless droves of these new "rebels", their bodies painted and puffed in sometimes comically identical style; it's the new conformity.

When I see a 25-year-old man at Bondi without a sign of ink on his body, maybe walking his grandma or mother, perhaps - quaintly - even wearing a shirt, I often say to myself "now, there's your rebel".

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer daddy hugs to all.


406 comments so far

  • "We're all individuals!"

    .......... "I'm not!"

    Date and time
    January 06, 2014, 12:23PM
    • "I`m an indivdual - you can`t fool me
      An indi-bloody-vidual - you can`t fool me
      A genuine original - you can`t fool me!"

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 2:02PM
    • I'd have to say that these are merely one type of the self justifying and self absorbed, there are a million others, all alienated and dangerous in their different ways. All of them are a product of a pretty sick (as in ailing) society. I wouldn't see these guys as any particular bogeyman, the problem is way deeper and far more ubiquitous than them. If you look to the top at the Maurice Newmans, Pells and Abbotts they are just as scary. Or if you look to the fearful finger pointing middle classes no different really.

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 2:12PM
    • Hahahaha. Thanks. I might watch that again tonight.

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 2:24PM
    • Seems to be a lot of assumptions being made here on the motivations for people getting tattoos? I guess a lot of people on here 'know the minds' of the sub-culture in question.

      I didn't get my tatts to be a rebel. I like tatts. Simple as that. And i respect peoples rights not to like them.

      The O
      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 3:24PM
    • @O

      Sounding a bit defensive there big guy. The article wasn't just about tattoos, but all the chest puffery and desperate self-promotion these guys go in their attempts to be seen as 'hard' men. The pics kind of give it away.

      If you've got a swag of tatts yourself but don't act like a tool (I know plenty of guys like this), you've got nothing to worry about - it isn't taking a pop at you.

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 4:17PM
    • @the o, you've more or less confirmed the whole article with the "I LIKE..... SIMPLE AS THAT", part of your response. But with respect, you still haven't explained WHY you like.tatts. just stating you do is no explanation, its just pointing out that it's all about oneself and you want the world to know about it.

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 4:21PM
    • Facebook is one big circus of self promotion, showing off to make you feel better and make others feel envious. It all relates to a major self esteem deficit in society.

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 5:29PM
    • @The O
      Regardless, getting a tattoo is ALWAYS an egotistical action.
      It's still all about me even if the tat is about an important event in your life, a dead friend, your son or daughter, some wise phrase you picked up in Japan or an ashram. A tattoo is the sign of an emotionally immature individual. It's all about me PEOPLE!

      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 5:52PM
    • If the media stops glorifying this act by always referring to it as a coward's punch, rather than a king hit (or altercation if what happened is unclear), then cowards would lose the ability to boast about how strong and marvellous they are. I have nothing against fighting - provided it is done by mutual consent, under legal conditions, by people of a similar weight category and gender - but I have a big issue with cowards beating up on those weaker than themselves. It would be good if judges send these aggressors to jail. That way, self-proclaimed MMA fighters may well get the opportunity to test their skills against some worthy competition.

      Help solve the problem
      Date and time
      January 06, 2014, 6:13PM

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