Over the past week, New Zealand has been captivated by a continually evolving hurricane of human destruction, at the center of which sits one big, badly behaved, British family of tourists. The group of 12 - or was it 15? - has reportedly terrorized every community they’ve visited during their nearly month-long tour of the country, engaging in violence, crime and low-level scams that read like a drugstore gossip mag.
Like modern-day penny dreadfuls, tales of the Big, Bad British Family quickly began circulating on Twitter. Their first social media appearance seems to be The Beach Incident, in which the family left a popular Auckland beach strewn with trash - notably, beer boxes, beer bottles and baby wipes. When a local asked them to clean up, several adults from The Bad Family reportedly surrounded the woman, hyping each other up for a potential fight, while a shirtless child angrily strode up and threatened to “knock her brains out.” Another member of the group threatened to run the woman over with a car. Slate’s Dan Kois was early to the story.
Videos of poor, nice New Zealanders and their encounters with the Bad Family almost immediately went viral, not just because of the inconceivable level of mayhem, but because a number of fellow Kiwis recognized them from encounters of their own. Indeed everyone, it seemed, had their own horror stories to share. The Bad Family refused to give a hotel breakfast buffet their room number (so they could be charged for, you know, the breakfast) and threw toast on the floor. They dined and dashed. They hid ants in their food and refused to pay. They hid hairs in their food and refused to pay. They stole, several times, from a gas station and were caught, prompting an arrest and a fine.
New Zealand collectively erupted in rage over The Bad Family’s behavior, with news alerts reportedly pinging hourly as more reports began flooding in. The New Zealand Herald even created a Bad Family Timeline, charting their trip across the country. Because just as Victorian-era readers clamored for salacious tales of nastiness, we hunger, too, for stories of other people behaving badly. We just seem to prefer stories about, you know, real, actual, alive people, rather than vampires and ghosts. Maybe because we know just how bonkers real people can be. Maybe because our generation grew up on Twilight.
There is yet to be a word that encapsulates, whole-heartedly, the at-once nauseating and delicious sensation of reading about, or watching, someone you don’t know instigating absolute mayhem, but boy would it apply to the experience of scrolling through Twitter. A term for why we watch The Real Housewives reunions, still, despite understanding its toxic underpinnings. A phrase for why, even after being literally deported from their vacation abroad (the notice was served on Tuesday), the Bad Family continues to dominate headlines - and we keep letting them.