I despair when I hear these kids called the police “Feds”. They want to puff themselves up by imaging they’re in the tougher and to them more glamorous world of LA. It’s the old English cringe again. But then I remember the hippie ’60s when British kids called the police “the pigs”. They also got this from America. The generational divide was more extreme in America, the redneck v hippie conflict pretty vicious, but the term “pigs” was provocatively stupid and demeaning when applied to the British police.
So we have been here before? No, you don’t step in the same stream twice. There have been periodic moral panics about young people since WW2: teddy boys in the ’50s, mods rockers in the ’60s, hippies in the mid ’60s, skinheads ’70s, punks late ’70s. It has always been associated with music: rock ‘n roll, soul, rock, punk and for decades now rap and hip hop.
So nothing has changed? Wrong again. There is a clear escalation, as there has been in everything. Reality and its portrayal in film and the media have become more extreme, more violent, throughout this period. The only comparison is 1968 when it became very political and in France the regime almost fell. But what happened last week was the dispossesseds’ equivalent of the bankers’ short-termism: grab the kit and trash the joint. If there was nothing left tomorrow but a burnt out ruin, they wouldn’t care. But we care: the world is still worth building and nurturing. These spasms of nihilism have to be seen off.