August 16, 2011

THE LONDON RIOTS AND LOOTINGS, OR: WELCOME TO CONSUMER TERRORISM


While I have tweeted a lot about the London Riots that spread to other cities like Birmingham and Manchester, I do think that after the whole deluge of TV images that brought us some welcome relief from those other TV images like Fukushima, the war in Libya, the riots in Greece, the protests in Spain, Italy and god knows where else...

... we need to sit back and think for a moment. Because it's not the fact that there was a riot or looting going on in London and elsewhere, it is the what they looted that gives us an insight in to our society's deterioration.

Much has been made, from both the left and the right ends of the political spectrum, mostly with laughter or anger or some sense of what the fuck as to the property that was looted over the past couple of days. Mid-Range fashion, Consumer Electronics, for the most part.

And my personal favorite is still the story of the convicted 11-year old who stole a garbage can. For 50 quid. Because it looked nice. For his Mum. And because he knew he could never afford it. Stupid kids, eh? That's what I have heard time and again over the past few days, and I admit, it took some time for me to wrap my head around it.

If I were looting, I'd go at least for the really expensive stuff! Or for something that makes a political point! Say, how is that Hermes store looking? Or that Cartier store?

But to steal tellys? To steal iPods and iPhones? To go into a fashion store, get some skirts and pants, if you are a female looter? To even pick and choose? Or to steal things like energy drinks?

Truly, what the fuck indeed. Don't they have respect for property? I mean, isn't that what this is all about? Respecting property?

And here, kids, is where it gets complicated.

Because we have to explain what "property" is.

(1) THE TRANSIENCE OF PROPERTY

Now, the original definition of property is this, according to Merriam Webster.

PROPERTY: the exclusive right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of a thing, ownership

Easy enough to understand, isn't it? Property is ownership, and ownership is something that comes without a limit. To possess, enjoy and dispose of a thing.

Only that our society doesn't value property anymore. Or rather, property has no place in the world of consumerism. And right now, I can hear you all go "wha?" Usually that is followed by "You kidding? I own a house. A car. A computer. A dog. A wife. A... [insert stuff here]"

Yes. Property in the world of consumerism is not about the actual ownership anymore, it about the perception of ownership. That car of yours? Most likely it's leased and thus belongs for the most part still to your bank. That house you own? Unless it is fully paid, you just live there. You may think that you own it, but how was that working out for all those "homeowners" after the end of 2008, eh?

What you own these days, what you truly and properly own is... a status.

It is not the ownership of a thing, not even a house, that defines who you are within our 21st century 1st world (and I am talking primarily about Europe and the USA here, to break definitions down across cultural and national lines would take a book, not a blog post).

Because we have passed capitalism, even in terms of a cultural definition. We are talking about consumerism. See, the problem with a status is - as opposed to ownership and hence property - is the following.

(a) Status is defined not by rationale, but by perception, which in turn makes your social standing always relative, never absolute. Ownership on the other hand is binary. It cannot be altered, only defined by owning or non-owning. Status is a fractal concept.

(b) Status has to be renewed. Since it is not binary, not an absolute, its very definition is a floating one, constanly aching to be defined by different social, economic and/or cultural groups

Hence status is transient, at least in the abstract (you may argue, quite successfully, that the status of entire chunks of society have been cemented, and you wouldn't be wrong in one sense, but that also means that you have already grouped individuals based on certain factors, most likely race, religion... but definitely money.). Because even in those larger groups, the status has to be renewed, kind of like in the movie Logan's Run. Renew! Renew! Nobody above 30!

Only in this case it is renew your tech! Renew your car! Renew your face!

You don't believe me, do you?

Well, let me give you an example. Or rather, let me ask you a question. Was your old mobile still working when you threw it or gave it away to have it replaced with the shiny new one you are reading this post on? It was, wasn't it? But you felt it was old. and wonky. And gosh, the others had a much nicer one.

Which brings us to the second big factor in the UK riots that barely anybody is considering.

(2) THE IMMEDIACY OF NOW

Since we are no longer a property- but status-based society (and I know what some of you are thinking, "hey, Thomas, money buys status"), we have to understand what and how this status is sold. As much as everybody on Twitter and on Facebook and Google- thinks they are the centre of the universe and that the future of advertising is to be found there, it isn't. Those places have a much overgrown and bloated sense of importance, like most social places have.

