Saturday, 13 August 2011

Let's hope this is an end of something

On Monday, I spent the night listening to the whine of the police helicopter overhead, lying in bed with my clothes on, in case I had leave in a hurry. There's been two gang-related shootings within 500 yards of my house this summer, so I figured if was going to kick off, it might do so nearby.

I thought of my elderly neighbour, whose father died in the Bristol Blitz, and wondered if she could hear the droning, overhead. Occassionally, I tried to explain, via Twitter, to bemused people in other countries, that this wasn't a protest, just an outbreak of mayhem.

It was one of the worst nights I'd spent in a long time.

I wasn't surprised there were riots this summer. I just expected a better class of riot. You know, students, public sector workers, that kind of thing. There has been a funny atmosphere around for a while, a sort of uncertain, shifting feeling in the air that is hard to describe without resorting to some kind of hippy toss. Whenever I've mentioned this, more people than I've expected have acknowledged the same sensation, and similarly failed to articulate it.

Riot and Recession. Thanks, guys.
What's worth remembering is that this year, we've had approximately one 'historic event' per week, and the next is underway before we've had a chance to think about last week's. I can't even remember the full list of game-changing events that have happened in 2011, and it's only bleedin' August.

At New Year, I pedantically pointed out that 2011 was a new decade, since decades begin with a 1. But when I think of the start of the past decade, I don't think of the Millenium, but the Twin Towers in September 2001. Epochs are funny things, and you're never sure when they're over. All I can say is that I really hope we're looking at two events which will bookend off a ghastly decade.

Whatever has happened to you personally in the last decade, you can't deny that politically, it's been grim. The Twin Towers attacks gave a licence to roll over any notions of diplomacy or forbearance, while in Britain ego-maniac politicians forgot why they'd been elected, in favour of playing war with the bigger boys. A kind of 'There Is No Alternative' culture developed, in which democracy was sidelined.

The government in the UK ran the national finances with a view to votes, abandoning any pretence of a well-balanced economy, and simply letting the finance sector run riot. In order to keep the population happy and supine, they fuelled a debt-funded bubble that gave an illusion of increasing wealth, while milking the cash cow of the city. They then passed their cut of this money on to pointless employment schemes. Most of these schemes and projects created nothing but a post in an office, shoving around paper. I know, because I did some of them.

Everyone who could, trousered the proceeds. Screw anyone who got screwed in the process. Poverty was embarrassing, and being a loser, well, it was for losers. And nobody wants to admit being one of them.

The media climbed on too. They never questioned the economics, the boom, the bubble, and anyone who did was mocked, seen as a bit embarrassing. TV and papers churned out lifestyle advice: buy a property! Eat this stuff! Wear these clothes! More than one set of 'reality' TV programes worked on a format where a perfectly normal person was taken up, mocked, and ridiculed, and the re-presented to us, in the image of the upper class. A barrage of shame was aimed at those who did not conform to the new conformism. Art and artists did too: there was so much money around.

Meanwhile, a huge and huger gap between rich and poor was disguised by the government's rhetoric about 'minorities' and an endless stream of projects which employed the middle classes. The government abandoned any pretence of caring for those post-war staples, Housing and Jobs.

Then, around 2007, it all started to crack. Nothing seemed to happen, immediately. You can keep cooking in a cracked pot for years, and suddenly, one day, it falls apart in your hands. That's 2011.

It's no longer possible to keep people sweet with house price rises: no-one can afford it any more. It's no longer possible to dish out phoney public sector jobs: the City won't fund 'em any more. It's no longer possible to walk over Arab Nations in the name of terrorism, we can't afford the bombs. And what's more, those nations have suddenly discovered their voice, and turn out to be a lot more interested in justice and democracy, than we have been, for a long long time.

And now, in an orgy of smashed windows, consumerism has reached its logical end-point. If you want it, steal it. After all, we've lived through a decade in which everyone has sold their soul. For something, for a car, a cushy job, for a grant or a 50% rise in equity. Show me the money, baby. Morals are like, soooo 1940's, and we know we're sophisticated, right, everybody?

And that's the end point of that. A group of semi-literate youths smashing up shops, burning down houses while the rest of us cower under our duvets, afraid to go outside. Nice. It's been a nice decade, people, and I think it's turned out brilliant.

I don't know what the solutions are: I just know it's one ghastly ten-year fuck-up. And really, people, let's do something better with the next one.

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