The tip of the iceberg

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I've used the above picture before. It is from a Levi's ad that was pulled in the aftermath of the English riots. The theme of the ad is "Go Forth". It involves a lot of young people, dressed in jeans no doubt, going forth and doing various youthful and exuberant things.

In that particular scene the young man is going forth and confronts a line of riot policeman. When the ad was put together both the creators and the youthful audience it was aimed at understood the iconography of it all -- a free spirit, infused with social justice, stares down the faceless masses of authority.

Then the riots and looting came, and the iconography of what was seen on the TV was not social justice, just venal shopping with violence mixed in with a bit of arson. Amidst the backlash against the riots the ad was yanked.

The rioters who were caught in the act were originally met with harsh sentences. However, slowly the machinery of the welfare state, which had been momentarily stunned into silence by the spectacle, is clanking into action once again. There is money to be made in the cutting of benefits checks after all.

The English media is having a fierce debate over it all, with the usual "root causes" trotted out to blame anybody and everybody for the riots but the hooded yobs who ran amok. Janet Daley of the Telegraph dismisses the navel gazing in her article UK riots: The end of the liberals’ great moral delusion:
There is no national debate about the epidemic of riots and looting that spread through our cities like a bush fire. Out there in the real world, where people go about the normal business of life, there is no sign of the heated argument that the media is so determined to air. In fact, I cannot remember a time when there has been such crushing unanimity on a matter of public importance: the answers to the questions of why this happened, what went wrong when it began to happen and what needs to follow in its aftermath are considered so blindingly self-evident as to be beyond rational disagreement.  
I'm not sure it is quite as blindingly self-evident to everybody as she thinks, there are people who think something close to utopia lies in leveling the playing field just a little bit more. Still, I expect the vast majority of the public do feel that the hand that feeds has been bitten and as a result are furious over the state of affairs.

You should read the entire column. I particularly like the two paragraphs quoted below.   
What real people know – and have known for quite a long time – is that the great tacit agreement which once held civic life together has been deliberately blown apart. There was a time within living memory when all reasonable grown-ups were considered to be on the same side. Parents, teachers, police, judges, politicians – decent citizens of every station and calling – formed an unspoken confederacy to uphold standards of behaviour within their own communities. But their shared values and expectations about human conduct were systematically undermined by a post-Sixties political ideology that preached wholesale disrespect for authority, and legitimised anti-social activity in the name of protest.

What real people saw on their television screens this fateful summer seemed to them to be the final vindication of their instinctive judgment: they may have been shocked but, on some level at least, they were not surprised that it had come to this. What else were these terrible events but the definitive disproof of a doctrine that had subverted adult authority in all its official and unofficial forms?
To return to the Levi's ad. There is nothing wrong with idealistic exuberance and the idealism that things can be changed for the better that it engenders. There's also nothing wrong with the idea of standing against authority when it is oppressive. The problem is in not knowing the difference between protesting and looting.

Telling the young to just "Go Forth" is not good enough. We also need to give them a compass for their journey. 

(via Tim Blair)

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