Guest Post: London’s Burning—A Riot By Any Other Name?

Last month, London burned.

Rioters took to the streets and for five days, smashed, robbed and burned their way through a number of suburbs. News footage showed teenagers being robbed by groups of people pretending to assist them, restaurant goers being mugged over dinner by large mobs, vigilante groups taking to the streets for justice, and thieves trying on shoes before stealing them from looted shops.

Buildings which had stood for over 150 years were burned to the ground, and riot police were ignored or attacked by large mobs of young people who sacked the streets.

The riots, which caused over a billion dollars worth of damage, saw more than 1000 people arrested and left five people dead, have been blamed on criminal gangs, social networking sites and a lawless generation of young people who lack respect.

British Home Secretary, Theresa May, has denounced the riots as being acts of “sheer criminality.”

“The violence we’ve seen, the looting we’ve seen, the thuggery we’ve seen—this is sheer criminality,” she said, and by saying so she has, like so many others, simplified the issue to deal with it in the simplest terms possible. But these watery explanations about lawless youths do not fully address the issues of rioting and are rife with problematic reasoning and contradiction.

A perfect example of the problems with this type of reasoning can be found in an Australian publication which discussed the London riots. The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt took a similar approach to May, and attributed the violence that took place on the streets of London to a loss of family values in a contemporary world. (But let’s be honest here; what does Bolt not blame to a loss of family values?) Missing no opportunity to push his conservative agenda, Bolt claims that in the London riots, “What we saw was the kind of people hidden in the cavities of decaying society” and that these people, or at least what he refers to as its “underclasses”, are “lazy, resentful and greedy, being handed everything from the food on their plate to the plasma in the corner”.

He then gives a number of examples of the youths participating in the riots, documenting their crimes, and painting a picture of a generation of young people who are out of control. But herein lies the first contradiction; if young people are the main perpetrators of these types of crimes, as Bolt highlighted by giving examples of 11-year-old children participating in the riots, how can he object to them being given the food on their plate, or even a plasma television? (Not that I have ever heard of the poor being given free plasmas anywhere in the world, now that he has mentioned it). Since when do we not feed our children, or expect them to provide for themselves? And does it really seem logical to blame the riots on the poor for being spoiled with food? Doesn’t it seem more likely that there may be something more to this story? Rather than simplifying the issue by blaming riots on a loss of family values and a delinquent underclass, it would be better to engage with the complex history of rioting that exists across Europe and with the unique psychological effects of rioting, particularly on children and young people, who live in areas of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and who experience high levels of feelings of relative depravation as a consequence.

Relative deprivation is basically where someone feels as though that have been deprived, not in worldly comparison, but in comparison to affluence or privilege that surrounds them on a daily basis, and which they are unable to access. It is becoming increasingly common across the Western world, and other places, as the global division between rich and poor becomes wider and as wealth becomes more visible through the media. Relative deprivation is an increasingly important phenomenon, which has been linked not only to rioting, but to other acts of violence and civil unrest, including terrorism. The psychological impacts of relative deprivation need to be further studied and better understood, particularly when “blaming-the-poor” narratives keep appearing in articles like Bolt’s, potentially adding more fuel to the civil unrest fire by ignoring the phenomenon.

Having noted the importance of feelings of relative deprivation, it is also quite plausible that the deprivation felt by these young rioters, may not only be relative. The social and political changes which have occurred in London over the past 12 months, and which have had negative consequences for many Londoners, are also likely to have had a significant impact on the rioters. One of the most notable in this case is police violence.

Riots are not typically the acts of criminals, although criminals have been known to capitalise on them; rioting has been used since before the seventeenth century by groups and individuals to express civil unrest and negative feelings toward authority figures. Although usually triggered by a particular event, riots occur after ongoing and sustained civil unrest.

The catalyst which triggered the London riots was the suspicious police shooting of Mark Duggan, an unarmed civilian, killed by police. One witness has alleged Duggan was shot at close range while pinned the ground by the police, and although this account is far from substantiated, it is known the Duggan was unarmed at the time of his death and that the bullets which the police claimed were fired at them, came from a police gun. The riots began as a peaceful vigil outside a police station, where friends and family of Duggan gathered to demand police adequately explain the circumstances of Duggan’s death. Other people, not involved in the vigil or immediately known to the Duggan family, triggered the riots by setting fire to a police car when police refused to acknowledge the vigil or address the mourning family. From then on, the riots rapidly escalated and spread throughout the city, far removed from their peaceful beginnings, and without being condoned at any point by Duggan’s family.

