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Making sense of the Astroworld disaster

by Kayla Kim

photo by Amy Harris for Rolling Stone

[originally published November 2021]


When I was seven I saw a picture of a human stampede for the first time on the front page of the New York Times. Hundreds of people were crowded together so tightly packed you couldn’t differentiate between bodies. They looked like gaping fish, reaching out their hands for whatever there was, hair drenched in sweat and faces filled with shock, terror, or nothing at all. Pictured was the Phnom Penh stampede where over 347 died and 755 were injured, making it one of the deadliest human stampedes in the 21st century. Now, thanks to the Internet I can log onto Twitter and see something eerily similar: videos of dead bodies being carried away, people getting trampled, and thousands of people packed like sardines in a can, all under the watchful eye of Travis Scott. Less than 24-hours after the Astroworld incident, I found my social media feeds inundated with memes and conspiracy theories, claims of rap being inherently ‘violent’, images of white girls captioning their Instagram posts with things like ‘barely survived the rage!’, and clips of people dancing over ambulances as they tried to reach people injured in the crowd. Most troubling, though, was a viral video of two young adults, Ayden Cruz and Seanna Faith climbing onto platforms begging for the show to stop only to be met with boos from the crowd.

There’s a popular saying: history doesn’t repeat itself, rather it rhymes. In the 1990s, the Hillsborough disaster echoes that sentiment, when hundreds of English soccer fans got crushed to death in a stadium, their screams covered up by the joyous cheers of the opposing team. After this initially happened, police blamed the event on concertgoers and deflected any personal responsibility. Only after years of investigation, protests, and the suicide of a friend of the victims due to survivor’s guilt, was it finally found that police negligence was responsible for not aiding fans quickly enough. I think about this when I see the video of Houston Police, who deployed 500 cops at a concert with a performer known to incite disorder among fans, blaming overdoses for the stampede and that one of the officers fell unconscious because of a prick of narcan from a concert goer, a claim that has been debunked on the Internet a million times. A couple days afterwards the police officer retracted that statement.

There’s another popular saying as well: ‘regulations are written in blood’. In 1979, British Rock band The Who performed in Cincinnati Ohio, when thousands of concert goers rushed through 2 doors, resulting in the deaths of 11 people, all of them teenagers and young adults. For the next 25 years, Cincinnati would impose a ban on unassigned seating in festivals, and today, there must be nine square feet per person at a venue. This all could have been so

preventable, after all, did we not learn our lesson from nearly 40 years ago?

The answer is that profit is always above lives. Profit is what killed Halyna Hutchins, the

young filmmaker on the set of Rust, via the lack of proper training and safety standards. Profit is why someone would even think of hosting a massive gathering of people during a deadly

pandemic that has killed over 72,461 people in Houston alone. Profit is how people got crushed and trampled to death by others as they look up at their idol; meanwhile, his billionaire girlfriend or fiance or whatever is safely escorted with noise cancelling headphones while workers under a company with countless OSHA violations helplessly watch on. But I guess at this point, after a pandemic and too many ‘unprecedented times’ to count, we really couldn’t care less about how profit will find the next way to take away our lives and can only think about what we can get out of such a situation. In fact, I don’t even know how many people will care about this article because Astroworld is no longer a ‘trending topic’. Ultimately, no event better represents the quintessential American individualism and life in a capitalist hellscape than Astroworld does.

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