Sunday, January 24, 2010


Middle-school kids have been excitedly whispering "Did you know you can get high from being strangled?" to each other at least since the early 90s, when I was at that age (and if it got to out-of-touch, oblivious 12-year-old me, it was surely common knowledge), and presumably much longer. Someone finally got around to telling the New York Times, and they are shocked.
According to the recent survey of more than 10,642 eighth graders in Oregon, 36.2 percent reported having heard of the choking game, 30.4 said they had heard of someone participating in it and 5.7 percent said they had participated themselves. The survey was conducted in 2008 and reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

“We’re concerned that this many kids have reported they’re actually practicing this behavior,” said Robert Nystrom, adolescent health manager at the Oregon Public Health Division and one of the authors of the report. “It seems like one in three eighth graders know about this activity, and we have no idea whether they know how dangerous it is.”

The C.D.C. reported in 2008 that an estimated 82 deaths had been caused by the choking game from 1995 to 2007.
Let's go through this step by step, shall we?

So a little over a third of the "more than 10,642 eighth graders" surveyed (does this mean they actually surveyed 10,643, or what?) have heard of the choking game. A little under a third of them (i.e., for all practical purposes the same amount as have heard of it at all) have heard of "someone" doing it. And about one in twenty says that they themselves have done it. You know what? If you surveyed all Americans on any ol' urban legend--say, the one about gang members driving around at night with their lights off so that they can kill the first person who flashes at them--you'd get fairly similar results. "Five percent of Americans say they have killed people for flashing their lights!" Yeah, you know what? I'd be willing to bet that about five percent of middle school students are gonna lie on a survey like that no matter what it's about. So basically what you've done is shown that 30% of them have a friend whose brother did the choking game. Congratulations, you've confirmed that it's an urban legend. I think we knew that already.

In an intelligent publication, that last sentence would be a punchline. You quote this guy trying to catch his breath, panicking that these kids "don't know how dangerous" choking themselves is. For one thing, yes they fucking do: they're animals, and all animals know that not breathing is dangerous. Jesus. But anyway, then you immediately follow it up by revealing how extremely not dangerous it is: nationwide, over thirteen goddamn years, 82 deaths have resulted from the choking game. In other words, again, nationwide, about six deaths every year. Come on. More deaths are caused by untied shoelaces, I can guarantee you. If I had a kid, I'd be more worried about Marlee Matlin personally targeting them for murder than about the choking game.

But this is the New York Times we're talking about--the American media--and so the moral of the story is, as usual: "Be terrified! Lock up your kids!" After all, we have to start training them to be overly credulous and docile in the face of made-up threats sometime.

PS If you read the article, the last paragraph is truly priceless.

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