Science of nightclub bouncing studied

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent

MOSCOW, June 29 -- Late one night outside Munich's Nacht-Caf -- a dance club so exclusive that just a few weeks earlier its formidable platoon ofdoormen had turned away German tennis legend Boris Becker for wearing sandals instead of shoes -- a ferociously drunk man demanded admittance.

Denied, the burly drunk screamed threats at the head bouncer from inches away, then ripped his shirt open to display his powerful pectoral muscles. The doorman didn't flinch, but his four well-trained subordinates quickly formed a phalanx behind him. The boss bouncer coolly took out a pack of cigarettes, tapped one out, lit it and blew smoke in the dangerous drunk's face.


Intimidated, the screamer slunk off without a fight.

What the drunk couldn't see, though, was that behind the head doorman's cool faade, his back was trembling. This was highly evident, though, to political scientist Frank Salter, who was standing behind the doormen videotaping the confrontation as part of his study of dominance. Salter saw this a classic example of what "ethologists" (scientists who study the biological basis of behavior) describe as the adrenaline-charged "fight-or-flight" response.


"It's called the 'tremors,'" the leader explained to Salter later. "I can control my front, but not my back. When my fist sinks into his flesh for the first time, though, I lose the tremors."

Salter, an Australian Ph.D. now with the Max Planck Institute in Germany, said he learned during his study in Munich and Brisbane, Australia, that barroom bouncers are "tradesmen of hand-to-hand combat and social dominance."

While hosting a Moscow conference on evolution and human behavior, in Moscow last June, Salter reviewed the findings of his groundbreaking study. During quiet times, the bouncers he studied had studied exchange tips and strategies (what Salter calls "social technology") on their three favorite subjects: sex, violence, and drinking.

"They're more sophisticated on fighting than on getting women," Salter observed, in an interview conducted June 23. "They engage in very technical talk about fighting tactics." For example, Salter listened to well-informed debates over how soon to try to get an opponent down on the ground in order to "put the boot in" (as Australians call kicking a man when he's down.)

Yet, a good professional bouncer prefers to verbally intimidate potentially violent drunks.

"Bouncers can all fight," Salter noted, "But they rank each other by their talking ability. The lowest ranked fought the most. The highest ranked had the best social skills." Salter found, "The best bouncers and doormen are articulate and quick with comebacks."


Enormously muscular or tall men don't always make the best bouncers. "Some Australian bouncers took steroids," Salter said, "But this made them snappy."

Huge men are good at intimidating people who are still rational, but after enough alcohol, some drunks are drawn to challenge especially gigantic bouncers to fights. Furthermore, the taller the bouncer, the less agile of a fighter he tends to be.

Managers of tough Australian bars, Salter discovered, labeled rum and coke as "the fighting drink." The "Cuba Libre's" alcohol loosens inhibitions and saps judgment, while the sugar and caffeine revs up the drinkers. Beer is safer for bar owners worried about getting their furniture smashed up because it takes beer drinkers longer to get drunk. Further, it provides some nutritional content, which keeps drinkers from getting too hungry and thus irritable.

While bouncers might not be traditional subjects for scientific study, they provided Salter with vivid examples of the kind of dominance hierarchies among humans that Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz studied among barnyard fowl and Jane Goodall observed among chimpanzees. Salter decided to study bouncers when a friend told him, "Hey, you want dominance, go to nightclubs."

After an initial survey of bars in Brisbane, Australia, Salter moved to Germany. With Karl Grammer of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology in Vienna, he videotaped 60 hours of confrontations between doormen and potential customers at the famous Nacht-Caf.


Salter found that men and women use different strategies when confronted by doormen assessing whether they are worthy of entry to the Munich hotspot. As men turned the corner and began the long walk up to the wall of doormen, they accelerated, compressed their body speed, and looked straight ahead trying to avoid eye contact with the doormen until absolutely necessary.

Women, in contrast, looked at the doormen, slowed down, and began flirting. The more skin they were showing (Salter diligently measured this off his videotapes), the more they flirted.

The doormen looked at prospective customers' wealth, attractiveness, and youth. To judge how much money a supplicant had to throw around inside, they were particularly concerned with his shoes.

Beautiful women were always welcome, unless they appeared from their excessively skimpy dress, heavy makeup, extremely high heels and slack posture to be prostitutes.

A man in his 60s could get in if he had a lovely young woman on each arm. Women of that age seldom even tried to get past the doormen.

There was no racial discrimination, but at some of the bars Salter studied, the doormen tried to filter out homosexuals, claiming that "Gays confuse things." Salter translated their logic into ethology-speak: "This is a money-making enterprise that profits from people coming for heterosexual mate choice."NEWLN:


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