It is important to note that although Duggan’s shooting was the catalyst to the riots, it was not an isolated case. Police violence has become an increasingly troubling problem for the English over the last few years, particularly since the introduction of tasers in 2004, and in the last 12 months alone London Police have been widely criticised for a number of violent acts, including the brutalising of a non-violent student protester with cerebral palsy by fully-riot-gear-equipped police officers, who dragged him from his wheelchair (his only source of mobility) and then hauled him across the pavement. Similar acts of police aggression can be seen even after the riots, in the deaths of Dale Burns, 27, Jacob Michael, 25, and Philip Hulmes, 53, who all died within the last month, following incidents in which police used either tasers or pepper spray. In each case, there were at least eight officers arresting a single person, and in Michael’s case, there were 11 police present after Michael himself called them for help. During his arrest for an unknown crime, he was pepper sprayed, pinned to the floor, handcuffed and then beaten for up to 15 minutes by all 11 officers before being arrested. Two hours later, Michael died in police custody.

The purpose of presenting this evidence of police violence is not to vilify police and champion rioters, but rather to demonstrate that the issues which have contributed to the civil unrest that led to riots are complex and widespread. It also highlights that there are significant policing issues which need to be addressed in the UK and which are, by Scotland Yard’s own admission, causing a “growing anti-police sentiment” which is marked by “fury” and that during the riots “there was an atmosphere of absolute hatred towards the police and the establishment—the government—because they feel abandoned, the cuts in youth services, the cuts right across the board.” The increase in police violence is, in turn, leading to an increase in civil unrest. It is no coincidence that one day after the death of Hulmes, a marked police car was petrol bombed while patrolling in North London; just as it was no coincidence that riots ensued after the shooting of Duggan.  The same thing happened in Tottenham in 1985 with riots against racially motivated police violence and it will happen again, if these issues are not addressed.

Police violence was a trigger for the London riots, but not the only cause of civil unrest in London. Other recent and highly inflammatory occurrences include the rising unemployment rate (just under 8% of the population cannot find a job in England, a figure which continues to rise), an openly corrupt media blatantly flaunting basic human rights and the law (see billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his cronies escaping criminal charges after deleting vital evidence in the murder investigation of Milly Dowler, where phone messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive.), the rapidly increasing cost of living (the cost of a loaf of bread has tripled in the last five years), and the extremely fast-rising cost of education (the cost of a university degree has also nearly tripled in England in the last year). These are but a few of the troubles ailing England; it is not surprising that young people might feel helpless and angry, or that they might not care if their actions disrupt plans for the Olympic games, or upset local diners and traders.

Furthermore, that the riots spread so far so fast doesn’t mean London’s “underclasses” are felonious criminals. It is well known that once a riot begins, individuals begin to exhibit pack-like behaviours in the heightened excitement and highly charged atmosphere. Young people and children are particularly prone to this psychological influence, which makes it very easy for them to be caught up in the activities of the crowd, and similarly, it can be difficult for them to associate their actions with concepts of right and wrong.

Yet little of the reporting that has taken place about the London riots has yet to examine rioting in London, and indeed the wider context of Europe, and to examine the social, political and psychological aspects of rioting, not to mention the economic considerations, which most certainly would have played their part.

England has a close history with rioting, which spans over centuries, and it is not now, nor has it really ever been, merely the acts of criminal groups who opportunistically pray on an unsuspecting society. Instead, riots reflect a much deeper and wider frustration, which in 2011 was triggered by episodes of police violence. The areas which were most badly damaged in the riots are those which have high levels of poverty, and relative deprivation, where the rich and the poor share spaces as neighbours, living in deep contrast of one another. Blaming the poor for being spoiled is like saying “let them eat cake.” It didn’t work for the French all those centuries ago, and it won’t work now.

—Tessa Keane.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Life Below the Poverty Line is a Horrible Place.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Not Quite Out of the Woods—The State of Australian Politics.

Elsewhere: [The Age] London Riots Spread as Police Lose Control.

[Herald Sun] Rioters Show a Nation Split & Family Values Gone Forever.

[CBC News] London Riots Erupt After Fatal Police Shooting.

[London Progressive Journal] Jody McIntyre: Victim of Police Brutality & Media Distortion.

[The Guardian] Man Does After Taser Arrest Near Bolton.

[The Guardian] Notting Hill Carnival: Tensions High After Recent Deaths, Say Police.

[The Observer] Notting Hill Carnival Curfew Plan is “Pie in the Sky”, Warn Police on Ground.

[The Guardian] Missing Milly Dowler’s Voicemail Was Hacked by News of the World.

