Monday, 22 August 2011

A word on the rioting...

A woman jumps for her life from a burning building in Surrey Street, Croydon
The main subject of conversation when we reached the Tatsfield Churchyard, our destination for both Saturday and Sunday, was split between the recent riots and the unfortunate use of the word 'like' in general discourse.

With the former, we initially discussed the harsh jail sentences meted out to the offenders and both agreed that they were necessary if such behaviour on our streets was not to happen again. Firm but fair? I guess so, under the circumstances. A situation where rioters were handed 70 hours of community service or given suspended jail terms would not have gone down well with an outraged general public.

As for the reasons behind the rioting, well, to politicise the whole affair was wrong, as both Ken Livingstone (a former London mayor) and Harriet Harman, a Labour MP tried to do in television interviews. Equally, to brush the whole thing off as purely criminal behaviour seemed wrong to me; there must have been a reason behind such widespread unrest and to dismiss it in such a manner, as Teresa May and David Cameron did, was side-stepping the fact that the country has serious social issues it needs to deal with pretty promptly.

And while we're on the subject of David Cameron, I wasn't impressed with his empty rhetoric on his return from Tuscany or the assumption that he'd returned early from his summer break to roll up his sleeves and sort things out. The truth of the matter was that he was too late, the damage had been done.

To argue, as some politicians have, that we live in a society motivated by greed, rang many bells with me. While I've never really been unemployed and on the dole, I've had a taste of what it's like to live with financial uncertainty over the past five months or so – and it's not pleasant. I only had five months of it, but at times it was enough to fuel resentment on my part of those gainfully employed. God knows how I would have felt after 10 months or longer, but it wouldn't have been good, that's a fact.

I found myself getting very frustrated and angry while watching television advertisements for holidays and automobiles – a new Polo for how much? £14,000? Who the hell can afford that? And the sight of 'happy couples' on holiday, eating out in some al fresco restaurant on the Med angered me too: why them? Why not me? Why should I be filled with uncertainty? What have I done wrong?

But let's not forget that most unemployed people don't resort to rioting and looting to achieve their goals. There's no justification for it and never will be.

Some people in the UK are 'long-term' unemployed. That must be hard to deal with as I'm sure the people concerned feel not only trapped, but second class citizens. The greed alluded to by some politicians and social commentators is everywhere – not just in advertisements that fuel our desire for expensive gadgets.

Shows such as The X Factor and Dragon's Den are motivated by greed. The X Factor is full of wannabes who don't want to work for success and recognition, but want it handed to them on a plate – not for them striving for a record deal, playing the club and pub circuit, being discovered and finally making it big; no, they want instant fame for fame's sake, they want to climb out of a limo at a film premiere, have papparazzi on their doorstep, but they don't want to work for it, they're not even interested in artistic achievement, purely the trappings of fame.

The appeal of The X Factor and, it has to be said, Dragon's Den is the pleasure people get out of watching others suffer. In The X Factor they want to see and hear the performers being slagged off by the judges, they want to witness the abuse of the judges by rogue contestants. With Dragon's Den they want to watch those pitching for financial backing sweat and hear the 'dragons' exclaim, "I'm out!" It's nothing to do with business and admiring the acumen and commercial know-how of the contestants.

One of the most telling song lyrics is Travie McCoy/Bruno Mars "I want to be a billionaire". My daughter sings it innocently, but whenever I hear it, I find myself thinking how desperate and shallow do you have to be to want to be a billionaire? One thing I've learned this year is that, while money is important, it's not the be all and end all.

It's with the above backdrop in mind that I turn my attention to the rioters and the looters - are they desperate people grabbing a flatscreen television or a few tee-shirts that they would otherwise be unable to afford? Or just plain criminals out on a nicking spree? I reckon the latter is true, by and large, but I also think that there's a lot of frustrated and angry people out there. Confidence in our major institutions have been severely damaged. The expenses scandal – remember that our 'squeaky clean' David Cameron put through a claim for having his wisteria pruned – then the phone hacking scandal kicked in and, of course, there was the resulting corruption within our police forces. Everybody's 'at it'.

Of late I've been listening to Who's Next by The Who, flicking between track one (Baba O'Riley) and track nine (We Won't be Fooled Again). The latter track, of course, sums it all up:-

We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that we worshipped will be gone

Those Clash lyrics from one of my previous posts fade into obscurity when compared to Townshend's words.

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