The train to Edinburgh is speeding along at a gazillion miles an hour. Yukiko is sleeping across from me while Trish does homework for Orestes next to me and I am left alone with my thoughts. Time for a bit of an update — It’s been a few days.
Okay – We had the riots.
So that was world-wide news. Young people in rage rose up for four nights in a row in the capital to pillage, rob, and smash. Bins through windows, shops in flames, stuff stolen. People forming orderly lines outside of shops so they can more efficiently hand out televisions, bags of food, trainers, and whatever else isn’t bolted down. Shopping centres closed, gangs of police stood on every corner, and girls avoided travelling alone. It was a period of tummolt. Interestingly, I finished writing the first draft of the Mommy and Daddy redux during the second day of the riots. It seemed like perfect timing because one of the stronger themes in that play is that of social revolt and inequality. The media was, predictably, condescending and inflamatory in its portrayal of the youth — the ‘yobs’ — who, in the depiction of the British government and media, were simply degenerates acting out pure criminality; destroying their own communities without regard. And in a way, this is true — there was a lot of mindless destruction and selfish aquisition during the riots, but to suggest that these people were not expressing outrage is not only to completely miss the point, it trivializes all the financial loss, spent energy, and random destruction. In a time when the conservatives are safely ensconced in power here and gleefully cutting great swaths from the tapestry of social works in this country (and indeed all across the globe), people – the ‘little people’ – are losing access to programs, aid, education, healthcare, and housing. Everything’s getting more and more expensive, and those at the top of this structure are quite insulated from all of the loss. In fact, profits are soaring for many in the private sector. Energy companies consistently raise the cost of power and gas, effectively cutting access to these crucial services to the poorest members of society, but profits are up. The excesses of the rich and the near rich plaster the newspaper, the walls of the subway, the television… people find themselves in what feels like a hopeless situation. Despite the myths that we live in a free society and anyone can rise up, the system is set up to aid those that have more and to punish those who have less. And people are angry. But they’re also poorly educated and disorganized. So it was that, instead of massing in the richest parts of town and rising up to tear down the towers of commerce, toppling the banks, the corporate headquarters, and the penthouse suites, they just erupted, like a boil being lanced, right where they were, bringing violence and destruction to the areas where it was least effective as a tool of the revolution. What they needed was leadership. A sense of cooperation and prpose, but these segments of society are so broken and deprived that there was nothing but blind rage, feelings of desparate need, and like starving people who see food to be had, once the dam burts, people tried to get whatever they could.
Almost all the responses to the riots expressions of condemnation for the rioters, holding up the bands of people who tried to stop the looters, and those who came together to help clean up affected areas as examples of what ‘good, productive members of society’ did in contrast to the base, animal actions of ‘the shameful minority’. The lesson is that good members of society are all happy because we live in an age when we can buy anything, and buying things is your pardon. Your validation as a productive and goodly person. We all understand the value of acquisition. The sacredness of shopping. Getting stuff. New stuff. Especially new stuff. It’s important, and as long as you’re getting stuff, you’re okay. Provided you don’t molest children or or say sexist things, as long as you’re buying stuff, you’re helping to build society. But the problem with this is that the system is massively, violently abusive. The system is like a great, global, sanctioned rape. It breeds inequality, unfulfillable desire, sets unrealistic expectations, and sets the standard, financially, socially, emotionally, and intellectually at an impossible level. People are told by Disney that anyone can be a princess, and it’s cute and wonderful because it’s fiction, and we understand that, but we also don’t *really* believe that it’s fiction — because we were raised up on those lies. And they’re seductive. So part of us (the part we’re probably ashamed of) buys it. And of course this leads to a huge disconnect when we reach a certain age and we figure out that the fairy tale isn’t going to come true. Cinderella better just pick that iron back up and get back to work because prince charming’s not coming. This is her life. Princesses don’t exist. But there’s another layer of fuckedness because, actually, princesses do exist. They don’t wear crowns (mostly) but their lives are full of enchantment and for them, there are no limits. But you’re not one of them. And nothing. No force in heaven or earth could possibly take you from where you are to where she is. Because while princesses are real, fairy godmothers are not.
In the riots, small shopkeepers were wiped out as their shops were torched and smashed, right alongside the local branches of multinational favorites like Subway and McDonalds, and major UK corporations like Curry’s and Tesco. I didn’t mention Gap because Gap doesn’t bother putting shops in places like Tottenham. And the areas where they do put shops were mostly unaffected. In Holburn, we didn’t see a single police officer on day two of the riots. Anyway, the thing about all this unfocused destruction is that, if anything, it actually probably shifted things to a slightly better place for the big guys like Ronald McDonald. Local businesses often couldn’t afford insurance, and many who did have insurance were covered for damage to their premises, but not for their stock. Structurally the buildings (which have mostly stood for centuries) will be fine after a little work (which the insurance companies will pay out on — the shopkeepers insurance carriers, saving the landlords from making claims — And if the shopkeepers don’t cover the cost, there’s always legal action — one way or another, the people who own the property are in good shape as they always have been. The little shopkeepers are finished after the insurance payouts of course, because they have no way to restock their stores, and their insurance premiums will have gone through the roof by now anyway so operating costs, which were already stretched to the breaking point, would be prohibitive… But McDonalds… McDonalds are fine. Because they have pockets so deep they could survive nuclear winter and still be turning out McNuggets. So when the dust clears, rents are a little lower, competition’s down, and the disaster provides a good reason for slick political moves like offering subsidies to ‘socially conscious’ corporations who ‘help to rebuild’ affected areas. Everybody wins. Except for the bastards who never had any choices in the first place.
And it wasn’t the very poorest who were rioting anyway. They couldn’t be rioting because they were too broken and exhausted by their lives. When it was all over, the politicians told how the rioters were shameful, but how the riots had also brought out the best of London — These people desparate to keep the status quo ticking over — mostly people not too far up the social ladder from the rioters, but who buy into the lies and believe they’re really helping. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief and the understanding is that, apart from a huge number of show trials and maybe less cuts for police budgets, things will go back to normal. They way they should be. The cycle of acquisition once more complete. I agree with the sentiment that the riots were an occasion for shame; that it was a tragic episode, but somehow I think that’s where my agreement with the man ends.