Unlike many of my comrades in the punditry game, I don’t do a lot of TV. But I’m currently promoting my latest doom-mongering bestseller, so I’m spending more time than usual on the telly circuit. This week I was on the BBC’s current-affairs flagship Newsnight. My moment in the spotlight followed a report on the recent riots in English cities, in the course of which an undercover reporter interviewed various rioters from Manchester who’d had a grand old time setting their city ablaze and then expressed no remorse over it. There then followed a studio discussion, along the usual lines. The host introduced a security guard who’d fought for Queen and country in Afghanistan and Bosnia and asked whether he sympathized with his neighbors. He did. When you live in an “impoverished society,” he said, “people do what they have to do to survive.”
When we right-wing madmen make our twice-a-decade appearance on mainstream TV, we’re invariably struck by how narrow are the bounds of acceptable discourse in polite society. But in this instance I was even more impressed by how liberal pieties triumph even over the supposed advantages of the medium. Television, we’re told, favors strong images — Nixon sweaty and unshaven, Kennedy groomed and glamorous, etc. But, in this instance, the security guard’s analysis, shared by three-quarters of the panel, was entirely at odds with the visual evidence: There was no “impoverished society.” The preceding film had shown a neat subdivision of pleasant red-brick maisonettes set in relatively landscaped grounds. There was grass, and it looked maintained. Granted, it was not as bucolic as my beloved New Hampshire, but, compared to the brutalized concrete bunkers in which the French and the Swedes entomb their seething Muslim populations, it was nothing to riot over. Nonetheless, someone explained that these riotous Mancunian youth were growing up in “deprivation,” and the rioters themselves seemed disposed to agree. Like they say in West Side Story, “I’m depraved on account of I’m deprived.” We’ve so accepted the correlation that we don’t even notice that they’re no longer deprived, but they are significantly more depraved.
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