If anyone is trying to understand the recent events in England, may I suggest watching Alfonso Cuaron’s cult masterpiece Children of Men. You would be hard pressed to find a more prescient work of art than this gritty post apocalyptic fable of a country gone mad with an Orwellian nanny state, a segregated immigrant population and a general population afflicted by profound malaise.
Okay, the film also deals with a fictional plague which means that all of humanity is facing extinction owing to a mysterious inability to have babies, but the similarities with the current anarchy in the UK (I know the reference is cliché, but I love that album) sweeping through the country, remain startling. However, we should also keep this carnage in perspective. So far only 5 deaths has been linked to the rioters and in terms of arrests, the approximately 1500 in custody are a walk in the park compared to the whopping 12,000 arrested and 53 deaths in the wake of the Rodney King riots that turned South Central LA into a dystopian Disneyland back in â€˜92.
I’ll leave the sociological analysis to the sociologists. Instead I would like to give you a highly personal (read biased) firsthand account of my time spent living on the other side of the pond in dear old Blighty, in a little city called Cardiff in a wee county named Wales ( instead of provinces, they call them counties in the UK) . I can tell you, from having lived there and travelled all over the UK, the only surprise in this sorry business is that it doesn’t happen more often.
Why? For starters, the binge drinking culture in most British towns is something that I will never remember, because I drank myself silly while I was over there almost every single weekend. But as bad as I was, most of the nans ( British slang for grandmas) in the UK could have schooled me in the art of imbibing. Of course, with all this excessive drinking, you get all those other charming side effects: property damage, horrific violence, public urination, etc. The social pressure to join your peers, colleagues, or family in these epic drinking marathons is immense. I would have felt like some sort of leper if I didn’t at least polish of a few pints after dinner.
Another, factor in the decline and fall of English civilization, is the terrible state school system (note “public” schools in the UK are actually private institutions. I guess they invented the language so they can do whatever the fuck they like with it). One of the highest drop-out rates in Western Europe, combined with skyrocketing teenage pregnancy and appalling academic standards create a potent recipe for disaster. Go to any major city “high street” (i.e. main street) in the UK and you’ll find loads of teenage single moms hanging out in gangs outside the local fast food restaurants.
Anecdotally, I met countless Britons while living and studying over there who envied the hell out of me for being Canadian and dreamed of setting sail for our shores or, brainwashed by the hugely popular Aussie soap Neighbours, escaping to Australia. Either way, there seemed to a general feeling among my friends that their future would inevitably lead them abroad, whether it was for jobs or other opportunities that they found lacking in their own country.
Whatever the reasons for the riot, whether socio-economic or sheer boredom, the fact is that Britain is a country that I don’t recommend for the faint at heart. Though visiting London in the aftermath might well prove interesting to those with a morbid sense of fun. For example, I found Vancouver uncannily clean the day after the recent rioting there and was struck by how incidents like this can, paradoxically, lead to a resurgence in a city’s sense of community. Let’s hope that this is one of the consequences of the ugly events in the UK.