Monday, August 8, 2011

London Riots

It's very surreal watching buildings and cars in London - and now Birmingham and elsewhere - burn from afar, and makes me feel a very long way from home - or from a complicated version of "home."   The streets are often so familiar, as are the shop fronts - the looting from Curry's or Sainsbury's or Debenhams or, even, assaults on a Pret-a-Manger - and yet even with watching BBC news streaming live on my desk-top computer, as I was for a chunk of his afternoon, I'm well aware that I don't really quite know how to read these riots, socially and politically.   Or, rather, I don't know whether I would read them better if I were in the UK, or not: however many column inches I may consume in the Guardian or elsewhere, they seem to be attributable to a whole range of things.   There's disaffection and lack of opportunity and poverty, to be sure; there's some insensitive policing of black people and a whole lot of mistrust of the police and other authority figures; there's social-media contagion and excitement at being lawless and wild. But I don't know which of these is uppermost, and above all, I have no sense of the degree to which this is planned, conscious, even orchestrated, or a spontaneous uprising.   And all of this on a day when the stock market is crashing and burning in more figurative terms.

What's interesting, though, are the very different ways in which it's being reported visually in the US media.   The New York Times, CNN, even the Rachel Maddow Show all have images very like the one from the BBC that I show here: flames and looters; playing on the horror of mob rule and social disruption.  But the LA Times - I won't put up a link, because the front page isn't date-specific, but it's worth checking out - has a quite different photo by Simon Dawson, which very clearly shows police with riot shields and plexiglass helmets beating up a rioter.   So rather, say, than tapping into the visual register of the Bronx burning, we're taken straight back in time to the Rodney King incident.

Friends and family in London - thinking of you, and I'm really interested to hear your understanding of why this is happening now, and in the way that it is.   Stay safe.

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