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Posts Tagged ‘riots’

I had the interesting experience the other day of observing an argument between two people who both, it seemed to me, were in the right. The venue was Manchester (I was observing courtesy of BBC news) and the participants were a man and a woman.

‘If you treat someone like scum,’ said the woman, ‘then they’re going to behave like scum. Stands to reason dunnit?’

‘Yeah, but that doesn’t give them the right to come down here and loot all our shops,’ said the man.

The woman contemplated this point for a moment. ‘Jog on,’ she eventually advised.

Yes, I find myself moved to comment on the late unpleasantness in so many of our city centres, which luckily enough kicked off just after I vacated the nation’s capital (in case you were wondering). I don’t really have any great insights to offer, and indeed some of what I say may seem a little simplistic or actually naive.

Having said that, the general tone of the national debate so far has been slightly depressing (not to mention embarrassing) – ‘Flog [the rioters] in public,’ was one helpful suggestion. ‘It’s all down to New Labour/the human rights act/rap music/Poles,’ is the inside word from the various organs of the Far Right. ‘Have them all shipped to Afghanistan to be cannon fodder for our real heroes,’ piped up someone on Facebook – if you want to establish your credentials as a right-thinking and decent everyday person, reflexive adoration of the armed forces is pretty much de rigeur; coherent thought is strictly optional.

Nevertheless, the question has to be asked – why’s it happening? And why’s it happening now? The second question at least is easy to answer, although it’s fairly obvious that the vast majority of the participants didn’t give a damn about the death of Mark Duggan and probably didn’t even know who he was: the cause of this was not a single political issue. The size of the disturbances and the speed with which they spread makes it very clear that the conditions enabling something like this are widespread and have been in place for some time, and the Duggan incident was merely a convenient spark.

So, why were these people rioting? I suspect there isn’t a single easy cause, because, well, real life is complicated. But it seems to me that we take it for granted that it’s only in poorer areas and sink estates that this kind of thing happens, almost as if rioting is one of those things that poor people tend to do from time to time: another vulgar lower class pursuit.

I’m not defending violence or looting or property damage or any kind of antisocial behaviour, but then again I think it’s rather hopeful of the establishment to expect people living in poverty to just shut up and put up with it in perpetuity without any hope of an improvement to their lives.

I’ve felt for a while now that the story of society for nearly a century now has been one of the conflict between mechanisation and information: society has changed inasmuch as people are treated more like machines than ever before – or maybe not machines but beans to be counted, figures on a graph. Society has lost its human face. Contrasted with this is the massive improvement in information technology and systems – most people are more limited than ever before in terms of what they can make of their lives, while at the same time their access to information about the rest of the world has increased enormously.

And so now we’re at a point where the most deprived members of society are aware of exactly what they’re missing, moreso than ever before. Couple this to a culture which is largely impersonal and which at times seems to make a virtue out of cruelty and the basest kind of materialism and you have the recipe for what we’ve seen in British streets over the last week or so.

Everyone wants to feel their life has some significance – and I would suggest everyone has the right to feel as much. Yet so much of what we see around us is sending the message that the more material wealth you have, the more you matter as a person. Whether this is true or not, when it’s coupled to an economic system which by its very nature is inevitably going to generate haves and have nots, it’s a recipe for alienation and social unrest.

I fear that the current lot’s religious devotion to the primacy of the market-driven system means we are unlikely to see any real change. Poor people, I predict, will be told to shut up and accept that this is their lot in life, and to stop rioting as it upsets the Daily Mail. There will no doubt be talk of respect (which basically boils down to poor people showing respect for the better-off, rather than vice versa) and basic values of decency – the same old weary lexicon, trotted out again.

Everywhere in the media I hear of the angry muttering of middle-class people incensed that their taxes may be used to help the reconstruction or support some of those responsible. The cause of all this trouble, I honestly believe, is the economic inequality which is fundamental to our current way of life. As long as most people persist in their belief that the existence of people living in poverty is a necessary evil (with the addendum that it’s be really nice if the chavs buggered off into their warrens and stopped making the high streets look untidy) then events like the ones we have recently seen will happen again and again and again. The rioters, like the poor, will always be with us, mainly because they’re one and the same.

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It really must be getting round to Christmastime – nearly everything I see or hear fills me with deep and implacable despair and occasional contempt for the human race. More than usually, this year, I see the signs of my own impending collapse into dusty irrelevance and obscurity growing larger and larger. I honestly don’t care about most of things that the media seem to think are important, and when there is a story that piques my interest I find myself lodged somewhat uncomfortably on the fence.

But before I talk about a couple of those things, something which seems to me to be a genuine curiosity. I am no great fan of bi-curious popstrel motormouth Katy Perry, for all that I found Hot and Cold to be a pleasantly strident piece of disco. I don’t dislike her as a person, but then I don’t know her as a person. She seems to be one of those artists whose career revolves around the styling and the marketing and her personality and lifestyle as much as what happens when she opens her mouth to sing. All the shenanigans about her recent nuptials to also-not-my-cup-of-tea comedian Russell Brand really weren’t of much interest either.

However, being the traditionally-minded, quiet and home-loving young lady that her publicity tries to make her out as (in almost direct contradiction to her lyrics, videos, and general demeanour), Katy Perry has announced she will soon be adopting her husband’s surname as be styling herself as Katy Brand.

