Urbs Not War

Urbs Not War

Just-about Reanimated Stallone as Bread Mafia Boss in Warburton’s Ad

Arriving in (class) war-torn Bethnal Green yesterday afternoon, possibly the warmest on record for April, I was struck in the face by a billboard ad featuring a just-about reanimated Sylvester Stallone and a host of other hand-gun-toting ghouls standing in a Blackwater-style phalanx beneath heavy metal typography. The product? War(burtons) bread.

Global Machine Culture.Wheat

The latest outdoor media instalment from Campaign award-winning agency WRCS would appear to be pitched at ornery inner city folks raised on that peculiar subterranean-yet-mainstream diet of violence–now worked into the degenerate and desecrated grain formerly known as wheat. A bastardisation concocted by Global Machine Culture [GMC], wheat has become the edible monoculture version of Agent Smith, viral shadow of the Matrix.

Whether the “grain” used in Warburton’s “bread” is GM or not is pretty much irrelevant. Fracking, corporate tax evasion, Blairism–take your pick from a plethora of parallels–you can bet your bottom dollar that chemical corners have been cut. GMC is certainly betting its bottom dollar on it. Am I saying Warburtons “bread”–let’s call it “edible product” is harmful to your health? Let’s not go there. GMC already has the “scientific” answers ready to roll on surface-to-media missiles that crop-dust public discussion with enumerated bullshit. Is GMC harmful to the environment? If you can answer no to that, I’d love to see your arguments in the comments box below.

But this is not so much a “green” as a “green psychology” article–if you like, a “deep eco” more than an “eco” piece.

Ecology: The branch of science concerned with the relationships between organisms and their environments.
Oxford Dictionary

Sure, it’s tongue-in-cheek, concocted by “clever”, middle class executives and “creatives” in the rather sexier environs of 60 Great Portland Street, leveraging the already tongue-in-cheek Stallone movie “The Expendables”. But what is the relationship between the residents of Bethnal Green and the award-winning Warburtons “Family” campaign? Or the Britain’s Got Talent-watching, edible-product-toasting masses who lap up the TV commercial in the ad breaks? Does thegame for a laugh messaging not rest on cultural channels of violence? Is “family” not tongue-twisted to mean “mafia”, i.e. glamourised gang culture? Is it only coincidence that WRCS’s other clients include the Army, Navy, Airforce, Artemis (The Profit Hunters) and–on balance–that benign old giant, HMRC?

Respect the Bread Warburtons ad by BBH

Perhaps it’s unfair to piss on WRCS’s award dinner chips. They’re not alone in this war business. How about BBH’s ad on the right?

Of course, it’s all tongue-in-cheek, game for a laugh, simply a reflection of modern, urban society. But whose tongue is in whose cheek? WRCS’s in Stallone’s? The clever folks at WRCS might say I’m patronising the working class, who understand the joke just fine.

Maybe we can go further then, with rape, racism, ISIS beheadings and Israeli F16s worked up in a tongue-in-cheek commercial for underarm spray, say.

Met Police Serious Crime Figures for Tower Hamlets

Met Police Serious Crime Figures for Tower Hamlets

According to the Metropolitan Police, Violence Against the Person in Tower Hamlets has risen 21% in the last 12 months, keeping up with the London-wide trend of nearly 30%.

Grab a free rag off the floor of the tube if you want examples. To be fair, the same rags print articles (juxtapose ads for Warburtons and other edible product) about 10-year old boys frazzled on hardcore porn, teenage girls bullied into anal sex, bartered between local mafias like objects in Grand Theft Auto. (What is this reporting really? Assimilation? Social lip service?)

In this light is there really any defence for depictions of violence, no matter how clever or tongue-in-cheek, in the billboard overhanging your local station, high street, park or playground? Are inner city children really that urbane and ironic? Do we want them to be?

What’s your response? Maybe like the protagonist of Charlie Booker’s Black Mirror: 15 Million Credits, the bit where he stands in front of the Cowell-esque panel and sums up his blistering polemic with the words: FUCK YOU!

It’s tempting to leave it there, to openly encourage that these billboards be defaced, torn down, burnt. I’m supposed to play the game, push my tongue into some clever, Great Portland Street cheek, let it all wash over me. Take the cash and shut the fuck up. For many years I tried to do just that. But I couldn’t, not really.

Increasingly, I don’t think you can either. Not really.

Compassion test 8 8 11 (Advanced)

It’s difficult this, isn’t it? On the one hand we have a petition set up by someone in the Department of Work and Pensions who want convicted looters to be stripped of all benefits. Clearly, this is not an official Government mandate, and yet, as far as I can see (11 Aug 2011) the DWP has not distanced itself from the petition. Regardless of the sense of the petition, it is a chaotic precedent.

London riots: bleeding boy robbed by passers-by

London riots: bleeding boy robbed by passers-by

And then there’s the video of the slight Chinese boy with bleeding head and broken jaw in foetal position on a bridge in Barking being robbed by passers-by pretending to help him to his feet. Earlier today I watched other people watching it and decided I did not want to watch it after their faces crinkled with revulsion. Revulsion is the word. Instinctive recoil away from the big white lad in the baseball cap who takes the phone or games console or whatever it is from the injured lad’s rucksack while the big black lad segues smoothly from helping the fallen boy up to holding his arms. I feel soiled watching it.

