Notes On The News
By Gwydion M. Williams
‘Gangsta Rap’ artists like ‘So Solid Crew’ are a reaction to existing violence, OK. But a damn silly and self-wounding reaction, just what their enemies would be hoping for. Rather than rejecting the violence of the mainstream society, they manage just a little imitation of the world’s war machines. Black youths are encouraged into gun battles in which innocent die, obviously.
‘Respect’ is hardly what you feel for a community that mostly murders its own. It’s also not the majority trend within Britain’s black communities, but that could change. If they’d murdered a few prominent white racists that might be different, but it’s not happened at all that I’ve heard of. All that’s got through to me and to most of the public is a bunch of young fools gathering status at the expense of their community. They don’t lack courage, but they lack everything else.
There are wider reasons—aren’t there always? Life has been made so competative that even white youths who’re not clever or lucky figure that violence is an option. And it is also true that Blacks who did fit in and get qualifications found that they were last on everyone’s list. And critics are quite right to point to the absurdity of condeming gun culture from marginal people while avoiding its hard core,US culture.
The point, however, is not to describe the world, nor to sneer at it. The point is to change it for the better.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Italians and Jews in the USA were the main source of organised-crime gangs. But Jews quickly moved ‘up-market’ and are now the richest group in the USA. Italians have had trouble leting go of macho culture and are doing much less well. Blacks up until the 1960s were shut out altogether, but the way they then handled it did not help.
The Black Panthers were quite correct to say that violence and guns were the American way. But did they stop to wonder if the American way was not the best way? It was Martin Luther King and his borrowing of Ghandi’s methods that produced major advances, an end to formal and official racism. Doing things the American way did not advance a cause that the bulk of American society was anyway lukewarm about.
Doing things the American way makes even less sense when you’re living in Britain.
Mainstream media in Britain gives vast attention to acts of murder, tragedies which we can do very little about. It says very much less about vastly larger numbers of people dying in road crashes. But very few journalists are murderers, while most are drivers and friends of car-culture. As are many readers and even more advertisers, car-culture going heavily for advertising. Saying too much about the legions of innocents killed by private motoring makes you enemies. Whereas murderers can be condemned as evil without much fear of contradiction.
Myself, I’d like to go after the whole range of socially sanctioned violence and death-worship. Silencing the gangsta rappers would be the thin end of the wedge, hopefully. A first step towards a day when the reporting of murder was reduced to same sort of bald basic reporting that most sudden deaths receive.
Murder journalists could say that no one is forced to read that their stuff, and that they simply supply an existing demand. All this is true. But heroin salesmen could use exactly the same argument, and probably do.
I’d also object to popular entertainment going for easy solutions, the widespread glorification of violence as the solution in modern society. I am not really bothered by violence in some obviously remote location, movies like Lord Of The Rings or Gladiator. I also felt that the two parts of Lord Of The Rings we’ve so far seen had much more of a feel for life’s problems than the pretentious asocial slaughter of Gladiator. But violence in a far-off or long-ago context is less corrupting.
Gladiator is also a remake of a 1964 film called Fall Of The Roman Empire, cloned with Spartacus and with the social dimension of both films reduced to insignificance. The link to Gladiator is correctly noted in the review of Fall Of The Roman Empire at http://us.imdb.com/, but no hint is included in the same database’s review of Gladiator. The change is notable, social struggle replace by mindless violence that is sanctified by pompous empty phrases. Blood spilt on screen rings up cash very nicely at the box offices.
By seeing violence as a way out, both the Rap artists and the street criminals show themselves gullible fools, falling for just what the establishment wanted after older methods of control failed. It has also applied to white youths—California’s Hells Angels, whose name comes from a film about World War One pilots and whose life-style had previously been popularised by films like Rebel Without A Cause. There was maybe no specific plan, but there was a general idea that gang culture was less dangerous than politicised youths, rebels with a cause and who did overturn the cultural control of some of the richest and most powerful people in the world. Culture is a long way from being what it was in the 1950s, and is the better for it. But the ‘permanently revolting’ remain marginal: if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the detritus.
Historically, personal violence was a way of settling things with force when the law wasn’t powerful enough. And it was a very bad and unjust method: accounts like the Icelandic Sagas record the worse side winning as often as not, and in many cases there was mutual destruction by two rival groups who were much the same. That’s why people were generally willing to surrender their right to personal violence in favour of a more-or-less impartial state.
It’s mostly not like that in the media. Criminal trials in thriller-fiction normally convict the innocent and acquit the guilty. Violent clashes are almost always won by the virtuous side, perhaps with some setbacks along the way to add ‘realism’.
In the real world, the wicked tend to be very good at freelance violence, copying their methods and de-civilising the whole society is no answer. But violent crime in Britain has levelled off after 5 years of continuous falls. The wider trend is that crime rose massively under Thatcher and has since been getting back to more normal levels for Britain. But there is also much more doubt and fear, with people very much more concerned about violent criminals or foreign terrorist than about motorists who are drunk or speeding.
Please murder the journalists. This is a joke. But so are they.
‘Woy of the Modewates’ lived the whole of his long life in a permanant 1950s outlook, with a nostalgia for the era before that, culminating in his far-too-reverential biography of Churchill. The son of an upwardly mobile Welsh miner and trade union official, Jenkins managed to get himself identified with the old elite at a time when the bulk of the population were thoroughly sick of such people.
Mindless moderation failed in a changing world, because moderates saw no reason why the world should change or why everyone should not be content with what they’d got. And I’d not give Jenkins much credit for the reforms on divorce, homosexuality and abortion that occurred while he was in office: these things happened throughout the Western world regardless of whoever happened to be in charge.
What he could have done, what he might have done had he been more true to his roots, is to have organised a second wave of radical reforms, on the lines of what Labour did in the 1940s, further empowering ordinary people. The demand was there, Workers Control was assumed to be the next step forward, until it was sabotaged by a mix of mindless militancy and mindless moderation.
But support for Workers Control was hardly likely from a Welsh miners’ son who spent his whole life trying to get away from what he actually was. Much that might have been has been wasted, what a pity.
The long-suffering people of Iraq can expect an American Valentine some time in February. I’m sure the actual date will be avoided—though if Al Capone had had a better spin-doctor, he could have made out a much better case for ‘pre-emptive self-defence’ than George Bush can claim.
The whole ‘anti-terror’ process has avoided the normal checks and balances that are supposedly the key to liberty. The ‘anti-terror’ machine does not feel confident that a jury of ordinary Americans would convict many of the suspects they seized, despite the intensity of feeling among ordinary US citizens. The prisoners in the Cuban base cannot be scrutinised by any impartial tribunal, even a panel of US judges, because it might let most of them go free.
Iraq will be found guilty even if proven innocent. Maybe the specific issue will be a demand that Saddam Hussein destroy his entire stock of fire-breathing dragons, evidence for the existence of these beasts must be withheld for security reasons. It will actually be something that will play rather better with the American public, but may be no more sensible.
[The invasion began in March and quickly destroyed the Baathist state. No ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction‘ were ever found.]