[The Telegraph] London Living Costs on the Rise.

Image via Chi Movement.

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes*.

Proposition me with a trip to the movies to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, ordinarily, I wouldn’t be interested. Sci-fi, James Franco… not a fan of either.

But show me the trailer, with a heavy focus on the humanity of apes and how they’re  “just like us!” and hella yeah, I’m down to see it.

The film begins with James Franco as a scientist, who has been working on an anti-Alzheimer’s drug by injecting it into apes to see if their brains can repair themselves. Not only does the drug A-1-12 do this, it also creates new pathways in the brain, which means the recipient knows and can do things they couldn’t before.

Bright Eyes, the ape who produced such results, goes ape-shit, so to speak, and is put down. What was thought to be the drug’s fault is attributed to Bright Eyes’ unknown pregnancy and birth, and “she was just being protective” of the baby ape hidden in her enclosure.

The experiment is shut down and Franco’s character, Will Rodman, sees no option but to take the baby ape home to the San Francisco house he shares with his Alzheimer’s-inflicted father, Charles, played by John Lithgow.

Fast forward three years and Caesar, whom they’ve named the now-super ape, has had the A-1-12 transferred to him at birth, it is discovered. He has his own play area in the attic, and he gazes down at the human world below him, aching to experience life outside the confines of the Rodman home.

During this time, Will steals some vials of the A-1-12 drug and secretly gives them to the ailing Charles. The results are overnight and miraculous. With the introduction of Freida Pinto’s veterinarian Caroline, who barely has five lines in the movie and is literally the only female character, bar Bright Eyes who is killed off in the first five minutes to further the story for the male characters, it’s all one big happy family.

Five years later, Will is struggling to care for his dad, whose body has developed immunity to A-1-12, and to wrangle the increasingly smart, inquisitive, lonely and strong Caesar, who attacks a neighbour for roughing up Charles when he tries to drive away in his luxury car in a dementia-induced stupor.

Will is forced to send Caesar away, to a primate enclosure in the city. Unbeknownst to Will, Caesar and the other apes are treated like crap by the attendants, who are the first victims when the apes stage a revolution.

Each time Will and Caroline come to visit Caesar, he gradually wants nothing to do with them. He begrudges Will for abandoning him and allowing him to be treated “like an animal”.

This notion is really at the crux of the film. We treat animals like beings less than ourselves, even though we know more than ever about their thinking and feeling capacities, and we will live to suffer the consequences.

There are consequences when we treat them too much like humans, too. (Paging Paris Hilton.) We can see that when Caesar leads the motley crew of apes freed from “sanctuaries”, like the one Caesar and the other apes escape from, laboratories and the zoo, and when he tells (yes, apes can speak now. The miracle of A-1-12.) Will he’s “home” with his own species.

This is after the climactic Golden Gate Bridge fight scene, where man versus ape in an overwhelming victory for the latter. This scene perfectly illustrates the “pack mentality” we accuse sports stars of, and is illustrated by the London riots and the gang-rape of Lara Logan.

Other subtle and not-so-subtle metaphors in the film include the dichotomy of war, racism, prison, how we treat refugees, how we treat those we don’t understand, testing on animals (which, in this film, is null and void: Franklin, a lab technician who dies towards the end of the film after being exposed to the virus strain of A-1-12, A-1-13, proving it may work on apes, but it certainly doesn’t on humans) and, of course, the aforementioned way we treat animals.

I’m a sucker for an animal movie, and cried pretty much through the whole thing! And these “animals” weren’t even real! But, in retrospect, the flawless special effects and underlying meaning weren’t enough to save the dismal character development and non-ape related storyline. Pretty much all the characters were interchangeable.

I’m not a big fan of James Franco, and in this movie he didn’t annoy me with his James Franco-ness but, having said that, I would rather that than a repeat of his Oscars coast-through, which his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a mirror image of.

In terms of Pinto being the only woman in the movie, perhaps her no-character Caroline could have been spared in favour of one other female character with a bit of substance, a backstory, and a driving force in the storyline: mother Charlotte instead of father Charles.

But really, this reasoning is clutching at straws, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really all about the… erm… apes. Humans are merely transposable caricatures.

*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.

 

 

 

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Time’s “What Animals Think” August 16, 2010 Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Asylum Seekers: Have a Little Compassion.

Image via IMDb.

 

Magazine Review: frankie—January/February 2011.

frankie’s last couple of issues have been fairly lackluster, however the January/February edition marks a return to form for the mag.