The unifier for the largest portion of society is still... the television.

Especially since it is the television that tells us how the rich live their lives, what the rich wear, what you must have, must eat, must drink, must... consume to be not excluded from the cool people. And we all know the cool people, right? Them's the ones who sit at the table with the Queen Bees. Well, maybe not straight at the table with the Bees, but at least close enough to pretend that they matter. And we all know what type of people we are talking about, right?

And what does the telly sell you? Consumer products!

Stuff! You want that stuff! You need that stuff!

Life isn't worth living without that stuff!

What pisses the liberal analysts, activists etc. off about the UK riots were that they were seemingly pointless, that they had no banner (SOCIALISM NOW! MARX WAS RIGHT! FEED THE DOLPHINS! HUG A WHALE!), no cause, no reason.

Well, let me tell you something. Those liberals are idiots. You can see quite well what the point of the looting during the London riots were.

It is why I chose the image of this delightful young woman as the photo to run with this post, because this photo, much more than the ones about the violence, encapsulates the message of the London lootings. What that is?

BEST! SUMMER! SALE! EVER!

Now, you may not like this message (the Conservative DeadBrains will hate it because it goes against their whole "Wot's this then?" and the idea that poverty equals criminality) because most liberals would like to pretend that human beings are better than this, that they have a cause, that they have a reason. And these people had a cause. A reason.

And their aspirations weren't even that high. They were...

... and this should scare the fuck out of you...

... the aspirations to belong not to the rich, but to you, the middle class. To have not the Ferrari, the Jaguar, the yacht, no, they wanted to have what those still not worked to death, still not beaten into the lower middle class, those still not fearing they may just become one of the great "Unwashed"... what they have.

A flatscreen TV. A nice mobile. Some cool shoes. A dress or two.

They wanted that, and that itself, more than the violence, more than the police brutality, more even than the murder of Mark Duggan... should worry us as a society. Because it means that there are larger and larger parts of our societies that are incapable or obtaining those ever more fleeting status symbols of a class that in itself is in danger of disappearing.

It should also be of note that no books were looted. Why not? because books - while being property - are no longer a status symbol of the middle class. Oooops. Sorry. I know. I offended you. I'm sure you are huffing and puffing... while you are reading this on your iPad.

It's what these people wanted. Something. That they will otherwise never have.

A status. And they wanted it now.

You know, like in that Queen song. I want it all, and I want it now!

Because that is what has been sold to them, to us, to everybody. That is what is at stake here, what we are devolving into. A society only caring about status, at a time where it is always now, where there is no past, no longevity, there cannot be, there must not be any longevity, for... what is that, kids?

Ah, yes. Without growth, without the "new", without the "now", our system would collapse. Because manufacturers of those dreams that define the middle class now, they have not placed a value on their products which are supposed to then become your property, they have not only build in an obsolescence into the actual product itself...

(and everybody who has ever bought cheap China crap knows this)

... they have put this obsolescence into the social status as well. Only the call that "innovation cycle" or "product cycle", both of them so hopped up on speed now, if they were a cyclist, they'd be Lance Armstrong. And if you don't believe me, again, look at how fast your moblie/smartphone has become obsolete. And ask yourself (again), has it really? No, of course not, but gosh, the new thing comes in white, and it looks cooler, and boy, will the other people be jealous when they see it.

Status.

That's what our society is about. And in order to achieve that status, advertisers, corporations and also our governments, despite public claims to the contrary, have terrorised consumers with imagery, with creating an immediate need, no, an immediate want for novelty, for without novelty, there cannot be consumption, and without consumption, well... go fucking hug a tree, then, right?

We're talking capitalism here! Are you a communist?

These things have been implanted deeply into our society's psyche. Buy! Now! This is no longer good enough! Be better! Think different! Impossible is nothing! Life, the very existence and self-worth of mankind, reduced to slogans and status.

The London riots, but especially the lootings during those riots... are a sign that people have internalised this thinking, and it must be said that as well as those at the top looting entire countries, the ones who went onto the streets of London to go window shopping in the most literal sense of the word are capitalism's children, are the purest of the breed, without the mask of civility.

They are what the system made them to be.

Consumer terrorists.