Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This sort of thing isn't unique to the Nasty Mail, either. 

Theories about what caused last month's outbreak of extreme naughtiness are many and varied: from the usual suspect like Poverty, Unmarried Mothers, Grand Theft Auto, The Secret Elders of Frankfurt and Rap Music to more outre suggesstions like Jamaican Dialect and (my personal favourite) the Introduction of Decimal Currency in 1972. Liz Jones is, as ever, beyond parody:

But the problem started when the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Gap commandeered hip-hop clothing and sold it back to young people. The style became self-perpetuating and, to be honest, it rotted young people’s brains. Look at the footage of the young people rioting in London and Birmingham and so on, and it’s like looking at a commercial for American Apparel. Sloppy clothes lead to sloppy minds. The biggest disservice fashion superbrands have done is to relax a generation, for huge profit, and not equip them for the real world. Just as drawstring trousers never emit the warning sign that you might be getting fat, so sportswear means you will never be smart, disciplined or employable.

But I was rather more creeped out by a piece in the Guardian, yes, the Guardian which interviewed parents and yoof leaders in the ruffer parts of London after Teh Riotz to try to find out What Went Wrong and What Should Be Done About It.` The people who spoke to the Guardian feature writer were all of one voice. The reason that the younger generation had risen up as one a set fire to things was, yes, "discipline".

Parents are fearful about how they chastise their children.....

Stirling wondered whether weakened parental authority might have something to do with it.....

London's mayor said adults and teachers needed to be given back the right to impose authority.....

Stirling....believes parents have become afraid to discipline their own children....

....Teachers are scared to punish children.

Chris (who did not want to give her surname) said she felt under pressure not to discipline her children

People here will call social services if they hear you disciplining your children.

It's all very well trying to be liberal, but parents need to be given back their right to parent.

Who are these people who call social services if you make your child sit on the naughty step for five minutes? What do we suppose would happen if a child told Childline that dad had said "No Simpsons for a week because you poured the pepper over your kid sister's head?" What sound does being banned from youth club or losing your allowance make?

Most politicians are reluctant to say that the majority of their voters are child abusers and therefore take the line that the occasional very light blow is a tool which some responsible parents use responsibly. But these people weren't talking about tools or techniques or parenting styles or light blows. No-one appeared to be saying "It's inconvenient that I am no longer allowed to slap Johnny lightly on the wrist, and have to use Time Out instead". They appeared to take it for granted that "discipline" was synonymous with "hitting" and now that parents were not allowed to hit their children, it followed that they were not allowed to "discipline", or "punish" or "impose authority" or indeed "parent" at all.

Except that, er, it hasn't. Some people think that parental hitting ought to be banned. Some people think that there is a jolly difficult balance to be struck between on the one hand it being an obviously bad thing for private citizens to hit other private citizens and on the the other hand it being a bad thing for the state to interfere in how private citizens order their private lives and anyway, how would  you enforce such. I understand that the NSPCC thinks that you should make the law but not actually enforce it. It would, as practically all polticians say about practically everything "send a  clear signal".

That's a good model of 21st century politics, actually. Don't do anything. Just send signals. We may return to this point.

What fascinates me is how deeply enmeshed people are in the fictional universe where the Political Correctness Brigade has already won; how firmly they believe that and all forms of discipline – along with conkers and bent bananas and indecent seaside postcards and Christmas  – have been prohibited,  even though they quite clearly haven't been.

I don't understand how any of this impacts on Teh Riotz in any case. It's a little far-fetched to suppose that some violent, sub-human feral hoodie, half-crazed by exposure to Grand Theft Auto and American Apparel, who has always existed in a violent gang culture in which black youths, and white youths with black accents, who think of each other as soldiers, and don't know how many pence there are in three-and-six-pence, routinely engage in lethal territorial knife fights, might sit out an orgy of looting because they're afraid that Mum might give them a slap when they get home.

But it's a good deal more convincing than Call-Me-Dave's theory:

"Are you going to come out looting and spreading anarchy on Monday night, innit?" (I have it on good authority that this is really how young people talk.)

"That sounds swell, but you will have to tell the cats that I can't, innit. If I were caught, the beak might keep me in after school on Tuesday and make me write 'I must not engage in sheer criminality' on the blackboard, one thousand times, innit.

"Haven't you heard, innit? The Cultural Marxists have abolished discipline, innit. They wouldn't be allowed to put you in detention until Wednesday night, innit."

"That's, like, way cool, and also wicked and safe, and possibly lush and mint, innit. Let's go and set fire to the bloomin neighbourhood  innit. Pass me that blimey molotov, innit."