The Imp of the Perverse!

Posted on September 23, 2012

If you are one of my readers who hates football, please keep reading this blog because the incident at a recent football match is used as an example only. So here we go…I was watching a game of football last week between West Brom and Fulham when the West Brom forward Peter Odemwingie carried out an act that was bizarre and hilarious in equal measure. Right in front of the linesman (or third official or whatever they are called nowadays) Odemwingie took a short run up and kicked an opponent straight up the arse for no apparent reason.

It was an inexplicable act that confused players, officials, managers, supporters and indeed Odemwingie himself but to me it was a classic example of when our inner thoughts are imagining carrying out a self destructive act which will carry no benefit. In normal circumstances, the dark side of Peter Odemwingie would have imagined what it would have been like to kick the opposing player up the arse but he would have never done it. However something made him cross that line when the urge that is normally suppressed by rational thinking, became reality.

Odemwingie carrying out “The Imp of the Perverse.”

I was discussing this with a couple of lads I am doing some work with the other day and it was quite interesting to hear that both of them occasionally imagine the scenario if they drove head on into an oncoming bus or lorry. They would never carry this out  it of course, because it would kill them, but it is bizarre that humans have this instinct in them, maybe it is a survival tool to keep us on our toes? Personally speaking, my urges come when I am on cliff tops, at the top of a tall building and worst of all, on a cross channel ferry.

An ex girlfriend mine took me to the very top of the AA building in Basingstoke many years ago and despite being young, happy and content at the time, I had to run back inside the building because the dark fantasy of jumping off got too much for me. I don’t think I would have ever done it, I had no reason to, but the temptation was there and I have avoided tall buildings ever since. I also stopped going out on deck on cross channel ferries for the same reason, the sea churning out of the back of the ferry almost seemed to draw me in.

So after the conversation with work colleagues and the Peter Odemwingie incident, I tried to find out what drives these dark urges in the human condition and all I could find through Google was a term known as The Imp of the Perverse. “The Imp of the Perverse” is actually a story that begins as an essay written by 19th century American author and critic Edgar Allan Poe. It discusses the narrators’s self destruct impulses, embodied as the Imp of the Perverse. The narrator describes this spirit as the agent that tempts a person to do things “merely because we feel we should not.”

Apart from my issues with heights, I also have other more moderate impulses such as dropping my keys down a drain as I walk down the road or chucking my wallet  in to a river as I cross a bridge. I can also remember being in a meeting with an arrogant client once where I had an overwhelming urge to chuck a cup of tea in his face. It would have had awful consequences, but the urge was there and I have never drunk a cup of tea so quickly so I could at least concentrate fully on the meeting taking place.

So what happens when people cross that line and start acting out there urges, is that a condition of its own? If we started acting out all these dark thoughts our daily lives would be a huge problem, actually no, they wouldn’t be a huge problem, because we would all be dead, crushed by a bus, splattered across a pavement or lying at the bottom of the English channel. So one must presume that the condition of imaging awful consequences is indeed a survival tool to get us through our everyday lives. Apart from incident like the one carried out by Odemwingie, which is actually not uncommon in high pressure sporting arenas, I have one incident that is stitched in my memory as to when impulse takes over rational thinking.

I was walking down the road with several friends as a young man, when a gentleman marched purposely past us with a briefcase swinging backwards and forwards in his hand. As he did so our friend, Jimmy, skipped up behind the guy and volleyed the briefcase so hard the man’s arm swung around like a Micky Channon goal celebration. Time stood still as we all digested what had happened with the perpetrator (Jimmy) looking as shocked as the innocent victim who showed remarkable restraint. The strange thing was that we all agreed afterwards that we had considered doing the same thing, but rational thinking had suppressed our urges.

I guess what Peter Odemwingie has to deal with now, is the thought that now he has crossed the line once, how can he ensure that he doesn’t cross it again?

If anyone can enlighten me further about this condition, please let me know.

5 Replies to "The Imp of the Perverse!"

  • M Cunningham
    September 23, 2012 (6:24 pm)

    From the very first line I was waiting for the that briefcase moment

  • Trevor
    September 24, 2012 (12:32 pm)

    Great post Bob. It’s a weird thing isn’t it – I can’t believe you’re so afflicted though- dropping your keys down a drain, chucking your wallet into rivers!?!

    I do know what you mean though – sometimes I’ve been in meetings where I’ve thought how good it would be to stand up and smash a chair into a window, or sit and fart out loud or shout out some random expletive.

    On that note I’ve always thought it would be good to leave a job by being ‘escorted off the premises’ by security rather than having people organise a miserable collection for you and presenting you with an oversize card (bought begrudgingly from the local post office) which people you never liked anyway have written ‘keep in touch’ on. NOBODY would buy a card for the chair through the window guy.

    I’m actually less worried about Odemwingie (or any of his Albi*n chums) but I’d have loved to have seen the Micky Shannon briefcase goal celebration – just superb 🙂

  • Sherry
    September 24, 2012 (2:32 pm)

    Bob are you and your friends suffering with some form of Turrets? Your self restraint knows no bounds! Wonder how you would fair if you actually impulsively just did what you thought about doing! Maybe you’ll remain safe staying at home….as you’re so accident prone too…do let us know if the imp gets hold of you.

    • Bob Lethaby
      September 24, 2012 (3:05 pm)

      A Turret is a weapon mount that protects the crew or mechanism of a projectile-firing weapon and at the same time lets the weapon be aimed and fired in many directions, so I don’t think my friends and I are suffering from that…I hope not anyway!

      the Imp of the Perverse, however, is a natural human condition that sends an urge to do something self destructive as so well explained by Trevor from examples in his work meetings. Tourettes, I guess, is a different condition and though I can’t help laughing when I see documentaries about it, it must be a hideous affliction to deal with.

      The difference is that Tourettes is an illness whilst the “imp of the perverse” is a human trait that most people carry with them in one form or another…In fact everyone I have spoken to has admitted to it and told me of a funny tale when they almost stepped over the line of fantasy in to reality…it has made fascinating pub conversation.

      At the end of the day, we are all weirdo’s in one way or another and long may it stay that way…it would be fucking boring if we were all the same!

      • Ali
        September 26, 2012 (10:58 am)

        Interesting Bob, I have no doubt about the perverted imp, I get the urges myself, however, in the video clip above it looks like Peter Odemwingie just lost his rag.
        Great defense argument though.

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