The British retain an affection for a good riot that can be hard to fathom; then they get older and start to think youth culture has gone to hell. The latest bout of national hand-wringing began two weeks ago with the police killing in Tottenham of Mark Duggan, 29 and a father of four. A protest two days later degenerated into a riot; soon after, the unrest spread to Croydon and other areas of London and it seemed as if every opportunist with a hoodie was out looting a television set from their local store — and, famously, leaving bookstores intact, either out of respect or lack of interest. In a convoluted argument for which he was rightly vilified, historian David Starkey found a way to blame black culture for creating these white looters, saying that they’ve been seduced by “this nihilistic gangster culture, this Jamaican patois.” And in a remarkable twist of fate, Egyptian bloggers — fresh off a revolution that was no one’s idea of a riot but was similarly seen to have something to do with youths, Facebook, and Twitter — were called upon to offer play-by-play commentary on the Londoners’ technique, the most compelling of which was by the Cairo-based Londoner Sarah Carr who begins her post with “I’m from Croydon. Someone has to be.”
The good news is that the upstanding citizens of the UK have regarded civilization as being on the ropes for at least half a century and enough of it has survived to this point for the London looters to menace it all over again. Christopher Hitchens, in a less-sharp-than-usual piece in Slate, draws a comparison to the legendary battles (see video below) between the Mods and Rockers in the early-1960s. Many of their brawls and knife fights occurred at English beach resorts during bank holidays — ah, now that was a more innocent time…
Click here to see the extraordinary portraits from the 1970s of British rockers like Eric Clapton at home with their dowdy parents.