Since three days of burning shops, smashing windows, nicking trainers, drug crime, hoodies, senseless deaths, squads of indignant broom-wielding, bat-handling locals, and 24hr magistrates hearings galvanized the British public earlier this month, Turnstone has been trawling through range of (sure, left-leaning) articles about the UK riots.
One resounding concept (but ahem, not the only one) seems to be that it’s crucial to hold more than one thought in our heads about the confluence of contributing factors if any subsequent social, political, economic response is to stick. It was (get ready) multi-nuclei, local, regional, global scale, urban, heterogenic, pan-ethnic, trans-class social upset unfolding over days (breathe). To be constructive rather than draconian, any new policy must be holistic, bottom-up, top-down and must reflect only joined-up thinking to produce sustainable impact. Guess what, people, it’s not one thing and there ain’t a cure-all, quick fix. Suggesting we shhh twitter was akin to suggesting we squash ocean water, and betrayed that blokes in charge don’t recognize the nuanced segmentation and reflexivity of social networks…on as well as perhaps offline.
So our non-comprehensive coverage collected comes mostly, and with thanks, from our friend, Nick Durrant, who shared his set of sources over email in the days/weeks following. Our debate and exchange was conducted in a personal capacity. What follows is a summary of what we dug up as I asked some basic questions:
Seriously, who actually took part? The UK Guardian (a main point of reference for us) stratified the riots into its political classes to understand the wider social context of today’s British society, only to conclude that locally, the upheaval was not unexpected. A reissue of a 2007 article in Adbusters also echoed that we’re not blaming millenials, this is Generation F*cked.
And while many might retreat to an organic coffee shop in fear of them, a blog discusses today’s gangs in London and, if you dare stick your pin in the streetview, a google map of them. So while the riots reveal some unpalatable home truths about UK culture of fear and consumer greed, Suzanne Moore implored, Don’t shut these kids out now. Has anyone else written about the crisis of masculinity that the riots imply? Are girls looting the ultimate battle cry of the Ladette? Still looking for that coverage.
With that overview, it was interesting to watch various other opinions emerge by key issues-focused commentators:
Paul Gilroy, author of Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack had this to say about comparing this unrest to – and decoupling it from – the riots of the early 80s; Naomi Klein‘s “Looting with the lights off” was one of many to take a look at the consumer values/brands angle with the less likely commentators, Association of Accounting Technicians, suggest it’s too expensive to be a teenager and most pathetic of all, trainers and mobile phones, the things most shoplifted – have become objects of our disaffection.
This way, says Social Europe Journal, the riots can be seen as consumerism is coming home to roost. Echoing this, Pankaj Mishra from Bloomberg surmised that London’s rioters are Thatcher’s grandchildren and grimmer still, the UK riots were a ‘product of consumerism and will hit the economy’, according to City broker, Dr Tim Morgan of City analysts, Tullet Prebon, thinking the unthinkable. Meantime, the Mayor of London could worse than listen to the opinions and lyrics of a few more British Grime artists. About as grimy but no less perfect, is Jarvis Cocker’s Fat Children, sung from the perspective of a dead man mugged by kids for his mobile. Since Mr Cocker forbids his listeners to sing along, watch out, Prime Minister, just take heed.
Finally, onto the mapping perspective: What about seeing the inner city as a giant gaming space, part Grand Theft Auto, part Chromaroma. Why else (apart from subscribing to some scary hip hop magazines) call British riot police “FEDS”? Blackberry devices become the console for game-play in real swag and proper ‘blowing sh*t up’. Noone said anyone had to play nicely in a big urban game as they post QR codes to billboards. And for every urban antic, there must be a situationist perspective, this one from Domus magazine.
This, from the European Tribune theorizes about the police’s multi-layered, can’t win/can’t win role, speculating why enforcement can’t just be airdropped straight from Bratton’s LAPD ‘copter from Watts to the West Midlands. A perfect example of the constraints of models, as described in “The Fruitful Flaws of Strategy Metaphors” we’ve referred to here before, from the Harvard Business Review.
We’ll conclude with the incredible interview with globalization guru, Zygmunt Bauman, who makes me feel dumb just looking at him. Two quotes stand out:
“The thus far reaction of the British government to the mutiny of the humiliated is bound to deepen the self-same humiliation that caused their rebellion…”
“Their mutiny was an un-planned, un-integrated, spontaneous explosion of accumulated frustration that can be only explained in terms of ‘because of’, not in terms of ‘in order to’; I doubt whether the question of ‘what for’ played any role in that orgy of destruction.”
His conclusion is not for the faint of heart. While there is not enough work to do, there is work to do.