Raiding trainer stores, stealing mobile phones, smashing into money stores and pawn shops. As many of the ‘string them up’ lobby has been pointing out online, these people are not stealing to survive. But this is not an audacious raid on Gucci. They have not been forming up in Knightsbridge to try and gain the baubles of the very elite. Nor are they stealing bread to feed their families. What is being stolen are the very middle-class comfortable, quietly aspirational things that we are told now to accept as norms. All the images of life we are bombarded with are of lower middle class to middle class comfort. It is what we should all expect- we are all stakeholders and we are all middle class now, or so we are told. But of course that isn’t the case, and these middle class paradigms of consumption that we are all meant to hold ourselves up to are unfair when actually, we don’t see the Shadow Britain for whom these aspirations aren’t only just out of reach, but a long way.
As marketers, we trade in dissatisfaction- we show people how things can help you self actualise. We actively encourage what Eric Fromm refers to as a ‘having’ mode of existence, rather than a ‘being’ mode. More and more sophisticated marketing encourages individuals to buy, under the assumption that the normative values that, if you want this, you will then have to save, or borrow or work more in order to have. We are in that respect, a pumping circulatory organ of capitalism.
The nature of what these looters have stolen the banal ‘dream small’ nature of stealing phones or non-generic branded tracksuits shows the sucess of our industry. It shows us that advertising has touched these people when society hasn’t. They have the normative values of consumption, without the normative values of what we term civil society. The Pax Accumsan relies on having both these sets of norms- I want those trainers and I will get them through socially and judicially legitimate means. If we all had simply the want impulse, we would be as beasts. Which is the sad thing because ultimately, however much self actualisation we sell, underneath it all is an appeal to the worse side of all our human nature, the selfishness rather than the compassion. But that makes the world go round.
The problem is, that without the societal norms as well as the capitalist/accumulative norms we essentially have South Park’s underpants gnomes, but with bricks and crowbars, and if society can’t reach them, then maybe as responsible marketers we need to be teaching both. A friend of mine commented that ‘The London rioters are teenagers rebelling against the only parent they’ve ever really had: the State.’ Actually I would argue that they are listening to the only guardian or parent they have had, consumption. And unless they engage with society as well as shopping, they only have step one and step three…
Many people have been guilty of a vast misjudgement. This blog has already somewhat missed the point in posts earlier this year that bragged of integration, regeneration and the cultural vibrancy of Britain and the capital in particular. Though an article ten days ago here covered the other side, a warning as to what could happen if the wealth and increase and cultural exchange in London is not inclusive, the post was both prophetic and too late. There is an alternative London, an alternative Britain that co-exists in the same space at the same time, yet is never seen, a shadow nation completely disenfranchised from society. And it is the ignorance of the chattering classes, a complacent and misplaced belief that everything is getting better for everyone that has created this.
Everything has got better for some people, and so relative deprivation has increased. Those who have not been included in the wealth creation that Britian has seen are also those who have no voice, who lack the articulacy to find one and the channels through which to express it. I cannot condone looting, but I think I can understand it. If you can feel so marginalised that society, which we all need to partake in in some capacity for it to function, it in your mind something for other people, then why would you not simply take to the streets in this directionless outcry. It’ll ruin your job prospects- so what? You will go to jail- so what? It’s not the done thing- all my friends think it is! If that is the mindset, then there is nothing left to lose. They have nothing, or rather they feel like they have nothing. Why should they be expected to rally round civil society when they feel that civil society has nothing to offer them. When a job is about nothing but money and has nothing to do with pride or purpose, why would you bother unless your rich or famous in working one. The most eloquent image for that is the girl in the Curry’s uniform outside the Brixton branch where she worked, arrested for looting.
Frankly it shatters so many of my myths about progressive, multicultural, cross class London- if the urban poor are feeling so disconnected, if the trickle down effect is such a lie, then we have serious issues- people are dissatisfied and so inarticulate and angry and disconnected from what we call societies norms that instead, for want of an eloquent way to express themselves, they have taken to the streets stealing from the most obvious symbols of what they believe is fucking them up- the shops and the chain stores and the retailers selling the things they are trained to want and can barely have. It’s very very sad that we have created a situation where this level of opportunistic criminality is acceptable. What kind of level of disenfranchisement, voicelessness, hopelessness and frustration leads people to think that that kind of behaviour is okay. We have a serious problem on our hands and it isn’t one that is going to be fixed by water cannon and a glazers bill….
I was in my local pub in brixton the other day and there was a guy braying that there was no recession in London and it made my blood boil. Go and tell that to the kids on the estates, go and tell that to the almost 20% of under 25s who are unemployed. The criminality is unforgivable and they must take responsibility for their actions But part of the cause was our collective complacency and we all need to face up to what we need to do to stop allowing people to be marginalised. And stop calling them chavs scum or thugs, if they are this, then we gave them the opportunity and often the title for them to live up to- it is a smug, nonconstructive and over simplistic view. And how do I feel about this as a planner? Just maybe, maybe we have added too much fuel to the fire of consumption and it has reached some kind of flashpoint?