Normally I would say that if that sort of thing makes a difference to you then by all means go ahead, but what makes this interesting (to me if nobody else) is that here in the UK we already have a celebrity named Katy Brand. She is obviously not in the same league of global celebrity as Russell’s missus, but she’s had two TV series and a live tour of her own show with her name in the title. Once again (as you could have predicted) I’m not that impressed by her stuff (her main schtick revolves around it being apparently hilarious for slim popstars to be impersonated by an older woman who’s a bit on the chunky side) but the fact remains she is a celebrity, and deserves the title rather more than many of the parasites and non-entities who pass as one in a lot of TV shows and magazines.

I'm getting them confused already.

So what’s going to happen? I suspect that no-one is going to turn up to see the wrong Katy Brand by mistake and kick up a fuss, but I can’t imagine two high-profile performers yomping around the UK mediascape under identical names. I rather suspect the real Katy Brand’s representation do not have the same kind of muscle as Mrs Russell Brand’s people and pressure will be exerted for the big-boned comedienne to (apologies in advance) re-brand herself. I feel rather sorry for Katy Brand the comedian – she was Katy Brand first, after all and it’s her actual name. I suggest she contrive a whirlwind entanglement with (for example) rugby player Matt Perry or comedy legend Jimmy Perry and take his name. Well, it’s an idea.

Onto one of those situations where two people who come across as equally objectionable are at loggerheads. In this case it’s my so-called lookee-likee Frankie Boyle (can’t see it myself) and – to recycle one of my old lines – mouthy national embarrassment Jordan (I’m going to keep calling her Jordan despite her herculean attempts to de-brand herself and be Katy Price again, partly because there have been too many Katys in this piece already but mainly because I hope it’ll wind her up).

Boyle’s in trouble for making jokes about Jordan’s disabled son. Gags about disabled kids don’t make me laugh (not unless they’re really good ones, anyway), and while Jordan’s one of those people I always hope to find myself in disagreement with, the kid can’t help who his mum is. However – we’re talking about a joke that was made on a late-night show after a warning about the extremity of the content, and told by a comic notorious for his lack of familiarity with anything approaching taste. It’s not exactly man bites dog (except in the most broadly metaphorical sense).

And let’s not forget that Jordan has relentlessly exploited her children, along with the rest of her private life, in her unstoppable pursuit of the oxygen of publicity. If she hadn’t been so keen to stick young Harvey on the front of so many magazines and feature him in her God-awful reality TV shows then the lad wouldn’t have had enough of the name-recognition factor for Boyle to be worth targetting.

It’s all a bit dismally reminiscent of Sachsgate (oh God, we’re back to Russell Brand again), with a media furore eagerly being whipped up despite the comparatively tiny number of complaints from people who heard the ‘joke’ when it was initially broadcast. The shade of Mary Whitehouse must be looking down and smiling: this isn’t just people insisting that everything they watch is unobjectionable. They’re demanding that everything anyone watches should be unobjectionable. I’m not arguing in favour of a total abolition of any standards of good taste and decency in the media, and jokes against specific disabled minors would surely be near the knuckle under any reasonable set of guidelines, but freedom of speech means the freedom to say things people aren’t going to like or find funny. It’s difficult to see what else Channel 4 could have done to warn people off from Boyle’s act. Hmm. I seem to have worked out where I stand on this issue after all, and it’s with my so-called lookalike. Who’d have thought it?

Please God let there be no Russell Brand and no-one called Katy in the final chunk of this tri-lobed ramble. Initially all seems hopeful as the final topic to lodge in my brain concerns the student riots in London. Just as serious debate on the Wikileaks issue seems to have been rather sidelined by Julian Assange’s arrest, so all the media coverage of yesterday’s unrest and the vote appears to have revolved around Charles and Camilla being attacked in their car.

Flicking around trying to find something other than Jeremy Kyle to watch this morning I came across an actual discussion of this that extended beyond ‘isn’t it awful?’ – someone made the pertinent point that half a million people marched peacefully against the invasion of Iraq, to no avail, while half that number of people rioting in protest about the Poll Tax led to the abandonment of the policy and the fall of Thatcher.

No matter what you think about the tuition fees issue – and as you could probably have guessed my own sympathies are much more with the protestors than the government – you surely can’t be all in favour of violence, though. And even if you are going to get a bit rowdy, why have a go at Charles and Camilla? It’s not as though they’re involved in the process. I suppose one could argue that if your family are going to be the figureheads of the establishment in a nation, you have to take the rough with the smooth and accept people will express their dissatisfaction with that establishment by venting their ire on you, but I’m not convinced.

I rather think this is simply the product of everything that happened back in May after the election: the whole ‘vote Lib Dem, get a Tory government’ situation which I suspect will devastate Lib Dem support for a generation. People feel betrayed and that the exercise of their democratic rights has had no meaningful result whatsoever. Then again, that’s the nature of the democratic beast. I suppose it’s a bit pessimistic to say that a mob attacking blameless (and quite probably clueless) couples in late-middle-age is an inevitable consequence of the democratic process, but at this moment in time I can’t draw any other conclusion.

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