Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots, Media Narratives, "Scum"

I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth

But now I see the payoffs everywhere I look

Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?

Revolution calling...

--QueensrΓΏche, “Revolution Calling”

First of all, that is an awesome song off a seriously awesome record. Second of all, it is some cold hard TRUTH.

One of the things I love about social media is its ability to tell us what's really going on. The more I engage with the blogosphere, the more I understand how mainstream news sources are all skewed to a certain framework. It's not a great conspiracy; it's not even necessarily a bad thing – it's just that every part of the media has an agenda. Value-neutral example: earlier this year, when all the US news sources I follow were glued to the protests in Wisconsin, the only US-related item in the BBC evening news was coverage of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. That's because the BBC's agenda is to be the British Broadcasting Corporation, so it skews Britain-centric. What's important is to be aware of the skews and biases in the media you consume – and, ideally, to vary your news media diet enough that you can piece together a picture of the world by seeing it from different angles.

What's astonishing to me is how many people I know are uncritically consuming the mainstream media narrative of the London riots.

David Cameron has called them “criminality, pure and simple” and promised a tough response. An awful lot of people are being very vocal about their agreement with his rhetoric and his tactics.

For days now my Facebook feed has been flooded with snarling, reactionary calls for the protestors' blood. When I posted a request for people not to use the nasty, dehumanizing, highly prevalent term “scum”, I got a wealth of “but they ARE scum!” responses.

Now, I joined Facebook when I started university, so my Facebook friends are primarily people who are attending or have recently attended one of the world's highest-ranked universities – which is a nice way of saying that my friends are predominantly white and middle-class. And, as much as it sickens but doesn't really surprise me to see the awful violence spreading across England, I'm sickened but unsurprised to the same degree to see my Facebook friends spew hatred and violent rhetoric about the rioters.

I don't condone the violence. Obviously. But the braying self-righteousness of these responses is indicative of people who don't want to try to understand. They're not prepared to engage with the complexities at hand. They're not willing to examine the socioeconomic and political contributing factors. It seems to me that they just want to point the finger at looters and arsonists, declare their moral outrage, and sit back feeling smug that they would never act like those scum.

Well, how the fuck do you know that?

Youth unemployment is over 20%. Not everyone can get into a top university and rely on the mater and pater to support them financially (speaking, I hasten to add, as one who did and is doing exactly that). Not everyone can broadly trust the police to not kill them. Not everyone is white and middle-class. Who the hell are you to judge people “scum” when you haven't even tried to understand where they're coming from?

To you, it's just teenage hooligans embracing their greed and lust for violence. To you, it's just mindless criminality. Why not consider the decades of disenfranchisement and poverty, the long-term unemployment and feelings of hopelessness? Do those not factor in at all?

Read this article. Read the comments on this Shakesville piece. Try thinking critically about the narrative spoonfed you by the media-political complex. And chew on this for a second:

Though I'm a peace-loving, Jesus-loving, violence-condemning hippie radical of the far left, it's not the riots that are making me despair for humankind. It's you.

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