A fun riot, indeed
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
"We can do what we like, no one can stop us." Early last month, London and a couple of other cities were held hostage by rioters. The English's castles were looted by 14-year- olds in hoodies.
Though this sounds comical, the underlying issues of the youths involved are gritty and not to be taken lightly.
Those young people are called "chavs", described as "aggressive teenagers and young adults, of working-class background, who repeatedly engage in anti-social behaviour such as street drinking, drug abuse and rowdiness, or other forms of juvenile delinquency".
But the question isn't who they were, but why they were doing this. Left-wingers reasoned that the riots were a result of lack of hope, aspiration and firm parenting in Britain's cities. Right-wingers claimed it was because of our glorification of violence and ugliness in literature, art, media, etc.
Sure, both sides had some valid points, but quite irksomely, it's just not quite there.
It's too simplistic to just ask why, and even simpler to draw parallels to the Middle East's uprisings, our own Bersih movement on July 9, or Argentina's 2001 mass looting. These had political direction, whether against overstaying dictators, unfair elections, or corrupt privatisation deals.
If we immediately assume the riots to be of the same mould, we're discounting a vital element present in these riots: fun.
The photos of the rioting said it all. These young ones were running away laughing, or were posing with grins. While the initial protests in London had some political foundations, the ensuing riots elsewhere were just copycats taking advantage of the situation to steal some trainers. They wanted a piece of the action as well.
Thus, the question to ask is, why do they find it fun to steal, loot and hurt? Is it for bragging rights? For a few pairs of train- ers and some designer goods?
That's the middle class in me talking. In my content little world of college and clubbing, I am unable to see the signifi- cance of such "rewards". I'm part of the majority, the dominant culture. I belong.
But what gets me and my middle-class friends going isn't cutting it for the working class. We're of different classes. For me to condemn their idea of fun, condemn the lengths they are willing to go for some branded clothes, is condescending.
Which is exactly what the media did. Their one- sided coverage of the events reflected the upper- and middle-class delusional idea of their "moral superiority". This is a) hypocritical because we bail out bankers who screwed up our economies - even though as Russell Brand, actor cum social commentator, eloquently put it: "They got away with a lot more than a few f***** pairs of trainers."
And it is b) stupid because we are judging something we don't understand.
When the argument on class comes in, this is when these UK riots found resonance in other nations as well. The media demonisation wasn't restricted to just the UK's Daily Telegraph and The Independent. Society's hypocrisy is the same, be it in Birmingham, Buenos Aires or Kuala Lumpur.
Chavs, NEDs (non-educated delinquents), rempit - they're the same. Violence, gangsterism, vandalism - it's all just fun to them.
Maybe this "fun" is mindless, maybe it isn't. But this kind of fun is serious. A society that considers damage and destruction as fun is a society in serious need of a debate of where it's going. Incarceration is not the solution, but the willingness to remove our insecurities and to accept alternative views is. Understanding is. And until we do, let's put those pointing fingers away.