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Media and the Riots on the Hoof!

By Nobby Lamb | 12 August 2011

Survey a lot of the mainstream media about the recent UK riots and you get the same old trotted-out clichés about moral panics, wanton greed, lust, and ... here we go ... even the finger of blame being pointed at rap music, films and video games for 'the moral decay of our society.'y.

As usual, this is lazy journalism that seeks to easily compartmentalise the issues. As anyone with half a brain knows, the issues are far deeper, more complex and long-term that most of us realise. Yes, there was rampant looting and destruction of businesses, homes, cars and buses. People were beaten up in the street. Hordes of marauding youths in hoods did set out to see what they could get.

But it wasn't music that caused them to riot. Perhaps it was the systematic and austere cuts this government has implemented to claw back some of the huge deficit caused by the criminal negligence of banks in this country? It's easy to blame the disenfranchised because they have no agency; they have no voice; they have no money, therefore they have no power and no say.

One of the more balanced views, surprisingly, has come from the journalist Peter Oborne of the ultra right-wing Daily Telegraph, who blames those at the top of society for being the catalyst towards the rioting. He has a point: MPs fiddling expenses, footballers on super-injunctions, Cameron employing a journalist engaged in criminal behaviour as his Director of Communications, all add to a culture of moral bankruptcy. It makes our society that bit smaller, that bit less to be proud of. This government has alienated its young to such an extent that Generation Y and Z's role models are rappers, footballers and low-rent reality TV stars.

There's nothing tangible out there for them until we have true leadership that operates with responsibility, and admits when it fails proactively, and without being pressured. Then and only then, will the young feel that the rioting they engaged in only served to harm their communities, and, in the long term, themselves.

Coming back to music, as far as I know the riots didn't have a theme tune. No-one famous stood up for the rioting, but everyone had their opinion. They blamed music in the 1960s with the Mods and Rockers, and rap has always been blamed when a large gathering of mainly black youths have congregated. Yes, some pockets of these youths bring shame on the majority that go out to have a good time. But only some.

We also can't deny that good music is supposed to make you feel a certain way. Tim Westwood didn't used to hype his set by calling a hardcore ragga or hip-hop record an 'Arms house lick' or 'cut a record in mellow' for no reason.  But the majority of us know that aping the slamming beats and drums and bassline in a destructive or criminal way is taking things too far. It's all about perspective.

Which is my criticism of journalists, who, being mainly white and middle class, have no understanding of the so-called underclass. They have no understanding of subcultures also, beyond the bare essentials, which usually results in clichéd journalism that gives their readers more time to fester in their own prejudices. The moral panic has come full-circle once again. Dreaded rap music is to blame.  I'd say the only casualties are the truth and the principles of fair journalism, which seem to be going the same way as much of society- to hell in a handcart.

It was rappers like Ice Cube that predicted the L.A riots in 1991. It was rappers that were explaining how unhappy the dispossessed were feeling. But most of the mainstream media, once again, could only see the demonization of a mostly black underclass having the audacity to come to middle-class neighbourhoods and vent their frustration. The recent rioting was a hurtful, hateful thing. But we should be able to learn from it. It starts with the media. Remember, it's what the kids are mostly influenced by nowadays. So, show some moral responsibility and leadership. Then you might not get the youth kicking off.

Just a thought.

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