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Tony Grist

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Found Out [Jun. 3rd, 2008|10:14 am]
Tony Grist
Sometimes you catch them at it.

Yesterday's TV news was headlined by a story about a teenage girl who had been found dying from knife wounds in the lift of her Southwark apartment block.

It achieved its prominence because it had been co-opted into the story arc about teenage gangs and knife crime. We were shown a montage of the faces of earlier victims, shocked neighbours were filmed saying the things shocked neighbours always say, experts were interviewed.

Today it emerged that the police have arrested a man in his 30s; the girl had met him at church and he'd been stalking her.

Still a horrible waste of life, but nothing to do with gang culture or teenagers carrying knives. This was a completely different kind of crime.

So how about a story arc on the dangers to the public posed by immature, middle-aged men? Naah- not at all what the punters want to hear.

When middle-aged men commit crime (which they're doing all the time) it's always a one off. Whereas when teenagers commit crime, it's part of a horrifying trend. Oh my god, the kids are turning feral. The End Times are upon us.

The news is another kind of soap opera. Story lines are fixed in advance. Teenage knife crime is a nice little goer- so every story that feeds the paranoia is hoiked out of the middle pages of the regional press (where it would normally cause a mild flutter) and promoted to the headlines. The public is led to believe (what is almost certainly untrue) that a sudden epidemic of viciousness is making the streets unsafe, hard pressed journalists and their editors get to lie back and let the stream they've unleashed carry them,  wise heads nod and offer nostrums, and no-one has to do any real investigating or think outside their comfort zone.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: wolfshift
2008-06-03 11:59 am (UTC)
The End Times are upon us.

I've noticed that the End Times are always upon us.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 12:29 pm (UTC)
Yes indeed.

One of these days we'll grow up- but it doesn't seem it's going to happen anytime soon
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[User Picture]From: wolfshift
2008-06-03 12:48 pm (UTC)
Presumably that in itself would be a sign of the End Times.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 01:38 pm (UTC)
If so, I don't think we need to worry- 'cos the world ain't going to end in our lifetimes.
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[User Picture]From: rosamicula
2008-06-03 12:03 pm (UTC)
That apartment block is just five minutes from my flat. I have to say when I read it it made me sad, because 'that kind of thing' hasn't happened where I live before.

And if I'm honest I am a little glad it wasn't 'that kind of thing' after all.



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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 12:31 pm (UTC)
I can relate to that.

I notice- now it's no longer a hot story about teen crime- it's no longer heading the TV news but getting a brief mention 15 minutes in.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2008-06-03 12:16 pm (UTC)
I've been aware for some time that news goes in fashion waves. One minute it's dangerous dogs, then it'll be something else. Teenagers being violent/drunk/on drugs is a hardy perennial and can be trotted out if there's no other Crisis Of The Moment.

Personally I want to know what happened to flick knives. These days the kids seem to be stealing kitchen knives, but that's not very macho, is it? In my youth all the hoo-haa was about the evil gangs roaming the streets with flick knives and bicycle chains beating up little old ladies and having mass fights on Brighton sea front.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 12:36 pm (UTC)
Remember Mack the Knife?

It's one of the advantages of being middle-aged, that you've seen the same old stories roll by time and time again (always dressed up as the latest, unprecedented shock-horror) and you're a little less credulous than you once were.
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[User Picture]From: serennos
2008-06-03 01:01 pm (UTC)
I like that - I'll no longer call myself cynical, but 'less credulous than I once was' instead...

I don't think that you have to be middle aged to notice this - the cycles seem to be quite short!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 01:25 pm (UTC)
I went to some lengths to avoid using the word "cynical".

Because I don't think it is cynical (or not in any negative sense)- just wised up.
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[User Picture]From: serennos
2008-06-03 02:49 pm (UTC)
I guess that 'cynical' would be believeing that sometimes these bandwaggons (devil dogs, knife crime etc) deflect some of the attention from other stories in the news (longer pre-prosecution decision detention times for suspected terrorists etc)!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 03:06 pm (UTC)
Now that's a whole other can of worms.