The revulsion we feel is Natural. It is Nature in us recoiling from the Unnatural. The Predator, the Flyer’s Mind, the Impostor, the Implant, the Virus, Demon, Devil. The mechanism evolved by generations of darkness, trauma, abuse.

But we must go beyond revulsion. We must exercise compassion for this big white lad and big black lad? Why? Because to hate them, curse them, wish upon them some Saudi-esque punishment of blindfolds and stones and shallow graves is to pour oil on the fire that burns but gives no light. Perhaps you will carry your stones in your hand and throw them instinctively at the next big white lad in a baseball cap you meet. Another leap of lightless flame.

Start with the onlookers. Watch the body language and you will see they are all afraid of big white lad. Perhaps The Mechanism blocks out Revulsion, but they know in their hearts that what they are witnessing, facilitating, is wrong. About as wrong as it gets. A dreadful perversion of the Good Samaritan. An archetype stained.

I am not asking you to love these unfortunates. I am not asking for compassion for the perpetrators at the expense of compassion for the victim. I am not even asking for  the Saudi-esque sentence to be stayed.

Beheading or stoning or walking away scott free makes no difference. True Justice lies in the simple Newtonian mechanics of Karma. Every action is met with an equal and opposite reaction. Big white lad’s Mechanism must be drop forged steel. Zero tolerance. Perhaps no Revulsion for him this lifetime. Just at its end, the regret, terrible remorse, a million times more terrible in its uselessness, of perverting the archetypal deed – helping the injured. The banishment of our Revolted faces points the way. Down. Only Down. Thicker and darker and heavier until such point where existence collapses – even drop forged demons.

Big white lad’s Mechanism is so well made it intercepts that most human of reflexes – compassion. In counterpoise then, a healing of the ancient nerves, we must exercise Compassion for  him and his associates. For their long Descent.

Bwap, bwap, bwap!

london riots

Those involved in the riots and looting are from a diverse range of backgrounds and age groups. Photograph: Simon Dawson/AP

Who are the rioters? Young men from poor areas … but that’s not the full story
[Guardian, Mon 9 8 11]  

Indeed what is the full story?

I suppose, confronted with wanton, random, indiscriminate destruction – setting a car on fire, smashing someone’s shop up, I feel depressed. I relate to it through the gentler and enormously privileged lens of my occasional custodianship of the glades of Brockwell Park, and indeed any nice spots I come across. Too often the mark of ignorance left there. A fried chicken box, a ‘disposable barbecue’ (please ban them), bottles of booze, tissues, condoms. One time, a favourite spot was thus defiled, and I was overcome with anger and then depression. Which immediately lifted as I saw that my anger and depression would achieve nothing. There was only one thing for it – clear up the mess.

Look at this from an Oak’s point of view:  Alright it wasn’t you that lit the disposable barbecue right up against my trunk, nor you that got smashed on licit moonshine outta Tesco and shouted obscenities and banalities gleaned from a short life stained by drugs and porn and social dysfunction. But I don’t care. I’ll be here after you’re gone and all I want right now is the damn remains taken away before the filth of it soaks into my roots.

Obviously, picking up litter is a tiny thing. Obviously I fantasised about waiting amid the gloom with a claw hammer for the next bunch of jack asses.

The rioters may or may not be the type of person who leaves their shit behind in places of natural beauty. They may even be rescuing beautifully made bicycles from the forces of destruction. But this just might be Guardianish balance gone too far. Alright, but what is this type of person who leaves disposable barbecues behind? Is any categorisation possible? Or useful? What if the full story – the real objective truth behind the smoke and sirens – is that there is no story?

No story. Try though we might to make one, e.g: ‘Seconds later there was a smash as the minicab office around the corner was broken into. Teenagers swarmed in, shouting: “Bwap, bwap, bwap.”‘ Did they make a London version of Dawn of the Dead yet?

The besieged Arab despot analysis is invariably, ‘Troublemakers have been bussed in from outside.’ Dave and Boris haven’t played the Al Q card yet. Perhaps they’re not besieged enough.

The East Ham youth worker quoted in the article offers probably the sagest appraisal, “They’re disconnected from the community and they just don’t care.”

Which doesn’t really say anything, does it? (Unless, possibly, we deduce they don’t care about a bloke shot by Police in Tottenham.)

I feel disconnected from the community (the pub? other people’s kids?) – why else am I up on Brockwell Park picking up litter?

But, you say, you care.

Yes, I suppose I do. But then again, I am immensely privileged. I have a bike and several small, heavy things designed in California and assembled in China. Thus ‘fulfilled’ – or at least, temporarily relieved of consumerist angst – I am free to care. It’s a privilege.

Guessing, of course, but Mr Tesco should be endowed with enough small heavy things to care too. At least about the disposable barbecues and ultra-cheap booze.