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Hang 'em, Flog 'em, Film 'em!

Last night I turned on the tv to find a show about rioters (the traditional kind, not the banksters who won't make it onto cctv). The bbc had managed to find a group of teenagers that had participated in the riots and been caught and their parents (a couple whose kids were inside still). To be fair the show did become less ‘for the gallery’ by the end. But the whole tone seemed to be rather demanding, and somewhat pointless. In fact the premise seemed rather flawed because the only people that would agree to participate would be those that felt some measure of contrition. The ones that didn’t care obviously wouldn’t agree to be filmed (in fact I can’t understand why anyone would, but these are young adults/kids we are talking about).

So a series of interviews to camera are conducted by a disembodied voice asking trite and obvious questions ‘why did you do it?’. We learn nothing about the riots at all. It’s obvious these kids are just victims of the moment – that’s not to say they have no culpability or that smashing shit up is healthy. But they are not rampaging monsters. The whole affair seemed rather pointless to me and its existence solely intended to sate the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade. I suspect no amount of explanation would ever silence the right wing’s furious barrage of ‘why, why, why!’

I don’t know; what can we say about this? The right wing media is fundamentally incapable of understanding the riots. They cannot understand why people would do this because they only focus on the end result: kids nicking plasma screens. They just cannot understand and will never grasp why. These are people caught up in the moment that have spent their lives within a consumer society run by hypocrisy – and lord knows we need someone to blame. Society now, and this is a quality the Tories love, enjoys blaming people and not allowing people to get over their past mistakes. One poor lad, with tears in his eyes, knew full well the consequences of his action. With a conviction for arson he’s fucked, and he knows it. His father/stepfather (I’m not sure which) as a white man (the lad is mixed race) just couldn’t grasp the lad’s expression of frustration living in London where he’s routinely subjected to the sus laws.

Interestingly, no doubt to the ire of the right wingers looking for the requisite amount of contrition (which will never be enough), one lad didn’t seem too regretful. A burgeoning sense of political activism led him to realise, with the innocence of youth, that society is unfair. He knew he was doing wrong and his mother was visibly uncomfortable, but his father, I have a sneaking suspicion, shared his views. The lad, Ryan, spoke of the behaviour of police and seemed motivated to riot to get back at what he felt was a corrupt establishment and police force. I found it hard to disagree with his views even though he lacked the maturity to realise he was only hurting his own.

In the end the views seemed to point toward the failings of the response. One parent couldn’t get an appeal for her child who will have to serve the remainder of their sentence. Another was on the way to a military career and was now signing on (has since found work apparently). The message being: what has their punishment achieved? More cost for the taxpayer, and thus something else for the masses to complain about.

I did get a sense the programme was more concerned with demanding some form of contrition and apology to the nation from these kids – and of course their ‘failure’ parents. Of course there will be a lot of people watching that will demand nothing less than them be skinned alive on tv and their heads stuck on pikes like the traitors of old. The problem is that until the masses understand what happened and why, we will never learn, and more importantly, things will never change. But I suspect we’d rather watch some kid cry with regret and frustration than effect any change in a society riddled with consumerism, programming citizens with aspiration that will never be fulfilled, and leaving them with nothing. I suspect the public thirst for vengeance (above and beyond a proper measured productive response), fuelled by the Tories, will never be sated. Though I was interested in one rioter commenting that he would do it again - just to observe and to film (and thus show) what it's really like, from the inside. You won't get that view on the beeb.


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