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.


Reality is aspirational

Kellog's Corn Flakes "Good Morning" cinema ad

Kellogg's Corn Flakes "Good Morning" cinema ad

Forget artificial intelligence and quantum computing, advertising has long relied on fuzzy logic. If you have been to the cinema or watched TV recently you will have felt the warm fuzzy feelings generated by, for instance, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes “Good Morning” ad. Whilst I turned up, incredibly, that the ad is filmed in Grovenor Park, London SE5 (you would have thought maybe Queens or Brooklyn from the look of it) my investigatory skills failed to put name to iconic face of the little girl (shown) whose smile carries the whole proposition. With a name, one could hit IMDB or something and discover that she was paid a million pounds, has also done stuff for Shredded Wheat etc.

Diversity? Kellogg’s versus David Cameron versus Nick Clegg versus ‘Islamists’ versus the EDL. But it is borg-like assimilation at work here. We are approaching the Big Crunch. Part of it – read the ulterior fuzzy logic of the ad – is that there is no longer room for cultural differences. Mongoloids, Caucasoids, Negroids all eat Corn Flakes for breakfast. Perhaps there is something of US multicultural strategy behind it – make the smile golden enough and we might just co-opt China.

But the ulterior proposition is more straightforward than that. As with Vodafone’s ‘Couple’ ad, which delivers multimedia messaging capabilities of fones right enough, aspirational advertising has gotten real.

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Gone are the neon penthouses and supercars: such imagery is off-strategy for aspirational campaigns as the worlds they proselytise are simply no longer attainable. Aspirations have been toned down, and what we now have is a relatively ordinary street – somewhere redbrick, a nice bit of London perhaps. But look carefully. That looks like a house, not a mashup conversion, and one with an adjoining garage! Now look at the bloke at work:

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

He has driven to work, where he has an allocated parking space in an underground car park and a desk that looks like this:

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

What does he do? Own Nokia or Pratt and Whitney or something? Meanwhile his fiancee (more aspirational than ‘wife’ or ‘partner’) is here:

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Vodafone "Couple" ad

Not exactly your local Fitness First is it?

But it’s aspirational, you say. That’s the point.

But the point is this: as we approach The Asymptote, the headroom of aspiration, the dreaming gap hovering above attainable reality, becomes thinner and thinner. In other words, run the same ad in a year’s time, and the phone will be smaller and smarter and so on, but the aspirational backdrop will be more realistic. A mashup conversion in East Ham perhaps. A job on an Underground station. A sort of memetic inflation, if you like. At The Asymptote (so to speak) we will aspire to what we are.

Imaginative flatline, the End of Desire. Nirvana in other words.

And you thought advertising was evil.




Big Society – Government calls for anarchy

I think we’re onto a really big idea, a really exciting future for our country.
PM David Cameron

On the one hand we have the dreadful, Roland Emmerich techno endtimer message of Hollywood’s 2012, in which atavistic zillionaires receive a secret, final text message instructing them to head to an Ark, before the End of the World.

And on the other, we have Big Society, which we can read simultaneously as the British State winding up its affairs, and as a genuinely Good Idea. We can read it as macro-spin papering over the dismantling of the NHS, and soon, no doubt, the Post Office. And we can read it as a shout to healthy lifestyle, community involvement, local management of resources and all the other good things we know society should have.

What Big Society will be playing down is the simple fact that there will be no money. By the time we are cut loose and told to run our own hospitals and police forces, money, by and large, will have vanished into the pockets of those who can afford to opt out of Big Society and get things done the old way.

We may have the Last Laugh, though I am not sure it will be the longest or loudest. An ironic snort, as we remember the Cree Prophecy: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”

Who wants to be riding tsunamis in a steel ark full of politicians and oligarchs anyway?