Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Telling it as it is on "Gangsta" Subculture and the English Riots.

Whilst the "gangsta" subculture is not the only reason for the English riots, it is a major factor in glamourising violence and looting, of taking on 'the cops'. Set against the background of an increasingly deracinated and meaningless consumer society, it is hardly surprising the subculture appeals.

As Tony Sewell wrote in the Daily Mail ( August 15 2011 )

....despite the attempts of some apologists to dress up the looting as a political act against an oppressive Tory establishment, the fact is that the ethos of materialism — or ‘bling’ to use the street term — that pervades urban black youth played a major part in the widespread criminality perpetrated by rioters of all races.

That is why the looters targeted specific stores that are cherished in this culture, such as those selling mobile phones, trainers, sports clothes or widescreen TVs. Let’s face it, there were no reports of the vandals looting bookshops or public libraries.

What motivated the troublemakers was not genuine poverty but rather a raw acquisitiveness that is fuelled by so much in this black-led youth culture, from the imagery in rap videos to the lyrics of hip-hop music. The twin central themes of this world are sex and material possessions.

It is a milieu that glories in loose women and fast cars, in macho dominance and easy wealth. Concepts of restraint, hard work and personal responsibility are absent. Respect is something to be demanded rather than earned.

So much of the music and the video output is close to pornographic, with women degradingly treated as little more than sex objects. In this world, the highest ideal to which a man can aspire is to be a philandering, gun-wielding gang leader.

Where I believe Dr Starkey is right is that it is now just as likely to be a white or Asian teenager posing on the internet in baggy designer clothes and dripping in gold chains, either waving a weapon of some kind or pointing their fingers at the camera in a grotesque parody of a shooting.

Tragically, this has become the acme of ‘cool’ for a generation of youngsters, regardless of the colour of their skin.

Even the boy whose Spanish-born mother may be evicted from her council house after his arrest for looting last week was photographed in an oversized rapper-style cap and T-shirt with a skull motif.

A key aspect of ‘gangsta’ culture — one that we saw writ large on the streets last week — is an utter disregard for the police and the rule of law. You only have to consider that one of the most controversial rap songs of the past two decades was called Cop Killer to understand the danger posed by these influences.


  1. The Starkey/Sewell line contains a lot of truth, but I offer one caveat. Exactly how "black" is rap, in its popularised form? someone who knows more than I about the genre told me ages ago that rap, along with its hip-hop roots, was much more diverse and nuanced. Lots of stuff about peace and love and romance, and even mocking the gun culture. It was mainstream (i.e. mainly white) American adolescents who picked up on the violence and misogyny, and created the demand. (When did sex and violence not sell well in popular culture?) This in turn was fed by those "rappers" who were market-savvy enough to sell out and give them what they wanted. Sort of a cross between Hugh Heffner and Nigger minstrels.

    In not acknowledging this, there is a danger in blaming "black culture" per se; which is why Starkey's good point got lost in the ensuing debate about his "racism".

  2. I'm not an expert in rap at all I must say. Yet Starkey was right that the patois that was used by Chelsea Ives as something alien to England as he understands it ( though it's hardly "Jamaican" ). The language about 'the feds' and so on ties in with a 'rap aesthetic' about 'respect'and not being 'dissed'. This subculture is now neither black nor white but what Us critic Leslie Fiedler termed "a race a new mutants" speaking a different language and living in a parallel world to others in the midst of the large urban conurbation of London especially.For deracinated white youths there is also 'oppression envy', a desire for victim status based on being disappointed after the end of the reckless credit fuelled debt binge.This could lead to rioting on the US model ( the LA Riots of the 1990s ) or the EDL football hooligan flashmob variety and the idea white youths are victimised by 'the system. Dangerous times ahead.