Tuesday, 9 August 2011

We had Proper Riots in the Olden Days

Feel weirdly homesick watching my old streets and local shops getting smashed up live on rolling news.  Kids on the rob and throwing fireworks don't make Kingsland Road any less familiar, but this is beyond a "riots in Hackney, no-one notices" joke.

I spent the first day simply astounded at how copiously and fragrantly people were shitting on their own doorsteps.  It took a while to realise that these people were prepared to trash their own community because they don't see that it is theirs.  As far as they're concerned, the corner shops and the homes above them, the buses and the roads are all legitimate targets, no different to the corporate giants or the government agencies who've served some of them so badly. 

I was living in Brixton during the riots of 85, and any rioter, any passer-by could tell you what the problem was then.  Disaffection, alienation, racism, poverty, unemployment - the rioters were using the only means they had to get things to change.  No-one this week seems like they could point out any purpose in their breaking and burning.  They're blindly lashing out, not in any hopes of effecting change, but maybe because they're the sons and daughters of those for whom things never did change.  The rioting has no message other than "our lives are so shit that this is what we do".  It's self-harm on a grand scale.  

It was not till today that I first saw anyone involved being interviewed or even wanting any kind of platform, outside of the people who were asking reasonable questions about the death of Mark Duggan.  The Croydon teens on the BBC came up with "we're showing the police and the rich people we can do what we like".  Bear in mind that for them, "rich people" include shopkeepers and their staff.  People are looting pound shops.

Previous riots (and let's not forget that England has such an ancient and prolific history of them that they're almost normal) have had a point, an enemy and an agenda, however ill-defined and variable.  There's no such thing here.  Rioters used to smash McDonalds and burn useless jobcentres.  Now they're destroying ordinary people's homes.

They're holding us all to ransom, but not making any demands.  The pathetic looting of hair weaves and cigarettes alongside the 3D TVs shows that they're not expecting things to be better after all this is over, not even different. Even Sky News have stopped referring to people who break into a jewellery shop as "anarchists".  This isn't anarchy, it's another sort of capitalism.

I'm not saying that the rioters have nothing to complain about - but whatever it is, they're NOT complaining about it.   Nicking trainers is not, in itself, a political act, however inarticulate you are.  They haven't even got a decent soundtrack to riot to.  At least the 80s had the Specials, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Smiths.  This lot have got Swagger Jagger.  

Stay safe, London and Birmingham (not to mention Dublin, Dundee, Humberside).

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