When analyzing riots and revolution, music often comes to mind, whether it be NWA or The Beatles. However, in the case of the London riots that have been taking place for the past two weeks, three British teen drama tv and film titles present themselves as a sort of harbinger for the deluge of discontent, frustration and violence that has erupted throughout the country.
A routine vehicle search served as the catalyst for the London riots which have resulted in at least 700 arrests, 16,000 police officers on the ground and violent turmoil in over seven of England’s major cities. On the evening of Thursday, August 4th, Scotland Yard pulled over a cab with passenger 29-year old Mark Duggan in Tottenham. There are conflicting accounts as to what exactly happened after Duggan stepped out of his car upon request, but all versions have several commonalities:that there were multiple shots fired, one of which hit a police officer’s radio, and by the time the bullets stopped raining Duggan was dead. London-based media allege that before the shooting started, Duggan was making a motion similar to reaching for a handgun. However, an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission determined that Duggan never fired on police prior to his death. In response, a peaceful marching protest of approximately 300 people started from Broadwater Estate to the Tottenham police department. According to unconfirmed reports, the riots were ignited by an altercation between a police officer and a teenager, to which the crowd responded by setting ablaze to multiple police vehicles. The violence quickly spread to the towns and cities of Enfield Brixton, Oxford Circus, Walthamstow, Croydon, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Birkenhead, West Bromwich, Salford and Wolverhampton hour –by- hour over the course of the past twelve days.
Before we continue further let’s remember one thing: being a teen sucks. Remember wanting to be taken seriously by adults? All of the tumultuous changes you experienced with your body, your ideologies, your friends and your family? Growing up is hard to do, no matter what your background is. Take–for instance–the popular, contemporary British teen drama series: MisFits (series about superpower social delinquents), Kidulthood (a film about inner city delinquents) and Attack the Block (a sci-fi film about inner city delinquents.)
According to Paul Lewis and James Harkin, both of the UK’s major newspaper The Guardian, the demographics of the rioters varies greatly, composed of not only young black men, but people of all races, ages, gender and class, not unlike the casting of the teen dramas. In their article, entitled “Who are the Rioters?,” which includes multiple first-hand accounts of individuals at the riots, Lewis and Harkin write, “They were just some of the crowd of about 100 who had gathered on the corner; a mix of the curious and angry, young and old. It was impossible to distinguish between thieves, bystanders and those who simply wanted to cause damage.” They continue on to describe the atmosphere of the riots, which reads like the synopsis for each of the abovementioned UK teen dramas:
This is unadulterated, indigenous anger and ennui. It’s a provocation, a test of will and a hamfisted two-finger salute to the authorities.
Echoing this sentiment is Iyiola Solanke, an Associate Professor in Law at Leeds University Law School in England. In her Huffington post piece, “Public Unrest, Social Institutions and Trust,” Solanke writers, “this was not just an affair of the disenfranchised: as has become evident from the profiles of those arrested and charged, some were professional people caught up in the ‘madness of the moment.” In addition to addressing the question of who the rioters are, Solanke provides reasonings as to why these violent riots and lootings occurred and have continued in the first place. Having called attention to income inequality, consumerism encouraged by the media, and aggressive austerity measures spurned by the recession, Solanke concludes her article by insisting that we must closely investigate the social structure within which this is all taking place; as opposed to criticizing individuals and pointing to poor parenting as if operating in a large vacuum:
Whilst not seeking to condone or excuse, is it possible that their actions might be a symptom of a general social malaise that began with a decline in public behaviour and has culminated in an absolute lack of regard for authority and trust in public institutions? It may not provide an answer, but the outbreaks of violence, looting and arson might become slightly less perplexing if set within the context of the immoral behavior and wrong-doing that seems common in public life.
While TV and film do derive from intentions to entertain, they can also reveal complexities about a society that often go unnoticed in the real world. Teen angst and discontent are frequently disregarded by adults, who more often than not are dealing with the same feelings themselves in less expressive, although equally destructive manners. Of course many opponents to the scandalous and lewd content of these titles insist that they are made as such to add shock value, and consequently attract viewers. That argument is certainly true to one extent–that shock value, when done right, does increase media and viewer attention. However, these teen shows and films are just one of many in the sea of British entertainment, yet they immediately they’ve buoyed to the surface thanks to refreshing, contemporary writing, casting and film making. Simply speaking, these are characters with real issues and real beliefs and opinions that viewers see in society, but also in themselves. Just as Solanke specifies her disinterest in condoning the behaviors of the looters and rioters, the highly-inappropriate actions of the teens in these shows and films aren’t necessarily condoned by the adult creators and writers of these titles, but offered straight-up as a reality check for society, both teens and adults alike. In other words, you may not feel comfortable or even safe with what’s taking place, but that doesn’t stop it from being a reality.
Videos relating to the london riots:
In aBBC interview with Darcus Howe, a West Indian Writer and Broadcaster, speaks about the mistreatment of youths by police leading to an up-roar and the ignorance of both police and the government.
Nabil Abdul Rashid’s responds to David Starkey’s comments made on BBC, where Starkey claimed that “Whites Have become Black”