Guest post: White riot
Posted on August 12, 2011
This is a guest post by Polly
I’m often behind a trend, so it came as no surprise at about half past eight in the evening on Tuesday, to find out that I’d just witnessed the complete breakdown of western civilization as we know it, without even realising. AKA the Manchester riot
I’d spotted the shops were closed in the centre of town at just before 7 when I got there, but apart from that it looked like a normal rush hour, and it was only when I got home that I was informed via various people who weren’t actually there that Market Street was in the grip of criminal mobs. Well Miss Selfridge was on fire actually – there goes my chance of getting a vintage inspired maxi dress.
Actually it wasn’t, as I found out today when I went and looked for myself. A fire had been set in the corner of the building where Miss Selfridge is, and obviously fairly rapidly extinguished by the lack of damage to the rest of the facade. And various shops had windows smashed and were looted. The man on the till in M&S told me all the drinks racks had been pulled over. And amazingly those responsible, or at least some of them had already been sentenced in courts sitting all night. When quite recently savage cuts in the courts service had been announced.
Yes Britain is in the grip of lawlessness, and we must all panic and freak out. Everywhere mobs of vigilantes are rushing towards town centres, demanding to be able to clean them up. And quite often, if my readings of social media are typical, complaining bitterly that the council has already done it. I couldn’t help wondering, cynic that I am, if any of these frustrated cleansers of their towns would then bother to go and clean up say, a litter strewn bit of waste ground elsewhere, or do some other volunteering for their community. Or if they are only motivated by the possibility of appearing in the press wearing a t shirt saying ‘looters are scum’.
And inevitably the politicians are jumping on the riot bandwagon. Ed Milliband visited Manchester, as if we hadn’t suffered enough from teens nicking the overpriced trainers from Foot Asylum. Closely followed by Theresa May. David Cameron has announced that he backs the use of water cannon and rubber bullets.
And they’re not the only ones, there are allegations that far right groups are hijacking the situation for their own ends – namely trying to use them to incite racial hatred. It is also claimed that the founder of a facebook anti riot group with a million followers is a hardcore racist.
The constant rhetoric labelling those involved as ‘scum’ is also seriously starting to grate. While I don’t doubt that some of those taking part didn’t give a shit about who/what they damaged, the Manchester Evening News reports that a homeless man has been convicted for stealing doughnuts. Really? Lock this menace to society up straight away…
I don’t want to minimise in any way the fact that some people have been very seriously affected by the events of the past few days, from those who have lost homes and businesses, to the death of three men in Birmingham. But I am also beginning to feel that hype and complete overreaction has taken over. And that the effects of that may be more far more serious than outbreaks of sporadic violence, which have happened before, and will happen again.
Yes, the media portrayal of the riots is extremely depressing, not only because only one view is allowed, but also because it reminds me about my own personal awakening in relation to media bias back in 1984 during the miner’s strike. I was a young trade union rep and had access to the miners’ version of events and the media version of events – and I was absolutely astonished at the difference. This, being a press officer and then taking a media degree a few years ago, has left me with no illusions as to the impartiality of the media and the consequent lack of diverse debate over the causes of any kind of protest from the masses.
Yes, it is interesting isn’t it that Nick Clegg, dismisses the fact that he set fire to a greenhouse when he was 16 as a ‘youthful prank’. (and of course he got away with it, and the owner was persuaded not to press charges against him because who wants to ruin the life chances of a boy from a nice background). But yet teenagers who have committed first offences of theft are being labelled as dangers to society, and there are calls for them to be jailed. Which is going to achieve what exactly? Pour encourager les autres? Well maybe. But aren’t the jails full? And aren’t we going to risk turning a one time offender into a career criminal?
I don’t want to romanticise what happened in Manchester as the uprising of the masses – it seems fairly clear that it was a combination of straightforward opportunistic theft, copycat behaviour of the London riots and disaffected/bored kids on school holidays. And it’s now throwing it down, which seems to have put an end to it. Social exclusion had something to do with it certainly, but it wasn’t the whole story by any means.