Lazy and incurious journalism certainly serves the interests of those in power.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-03 01:03 pm (UTC)

Found out

That's an excellent point. Teenage knife and gun crime is so firmly in the media glare right now that unrelated stories are likely to be misconstrued for the sake of a headline. www.disarmingbritain.co.uk
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 01:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Found out

There's a hierarchy in crime stories. Those that play to the media's current obsessions are given headlines, those that don't are ignored.
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[User Picture]From: cucumberseed
2008-06-03 02:19 pm (UTC)

Rambling

I remember seeing a feature on this on some website a year or so ago (I think it was a knife exchange or drop off program), when I was writing copy for a distributing company that specialized in knives and swords and things (ranging from tools to display pieces, to display pieces you can have in a house with young children, to weapons that could probably kill once to weapons that you could probably use for the length of a career in murder) with one police officer holding up one of the display pieces we sell, a flimsy thing patterned after the work of a drug-addled Klingon that was more likely to injure someone through freak and tragic accident than deliberate use. The caption under it described the weapon in question as "terrifying."

We all had a good laugh at it; a bin full of hunting knives and switchblades and steak knives, even, right there in the picture with him, and the officer had to hold up the least dangerous piece in the bin and call it terrifying. Granted, with the other ones, you could really hurt someone besides yourself...

Granted, discussion of knife crime already sounds surreal in the land of the gun; at once more lurid and personal but also, it doesn't seem real... Knife attacks here are part of domestic disputes, terrible accidents, not any sort of deliberate crime. I know better, and I still have to adjust for the sentiment of "Oh you think it's bad over there..."

Which does a terrible disservice to the girl you mention; it isn't as if a gun would have done worse for her.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 02:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Rambling

We have shootings too- mainly in the context of organised crime and drug gangs. There was a case recently where an innocent little white kid (being white makes a difference) got caught in crossfire on his way back from playing football and it was- and still is- an enormous story- but at the moment it's knives they particularly want us to obsess about. Everytime someone young gets killed by someone with a knife it's the headline de jour.

They'll get tired of it eventually and switch to something else. In fact there are already signs that the young people and knives scenario is being overtaken by the young people and alcohol scenario. Oh my God, the little darlings like drinking vodka- who'd have thought it?

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[User Picture]From: cucumberseed
2008-06-03 03:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Rambling

Oh my God, the little darlings like drinking vodka- who'd have thought it?

The Russians?

Now that I've gone and gotten the low hanging fruit...

mainly in the context of organised crime and drug gangs.

Which makes it seem somewhat less anarchic until I remember what drug gangs are like over here (and I doubt they are all that much different most anywhere)...

being white makes a difference
I suppose I don't need to say that it does here as well; somewhere in my head there's a process that's trying to make sense of how the signs of implicit, obscured racism are different here and there differ and how they are the same...

by the young people and alcohol scenario
A perennial favorite, if ever there was one. Right now, I think we're coming down off another cycle of MySpace panic in the wake of that case where the woman got one of her daughter's classmates to kill herself using a fake account, but I'm sure alcohol will be making a comeback (it is graduation season, and I'm quite certain the annual blood sacrifice is soaking into the roots of be-crossed trees along roadways all over this land).

It's amazing the staying power of alcohol. Crack cocaine had its day in the 80's and crystal meth at the beginning of the decade, but some things alway seem to be in style.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-03 04:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Rambling

I guess drug gangs are much the same everywhere. The really violent ones over here- the ones most likely to shoot first and ask questions afterwards (or not ask questions at all)- are, I think, Jamaican.

Racism in America has slavery behind it and racism in Britain has empire behind it. This means that British racists are able to prettify their bigotry as a resentment of "immigrants" who are "here to steal our jobs". Otherwise it boils down to much the same thing, I think.

Kids have always wanted to get smashed. I remember knocking back the cider at 15- a) to find out what it felt like and b) because it was transgressive. Maybe it's too easy for kids to get hold of booze today, maybe the prices are too low- but I don't remember there being any serious obstacles in the way of us buying our cider 40 years ago. Where there's a will, there's always a way.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2008-06-04 02:45 am (UTC)

Re: Rambling

We have guns in our headlines over here just about on a daily basis, usually drug related, often with innocents (children, old women) caught in the crossfire. Knives are kind of passe. We also have a whole thing about blaming immigrants for a lot of stuff, including the jobs thing, also drugs and the dole, as you UKer's call it (we call it Welfare). I guess it's like that old song goes,
"Its the same the whole world over ..... It's the rich that get the gravy and the poor that get the blame."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-06-04 11:35 am (UTC)

Re: Rambling

Gun crime seems to be on the increase. I say "seems" because it's hard to know how much is hysteria and how much statistics.

Gun ownership is, of course, very tightly controlled. Farmers and sportsmen are allowed to own shotguns and that's about it. Anyone else who owns a gun is- by definition- a criminal.
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