Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Barbeques And Ballgames

I'm moving house today, typing this while waiting for the removal van to arrive. I was away till late yesterday and had done at most a couple of hours packing before going, but I was still able to take a very leisurely pace getting everything into boxes and suitcases today. This somehow seems wrong. In Michael Mann's great film Heat, Robert De Niro's character, a resourceful, charming and incredibly self-contained career criminal, has a maxim about having nothing you can't leave in 30 seconds flat. I'm not quite there, but still. I never wanted to be a career criminal though. I'd have liked to have had the self-possession, the confidence of being in command, but I'm not really equipped that way; I don't have the nerves, let alone the stamina or the stomach, for it. And of course Heat is the story of a man increasingly unable to walk away from the loyalties that despite himself he can't help but accumulate, in the end forced to choose between them and survival. So you wonder. I turned 30 while I was away. How is it I've got to 30 with a life that can be packed up in a few hours and could probably be walked out of considerably quicker than that? Where are my traces?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Lacking Balls

Twice in the last week I have listened to people provide straightforwardly racist analyses of the riots and looting in the earlier part of the week. One began with a critique of the looters' unwillingness to put in the hard graft necessary to get what you want which quickly became a critique of black peoples' unwillingness to put in the hard graft necessary to get what you want. Obviously, there are a number of problems with this, but it was quite striking how quickly the looters became black people in general. The second was more hyperbolic, less a piece of standard Tory excuse-making for being a prejudiced prick and more a kind of hysteria . The person in question complained that since the looting they saw was committed only by black people, a claim I am sceptical about, they felt that they were the object of race hate because of it. This was though they had no actual interactions with the looters and certainly had nothing stolen. It was also after they'd said that the looters' targets seemed to be chosen without any interest in race and mainly focused on getting desirable consumption goods rather than violence, which they admitted had been more or less totally absent. One of the cheering things about it all has been the relative absence of this sort of thing from the coverage I've seen by professional news organisations, but you wonder how many conversations around the country have been marked by it, how acceptable it is or is becoming to characterise looting as a problem of a racial enemy within. You also wonder how many people hearing it were, like me, prepared to let it pass, to at least avoid contradicting them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Fruit Of An Excess Of Corruption

One thing that I've noticed about the looting over the last couple of days is how stratified it shows consumption patterns in the UK are. I think I've once been into a Footlocker - to buy a pair of football boots - yet the theft and destruction seems to have always picked out sportswear shops. On the other hand, bookshops, where I spend considerably more of my time, seem to have been left untouched. I'd imagine that's not an unusual difference between someone of my class and someone of the class typical of the looters. It'd be strange if it was only consumption patterns and not, say, attitudes towards the legitimacy of other's property rights, which differed like that. Thomas Jones points out here that the borough of London which is all started in, Haringey, is the most unequal, and it's worth noting that Clapham Junction sits between a series of large highrise housing estates off Falcon Road and up St Johns Hill and the Victorian and extremely expensive terraces between Clapham and Wandsworth Commons. As Rousseau put it when pouring vituperation on the hierarchies of eighteenth century Europe and the conspicuous consumption that fuelled them, "subjects having no law but the will of their master, and their master no restraint but his passions, all notions of good and all principles of equity... vanish".

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Not The Colour Of Television, Tuned To A Dead Channel

Although I didn't quite get the madeleine rush I'd expected from listening to the original Dr Who theme music, the British Library's science fiction exhibition, Out of this World, was otherwise excellent - particularly as respite from my landlord's insistence that I have quite unreasonably inconvenienced him by refusing to voluntarily make myself homeless for a fortnight and demanding instead to continue to pay rent to live in his flat. It's hardly revolutionary in that it thematically connects various movements in and around sci-fi to various perennial human concerns, only made more vivid by the expanded scope of technology, both real and imagined. It doesn't need to be though, since it has such a wonderful range of material to play with: Cthulthu toys in the same display as novels by a Booker winner; artists' imaginings of H. G. Wells' Martians along with the 18th century's visions of the 20th; musings about the origins of steampunk across the aisle from a copy of short story in which the term cyberspace was first used; a typed and annotated draft of The Day of the Triffids and Gallileo's speculations about the possibility of life on the moon. Quite enough madeleine rushes even without the Dr Who theme music, I suppose.Link