In terms of the pictorials, frankie’s got the hipster-esque “Magnificent Specimens”, where “photographer Dave Mead shares his favourite beardy portraits (p.45), laptop-sleeve porn on page 58, which made me yearn just that little bit more for the brand-new MacBook I am currently typing this on (!!), and Emily Chalmers shows off her “old renovated” London warehouse, where “she works as a stylist, author and shop owner of [boutique] Caravan (p. 87). At the back of the book, four artists draw their cities, with Nancy Mungcal from Los Angeles taking the take (in my book) on page 120.

It is also a quality feature-heavy edition this time around, with Heathers, Muriel’s Wedding and Gone with the Wind making an appearance in “Movies to Swear By” (p. 50), Jo Walker writing that catching a contagious yawn makes you an empathetic person (p. 110), and the world’s strangest holidays, like Punctuation Day and National Wear a Plunger on Your Head Day, on page 114.

Benjamin Law is always a joy to read (should have included his latest, Family Law, in my “The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t”), and his articles this (bi-)month are no exception.

On page 57, Law laments life in the ’burbs, writing:

“Sing to me of Merril Bainbridge cassingles and of pas that play Tina Arena’s “Sorrento Moon” on repeat. Sing to me of Muffin Break and Mathers, of Lowes and Bi-Lo. Sing to me, oh acne-ravaged Asian teenager working at Big W named Benjamin Law, even though you’re going through puberty and really shouldn’t sing at all. Sing it sweet, and sing it loud!”

Whilst over in “An Open Letter To… The Straight Men of Australia” (p. 74), he asserts that they:

“… cop a raw deal, and that’s a culture that tells you to be a dumb, macho, insensitive piece of shit…

“But hey, the rest of us can only speculate what you’re feeling. Because god knows you can’t talk about flowery poofter stuff like feelings. Want to talk about your feelings? Clearly, you must be gay! Want to tell someone you’re sad? Go buy some tissues, gaylord! Want to ask someone whether that cardigan looks good on you? Whether you should call that girl? Whether it’s OK to drink white wine instead of a beer? Gay, gay, gay. Clearly, you’re so gay you poo rainbows…

“If you want to know what is or isn’t gay, ask me. I’m gay. I should know. Feel free to write this down somewhere so you don’t forget. Telling another dude he looks good? That’s not gay. (Women do that all the time, and you don’t see them going all weak-kneed for snatch afterwards…

“… ‘gay’ means feeling an uncontrollable urge to place yourself inside another man. Do you feel that urge? … if the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘sometimes’, well, you should come around to my place and talk. You know, about your ‘feelings’.”

Hil-al-arious!

And what I was originally going to make the first-ever “Magazine Clipping of the Week” before I’d ventured into the rest of frankie and realised it was worthy of a full review, is Rowena Grant-Frost’s essay on the dilemmas of sexiness=grown-upness (p. 40): sassy writing on a real-life issue.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Magazine Review: frankie September October 2010.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Top Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Profile: Rachel Hills of Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.

I’ve only become familiar with Rachel Hills, sex and gender blogger at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, in the past few months, but she’s made her way to the top of my must-read blogs. Here, she answers questions about her inspiration, future writing goals and what she does in her spare time in a new city (she recently moved from Australia to begin a new chapter of her life in London).

 

Can you give us a quick run-down of your professional writing portfolio thus far?

I’ve been freelancing for six years now, and have written for (in alphabetical order) the ABC, The Age, The Australian, The Big Issue, The Bulletin, The Canberra Times, Cleo, Cosmopolitan, The Courier-Mail, Girlfriend, Girls’ Life (US), Glamour (UK), The Huffington Post, Jezebel, The Monthly, New Matilda, Russh, Sunday Life, Sunday Magazine, Sydney Morning Herald, Vogue, The Walkley Magazine and YEN, as well as a bunch of smaller, indie magazines and blogs.

I got my start writing opinion pieces for the Sydney Morning Herald. These days, I usually write “think piece” features on personal-is-political type issues, or women’s mag fare with smarts.

 

How long have you been blogging at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman and what made you decide to start a blog?

I just did a quick scan of my archives and discovered I just reached my three year anniversary on October 30.

I’ve written for the internet pretty much ever since it was possible to (I started my first website in 1998), but I was always kind of hesitant of writing publicly under my own name. As a teenager because of my secret pop music loving shame, as a university student because I was involved in student politics and that makes you extremely paranoid (not of people digging up info on you when you become a politician, but of people digging up info on you and putting it in the student newspaper), and then as an adult because I didn’t want to cannibalise my own story ideas.

