Consumer Riots for Consumer Rights: a smashed window to 21st Century Britain

Whilst it might seem strange to make such a link but watching the riots in London and elsewhere the pastfew nights made me recall something I wrote following the death of Jade Goody. At the time, I wrote about how British society had been shaped by:

“…a decade of New Labour superficiality; the growth of the cult of celebrity; the veneration of its most shallow idols; the adoration of excess and greed; the voyeurism of schadenfreude; the cultural antipathy towards intellectualism; and the nihilistic and myopic rejection of social and personal morality…”

I spoke of how Jade Goody’s:

“…followers will look up to her, aspire to the material trappings that so clearly failed to bring her happiness, and to wish that they too were like her. More so, they will wish that their children were like her”

Look beyond the tragicomic death of a Z-list ‘celebrity’ and much of what we have been watching unfold in Tottenham, Ealing, Clapham, Croydon and everywhere else is symptomatic of the very same things: the reality of today’s Britain.

We are witnessing groups of young people driven by the ‘adoration of excess and greed’ opportunistically and irresponsibly loot and destroy, perpetrated by those who are the products of a ‘nihilistic and myopic society’ that decades before rejected ‘social and personal morality’. These young people – like the vast majority of their peers – believe that the wholesale acquisition of the latest material trappings – the Adidas trainers, the Blackberry mobiles, the Samsung flat screen tvs and more – will make their lives better, happier, sexier, more attractive and whatever else they are fed by the advertisers in their relentless drive to shift the latest iPad 2, 3 4, 5 and 6. If the sales continue, to infinity and beyond.

These young people are, like us all, consumers who believe it is their ‘right’ to have each and every one of these highly desirable and beautiful adornments.

These riots therefore are not driven by politics. They are not riots that seek to influence or bring about political change – we have to be clear and honest about this. And they have very little to do with the peaceful and rightful protest that took place in Tottenham last Saturday.

No. These are riots that are driven by the want of consumerism perpetrated by consumers, ‘consumer riots’ for consumer rights: surely the first of its kind.

The riots are about acquiring a material entity that the perpetrators believe will – albeit however temporarily – have a positive impact or change in their lives. Tragically, they believe that this short term gain will be better than trying to change their lot: to bring about the political change necessary that other lesser riots and protests have been able to successfully achieve in the past.

But we should not be surprised by this because all of these individuals – and far too many more – are completely detached from politics in this country. Very few feel that they have a genuine stake in contemporary British society or indeed much else.

As Nina Power in the Guardian puts it:

“Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness…have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world”

She goes on to explain how we live in:

“…a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country”

We can neither forget nor overlook this. Already, far too many in society and far too many of our political leaders irrespective of party political persuasion have collectively overlooked and forgotten about far too large a swathe of people in today’s society. This has contributed to the moral and social void that we are seeing unfold but this is not a wholesale excuse. Far from it.

But this is the real face of 21st century Britain. And sadly, these are very 21st century British riots.

Indefensable? Yes. Surprising or unexpected? No.

If nothing else, the riots have provided us a (smashed) window through which we can see exactly what 21st century Britain really looks like. And in all honesty, it’s not very nice.


3 thoughts on “Consumer Riots for Consumer Rights: a smashed window to 21st Century Britain

  1. Some of this could have come from the keyboard of Melanie Phillips. Rioting and looting are hardly a new phenomenon, particularly in London, where it has happened on and off for centuries. Nor is it new elsewhere. The deaths of teenagers in Paris in 2005 sparked months of rioting and looting that went well beyond a political reaction to institutional French racism. The beating of Rodney King in 1992 led to rioting and looting and copycat rioting and looting that went well beyond any initial protest over police racism. Some of it is about disaffection. Some of it is about the mentality of a crowd. Some of it is about youth. Some of it is about excitement and adventure. However, none of it is new or unique as you suggest.

  2. Chris – a friend and myself were discussing this on facebook. Here is my perspective – these factors are probably not the only cause but I daresay it has certianly contributed:

    I suspect personally it is primarily a culture of the glorification of violence combined with a lack of adequate parenting – I’ve seen so much of this laissez-faire style of parenting (never telling a child off for misbehaving, refusing to believe teachers when they inform you of a behavioural problem, using excessive agression in dealing with disagreements etc). I KNEW (well, ok, I suspected) many years ago when I was in my early teens that we would get behaviour like this one day – I was just naive enough to think it wouldn’t happen until after our time. When you hear the following discussions taking place between a father and son, you know that there will problems with violent youths in the future:

    Son (about 6 or 7): Andy at school keeps taking things off of me.
    Dad: Then tell him to f*ck off then
    Son: But then he’ll get his dad on me
    Dad: Well let him and I’ll f*ckin stab the b*stard

    We can see it in the schools and have done for years (my mum is a teaching assistant and my sister is a teacher) – parents are either unable or unwilling to instil discipline and respect in their children. Children who cannot respect themselves or their parents are hardly likely to respect other people or their property – much less society. Children who are not disciplined cannot discipline themselves, which in turn means that they cannot moderate their behaviours appropriately

    I suspect the current socio-economic problems with debt etc (which are partly the result of our society’s irresponsible spending) as well as the lack of jobs has (I suspect) mostly acted as a catalyst for this behaviour.

    Let me know you views/opinions


    1. Hi Barry…I’m so confused with all of this at the moment I can’t get a grip on it. But you’re right too, it’s a massive and complex issue and my take is just one aspect of it.
      Leave it with me and I’ll respond more specifically to your comments when I’ve started to process it…Chris

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