The Age Of Lamp Fighting: Cold Start

Cs Lampfight

It’s not usually discussed in polite company, but among midcentury middle-class Americans there was really only one true forbidden vice: lamp fighting. Lamp fighting was the practice where two highly drugged or drunk people would strip down naked, enter a dirt ring dug into someone’s basement, and would each be handed a normal table lamp, plugged into long extension cords. Then, they’d fight, often brutally, until one of the lamps went out, or one of them either gave up or, occasionally, died.

Selecting the proper fighting lamp was very important, and had become such a common thing that it was alluded to in car ads, like in this 1967 Pontiac brochure. That couple may look like they’re just buying lamps, but a knowing eye would spot the clues: the robustness of the lamps, the fighting stance the man there is using while holding the lamp, the way the woman is clearly assessing the destructive potential of the lamp, and, most obviously, the grasshopper on the sign, which was underground code for a lamp-fighting location:


Ask your grandparents about it. I bet they have some stories about doing the “lights out dance” with their friends and neighbors.

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

18 Responses

  1. The whole lamp-fighting thing has sort been pushed into the closet or at least the attic, but back in the day before the government cracked down on sending them through the mail and started requiring all sales be made through licensed Lamp Shops, almost every home had at least two or three lamps. Some people even kept them at their bedsides for self-protection.

    Some phrases about lamp fighting which entered the American lexicon are still around, although they are now sort of self-dimming.

    “Light him up”; Throw shade [on someone]”; “Lampoon [someone]” and of course the questionable and distasteful practice of “Plugging” someone.

  2. If you’ve ever encountered that old trope in midcentury writing about waking up after a wild party with a lampshade on your head, and wondered what the heck they were on about, well, now you know.

  3. I feel so bad for the lady on the bike. She has no idea that she is about to be caught in the middle of a deadly lamp fight. Everyone knows you never bring a bike to a lamp fight.

    The shade of green on that big Pontiac wagon needs to make a comeback. Big wagons in general need to make a comeback, but I don’t see it happening.

      1. In the early to mid ’70s, my Dad went through a couple of bare-bones Mopar window vans as our family haulers–first a Dodge Sportsman, then a Plymouth Voyager. Even that lowly Plymouth was green through and through–the spartan vinyl benches, the seat belts, the dash, everything. OK, it was cheating a little with all the exposed sheet metal inside, but still…

  4. I don’t wish to make light of this brutal sport but I thought I would add some illumination. Lamp Fighting has been reenergized with the advent of remote control LEDs and is now a Gen Z phenomenon on the dark web. Virtual “Glow Ups” are held secretly on Twitch with taglines such as “Switched On”, “Put Out Your Lights”, and “Throwing Shade”.

    I’ve already said too much about Lamp Fight Club.

  5. Using the shatterproof bulbs that restaurant supply places sell (because trying to figure out if you found ALL the broken glass in the kitchen during rush would be bad) was the secret cheat before the referees caught on to it as I remember. That and those mission style cast bronze lamp bases.

  6. And another one! Here is the text:

    Price is for one lamp

    This beautiful designer linen has bold red and subtle sage/bone tones. The botanical print is just lovely. The new handmade shades have been paired with beautiful vintage cut glass bases.

    These would pop in a neutral or white bedroom. Match them with red or sage ticking stripes. They are just beautiful in real life pictures don’t do the bling of the cut glass justice.

  7. Sheeet…. I so wish we could post pics here – a mate of mine has just listed 3 very heavy lamps for sale on a well know social media maketpalce! He seemed so normal…

Leave a Reply