But what has got right up my nose, is the posturing of the politicians and the smug middle classes, resulting in the call (and the delivery) of over the top sentencing. And the DRAMA, dear dawg the drama. My work colleague told me at lunch that she got very fed up indeed of her boyfriend receiving tweets on Tuesday night from his friends saying “I love this city, I just feel I have to do something”. Funny they didn’t love it before it became a mass trend on social media – it almost makes me sympathetic to Cameron’s call to shut down social media…
Totally agree, re: the smug middle classes. Who have shown themselves to be, at best, eager to appear “caring” and “pro community” only in regards to the clean up of private property, and at worst, have expressed truly fascist views.
If I wasn’t so scared, I’d get really angry about it all.
“love this city”. I’ve seen how “loved” the city of Manchester really is. People love the “city”, and to Hell with the (poor brown) people living in it.
Actually I disagree with you.
I laughed at the bit about ten minutes of fame though and you’re probably right, but i think any media portrayal of unity and community spirit, whether 100% honest, is a good thing. There’s so bloody little of it out there.
I do think that what has happened is scary, and sad – because of how it reflects on people’s basic morality. Of course I coldn’t care less if a homeless people knicked a doiughnut, for him it is survival, but for all those other arses it was just about opportunism and a lack of work ethic.
For that, it is a story worth telling.
And i’m usually one who abhors mass panic, and would burn al copies of the mail, the mirror and the express for that reason.
Interesting post – right up my debating street!
Some of those jailed had jobs though MtoM. So no I don’t think it is lack of a work ethic. It’s pretty clear that none of them saw anything wrong in taking stuff if they could, but as has already been pointed out numerous times elsewhere, it seems that’s ok when you’re an MP fiddling your expenses. And my colleague told me that when he was waiting for a bus home on Tuesday, a group of guys in suits were joking about nicking rolexes….
I think the WHY is pretty simple actually. It’s group behaviour. People behave very differently in groups than they would individually. And social media is now the home of virtual mobs. And a lot of what happened in Manc was apparently organised by invitation on Blackberry messenger
I was absolutely fascinated by the disconnect between what I actually witnessed, and the depiction of it on social media. I was following the twitter throughout the afternoon and saw it being repeated as absolute FACT that Primark was on fire, that people were being airlifted from Manchester city centre by helicopters, that there was rioting in St peter’s square, that McDonald’s in Salford was on fire, etc, etc, etc. None of them even vaguely true. And it has been the same all through the week. There have been constant rumours on twitter about non existent riots.
I suppose social media can be useful *waves to Cath* but they don’t half exacerbate moral panics and create herd behaviour.
Finally I don’t see any value (as Mary Tracy said) in a ‘community spirit’ that is dependent on depicting large portions of the population as ‘scum’ ‘feral rats’ etc. Because they are part of our ‘community’ too, like it or not, we can’t just wish them away. And it just exacerbates divisions. And if you see someone as alien to or other than you, you see absolutely no problem with attacking them.
Manchester city council threatening to evict an entire family because the 12 year old stole a bottle of wine.
You can work but have a bad work ethic? And i would suggest that MPs fiddling their expenses have as bad a worth ethic as those nicking from stores. It’s about believing you are entitled to something, not having to work for what you achieve / or get.
I def don’t see the benefit in a “them” and “us” viewpoint, there is division here only with regards basic views of what is right and wrong. I’m sorry but when i was young you could’ve put me in a shop with an open till and told me i’d never get caught, on my own or within a group, nad i wouldn’t have taken the money. Having said that very interesting point about mob mentality indeed. Food for thought.
Well it’s not just me who thinks it.
There are all kinds of psychological experiments, such as the infamous stanford prison experiment which find that people will act in ways that could seem very out of character in groups. The mentality of the mob takes over. And in my opinion the ‘clean up’ mob mentality is as bad as the rioting mentality.