I cracked through basically because I loved reading other people’s blogs, and because I was inspired by the way that other journalistsparticularly in the USwere using blogs to connect with their audiences. My blog was quite different when I first started writing it, thoughit was more a mix of political commentary, scrapbook and lifecast, as opposed to the more reflective, personal-is-political blog it is today.

What are some of your favourite blogs?

I have a soft spot for blogs which make you feel like you’re getting to know the person writing itblogs like Gala Darling, Girl With A Satchel, Wordsmith Lane, The Ch!cktionary, Emily Magazine, Garance Dore, Style Rookie and The Early Bird Catches The Worm [that's me!] are often at the top of my Google Reader.

I also love blogs that make me think about thingsFeministe, Pandagon, The Awl, Tiara The Merch Girl, Rabbit White, Kapooka Baby, Jezebel, Hugo Schwyzer, Racialicious. And people like Chris Brogan, Seth Godin and Chris Guillebeau are like mentors I’ve never met when it comes to things like blogging and community building.

I’ve lost count of the number of blogs I subscribe to on Google Reader, though, so that’s really just scraping the surface of what I read.

What has been your proudest writing-related achievement to date?

I don’t think I actually have one! There are lots of stories I’m fond of, and I still get excited whenever I get a story up, but there isn’t one that stands out as being more significant than the others. I suppose the one I was most proud of at the time was that first opinion piece in the SMH. And I hope my book will be my proudest writing accomplishment in a couple of years.

 

And your proudest non-writing achievement?

In 2006, I travelled around the US meeting some of my favourite journalists and editors: people from The Economist, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, US Cosmopolitan and so on. Very nerdy, but also very gutsy lots of people at home thought I was a bit of a weirdo for attempting it (with a couple of notable exceptions). I’m quite proud of that.

 

Back to your book, to be titled The Sex Myth; how is it coming along?

Haha, it’s coming along okay. I’m dedicating a lot of time to it at the moment, and there are bits of it that I really like, which is nice. I’ve shown the overview to a few high profile people, and the response has been universally very positive. I’m just trying to get everything in place at the moment to translate that positivity into a kickass book deal.

 

You’ve written about workaholism and the work/life balance in the past. How do you balance all your commitments?

It was much, much harder when I was living in Australia and holding down a near full-time job. Now that I’m working for myself again, it’s much easier to fit in all the things I want to work on, and living with my partner means I still make plenty of time for myself. (When he’s away, I start working later, procrastinating more and sleeping less.)

That said, even working for myself, I’m still managing four main areas of workfreelancing, book, PhD and blogonly one of which pays. So finding time for all of them can be a bit tricky.

 

What is your favourite way to unwind?

Having spent the past two and a half years of my life reading books on the philosophy of sex, I’ve developed a bit of a fiction obsession recently. It’s so much easier and more relaxing to read than the academic stuff I’m usually buried in.

I’m also really enjoying getting to know London, and digging out all the interesting things there are to do here. My boyfriend often asks me how I manage to find all the things we check outphotographic treasure hunts, interactive theatre, art galleries, bars with secret passage ways.

And yoga. It’s clichéd, but it relaxes me, keeps me fit and keeps my bad neck (from too much time sitting in front of a computer) in proper alignment.

 

Because most bloggers write about things they’re passionate about, as I know both you and I do, do you find sometimes it’s a chore to churn out posts on, for example, mag-world musings or the happenings on your favourite TV show (you and I both share a penchant for Gossip Girl) and the like, as previously you would have done those things for pleasure? Because that’s definitely something I struggle with from time to time.

Because I write for a living, one thing I’m very careful to do is keep blogging a pleasure. The main way I do this is by writing when I’m feeling inspired: if the writing doesn’t flow easily, blogging starts to feel like an obligation… and while I have no concrete evidence of this, I suspect it makes the posts less interesting to read, too. If I’m not feeling inspired and haven’t updated much that week, I’ll try to find something else around the net that I think will be of interest to my audience and share that with them instead.

What advice do you have for other bloggers?

Don’t feel like you have to get it right immediately. Sure, the internet sticks around forever, so you want to think before you post, but blogging is something you learn by doing just like anything else, and chances are it will take you a while to find your best blogging voice. (It took me a while, and I’d been writing on the net for nearly 10 years and writing professionally for three when I started. And I’m still learning.) Experiment until you find that perfect intersection of what you love, what feels authentic for you, and what people respond to.

 

And finally, where do you see yourself, writing-wise, in the future?

I’d like to just keep on doing what I do now, only on a bigger and better level, with all the aspects of my work (journalism, blogging, books) feeding into one another.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman].