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The dance of the vampires

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 415565ip ) THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, 1974 VARIOUS

We value youth.  There is greater currency in youth, far greater than wisdom, despite most people when they are looking back wishing they had more wisdom in life.  Modernity brought us the era of the picture and since then we have become captivated with images.  Pictures, first black and white, then replaced by moving images, and further replaced by colour became an antidote to a verbose society that now didn’t need to talk about it…it simply became a case of look and don’t talk!

The image became even more important when people turned the cameras on themselves.  The selfie, originally a self-portrait of reclusive artists evolved into a statement, a visual signature for millions of people using it every day on social media.  Enter youth!  The engagement with social media is regarded the gift of computer scientists to the youth of today.  I wonder how many people know that one of the first images sent as a jpeg was that of a Swedish Playboy playmate the ‘lady with the feathers’.  This “captivating” image was the start of the virtual exchange of pictures that led to billions of downloads every day and social media storing an ever-expanding array of images.   

The selfie, brought with it a series of challenges. How many times can you take a picture, even of the most beautiful person, before you become accustomed to it.  Before you say, well yes that is nice, but I have seen it before.  To resolve the continuous exposure the introduction of filters, backgrounds and themes seems to add a sense of variety.  The selfie stick (banned from many museums the world over) became the equipment,  along with the tripod, the lamp and the must have camera, with the better lens in the pursue of the better selfie.  Vanity never had so many accessories!

The stick is an interesting tool.  It tells the individual nature of the selfie.  The voyage that youthful representation takes across social media is not easy, it is quite a solitary one.  In the representation of the image, youth seem to prefer.  The top “influencers” are young, who mostly like to pose and sometimes even offer some advice to their followers.  Their followers, their contemporaries or even older individuals consume their images like their ‘daily (visual) bread’.  This seems to be a continuous routine, where the influencer produces images, and the followers watch them and comment.  What, if anything, is peculiar about that? Nothing!  We live in a society build on consumption and the industry of youth is growing.  So, this is a perfect marriage of supply and demand.  Period!    

Or is it?  In the last 30 years in the UK alone the law on protecting children and their naivety from exploitation has been centre stage of several successive governments.  Even when discussing civil partnerships for same sex couples, Baroness Young, argued against the proposed act, citing the protection of children.  Youth became a precious age that needed protection and nurturing.  The law created a layer of support for children, particularly those regarded vulnerable. and social services were drafted in to keep them safe and away from harm.  In instances when the system failed, there has been public outrage only to reinforce the original notion that children and young people are to be protected in our society. 

That is exactly the issue here!  In the Criminology of the selfie!  Governments introducing policies to generate a social insulation of moral righteousness that is predicated on individual – mostly parental – responsibility.  The years of protective services and we do not seem to move passed them.  In fact, their need is greater than ever.  Are we creating bad parents through bad parenting or are people confronted with social forces that they cannot cope with?  The reality is that youth is more exposed than ever before.  The images produced, unlike the black and white photos of the past, will never fade away.  Those who regret the image they posted, can delete it from their account, but the image is not gone.  It shall hover over them for the eternity of the internet.  There is little to console and even less to help.  During the lockdown, I read the story of the social carer who left their job and opened an OnlyFans account.  These are private images provided to those who are willing to pay.  The reason this experience became a story, was the claim that the carer earned in one month of OnlyFans, more than their previous annual income.  I saw the story being shared by many young people, tagging each other as if saying, look at this.  The image that captures their youth that can become a trap to contain them in a circle of youth.  Because in life, before the certainty of death there is another one, that of aging and in a society that values youth so much, can anyone be ready to age? 

As for the declared care for the young, would a society that cares have been closing the doors to HE, to quality apprenticeships, a living wage and a place to live?  The same society that stirs emotions about protection, wants young people to stay young so that they cannot ask for their share in their future.  The social outrage about paedophiles is countered with high exposure to a particular genre in the movies and literature that promotes it.  The vampire that has been fashioned as young adult literature is the proverbial story of an (considerably) older man who deflowers a young innocent girl until she becomes infatuated with him.  The movies can be visually stunning because it involves the images of young beautiful people but there is hardly any mention of consent or care!

It is one of the greatest ironies to revive the vampire image in youth culture. A cultural representation of a male prototype that is manipulative, intruding into the lives of seemingly innocent young people who become his prey. There is something incredibly unsettling to explore the semiology of an immortal that is made through a blood ritual. A reverse Peter Pan who consumes the youth of his victims. The popularity of this Victorian literary character, originally conceived in the era of industrial advancement,at a time when modernity challenged tradition, resurfaces with other monsters at times of great uncertainty. The era of the picture has not made everyday life easier, and modernity did not improve quality of life to the degree it proclaimed. Instead, whilst people are becoming captivated by ephemera they are focused on the appearance and missing substance. An old experience man, dark, mysterious with white skin may be an appealing character in literature but in real life a someone who feeds on young people’s blood is hardly an exciting proposition.

The blood sacrifice demanded by a vampire is a metaphor of what our society requires for those who wish to retain youth and save their image into the ether of the cyberworld as a permanent Portrait of Dorian Gray.  In this context, the vampire is not only a man in power, using his privilege to dominate, but a social representation of what a consumer society places as the highest value.  It is life’s greatest irony that the devouring power of a vampire is becoming a representation of how little value we place on both youth and life!  A society focused on appearance, ignoring the substance.  Youth looking but not youth caring!   

World Mental Health Day 2022

Monday marked World Mental Health day, that one day of the year when corporations and establishments which act like corporations tell us how much mental health matters to them, how their worker’s wellbeing matters to them. Given many sectors are affected by industrial action, or balloting for industrial action, this seems like a contradiction. Could it be possible that these industries and government are causing mental ill health, while paying lip service as a PR tool? Could it be that capitalism and inequalities associated with it are both the cause of mental health conditions and the very thing that prevents recovery from it?

Capitalism, I argue, is the root of a lot of society’s problems. The climate crisis is largely caused by consumerism and our innate need for stuff. The cost of living crisis is more like a greed crisis, since the rich are getting richer and the corporations are making phenomenal profits while small business struggle to make ends meet and what used to be the middle class are relying on food banks, getting second jobs and wondering whether they can afford to put the heating on. No wonder swathes of us are suffering with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Of course, I cannot argue that capitalism is to blame for all manner of mental health conditions as that is simply not the case. There are many causes of mental health conditions which simply cannot be blamed on the environment. The mental health conditions I discuss here are the depression and anxiety that so many of us suffer as a result of environmental stressors, namely capitalist embedded society.

The mental health epidemic did not start with the current ‘crises’[1] though. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic contributes and exacerbates already existing inequalities and the UK saw an increase in adults reporting psychological distress during the first two years of the pandemic, yet fewer were being diagnosed, perhaps due to inaccessibility of GPs during this time. Even before all these things which have exacerbated mental health conditions, prevalence of common mental disorders has been increasing since the 1990s. At the same time, we have seen in the UK, neoliberal ideology and austerity politics privatise parts of the NHS and decimate funding to services which support those with needs relating to their mental health.

I am not a psychologist but I know a problem when I see or experience one. Several months ago, I was feeling a bit low and anxious so I sought help from the local NHS talking therapies service. The service was still in restrictions and I was offered a series of six DBT-based telephone appointments. After the first appointment, I realised that this was not going to help. It was suggested to have a structure in my life. I have a job, doctoral studies, dog, home educated teenager, and I go to the gym. Scheduling and structure was already an essential part of my life. Next, I was taught coping skills. ‘Get some exercise’, ‘go for a walk’. Ditto previous session – I’m gym obsessed, with a dog I walk every day, mostly in green spaces. My coping skills were not the problem either. What I realised was that I didn’t need psychological help, I needed my environment to change. I needed my workload to be reduced, my PhD to finally end, my teenage daughter not to have any teenage problems, my dog to behave, for someone to pay my mortgage off, and a DIY fairy to fix the house I don’t have time to fix. No amount of therapy could ever change these things. I realised that it wasn’t me that was the problem – it was the world around me.

I am not alone. The Mental Health Foundation have published some disturbing statistics:

  • In the past year, 74% of people (in a YouGov survey of 4,619) have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.
  • Of those who reported feeling stressed in the past year, 22% cited debt as a stressor.
  • Housing worries are a key source of stress for younger people (32% of 18-24-year-olds cited it as a source of stress in the past year). This is less so for older people (22% for 45-54-year-olds and just 7% for over 55s).

The data show not only the magnitude of the problem, but they also indicate some of the prevalent stressors in these respondents’ lives. Over 1 in 5 people cited debt as a stressor, and this survey was undertaken long before the cost of greed crisis. It is deeply concerning, particularly considering the anticipated increase in interest rates and the cost of energy bills at the moment.

The survey also showed that young people are concerned about housing, and this will have a disproportionate impact on care leavers who may not have family to support them and working class young people who cannot afford housing.

The causes of both these issues are predominantly fat cat employers who can afford to pay sufficient and fair wages, fat cat landlords buying up property in droves to rent them out at a huge profit, not to mention the fat cat energy suppliers making billions when half the country is now in fuel poverty. All the while, our capitalism loving government plays the game, shorting the pound to raise profits for their pals while the rest of us struggle to pay our mortgages after the Bank of England raised interest rates. No wonder we’re so stressed!

For work-related stress, anxiety and depression, the Labour Force Survey finds levels at the highest in this century, with 822,000 suffering from such mental health conditions. The Health and Safety Executive show that education and human, health and social work are the industries with the highest prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression.  It is yet another symptom of neoliberalism which applies corporate values to education and public services, where students are the cash cow, and workers are exploited; and health and social work being under funded for years. Is it any wonder then that both nurses and lecturers are balloting for industrial action right now?

Despite all this, when World Mental Health Day arrives, it becomes the perfect PR exercise to pay lip service to staff wellbeing. The rail industry are in a period of industrial action, yet I have seen posts on rail companies’ social media promoting World Mental Health Day. Does the promotion of mental health initiatives include fair pay and conditions for staff? I think not.

Something needs to give, but what?

As a union member and representative, I argue for the need for employers to pay staff appropriately for the work they do, and to treat them fairly. This would at least address work and finance related stressors. Sanah Ahsan argues for a universal basic income, for safe and affordable housing and for radical change in the structural inequalities in the UK. Perhaps we could start with addressing structural inequalities. Gender, race and class all impact on mental health, with women more likely to be diagnosed with depression, Black women at an increased risk of common mental health disorders and the poor all more likely to suffer mental health conditions yet less likely to receive adequate and culturally appropriate support. In my research with women seeking asylum, there is a high prevalence of PTSD, yet therapy is difficult to access, in part due to language difficulties but also due to cultural differences. Structural inequalities then not only contribute to harm to marginalised people’s mental health, but also form a barrier to support.

I do not have a realistic solution, but I have the feeling society needs a radical social change. We need an end to structural inequalities, and we need to ensure those most impacted by inequalities get adequate and appropriate support. When I look to see who is in charge, and who could be in charge if the tides were to turn, and I don’t see this happening anytime soon.


[1] I’m hesitant to call them crises. As Canning (2017:9) explains in relation to the refugee ‘crisis’, a crisis is unforesessable and unavoidable. The climate crisis has been foreseen for decades, and the cost of living crisis is avoidable if you compare other European countries such as France where the impact has been mitigated by the government. The mental health crisis has also been growing for a long time and the extent to which we say today could be both foreseen and avoided.

Frames of Farage: The far-right’s hijacking of the “anti-“ narrative

Photograph by Channel 4 in The Guardian

During the research and write-up of my PhD, I have had the opportunity to continuously reflect on the chronology of populist political discourse and the divisive stance it has taken in recent years, not least in relation to key issues of social (in)justice. What has fascinated me most, however, is the familiarity of much of the (currently) dominant narrative to the discourses used during the early years of the Austerity programme (early 2010s) where anti-capitalist, anti-establishment and anti-elite sentiments were particularly rife. I reflected on my days of activism as part of the Anonymous hacktivist collective, when these words seemed to be synonymous with a desire for genuine social justice for the vulnerable, marginalised and minoritised…only to later discover that the years of gradual drip-feeding of far-right ideas surrounding race, gender, religion, sexuality and environmentalism had hijacked those same signifiers – framing any kind of opposition to the “new” (but very much old and tired) hegemony as “annoying wokeness” or “political correctness gone mad”.

Right-leaning politicians soon jumped on this bandwagon to appeal to the racist factions of the public who had finally been empowered to show their true inner colours during the Brexit years, and those who were simply looking for an outlet for their woes – someone or something to blame – but who had somehow managed to forget the deep scars left behind from the inevitable consequences of neoliberalism. There cannot be a better demonstration of this than Liz Truss’ latest attack, in her keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference, on anyone opposing the government’s policies as being “anti-growth”…whatever that means. Even as each Conservative politician turns out to be more discursively radical than their predecessor, rooting the country deeper in this post-truth hegemony, we are still subjected to remnants of Nigel Farage from the sidelines. In his most recent 42-minute interview with Steven Edgington from the Telegraph, he demonstrated the continued stronghold of the far-right on the discursive field surrounding anti-establishmentism and anti-elitism.

It was interesting to hear Farage’s embodiment of the 1930s Chicago School of thought surrounding crime and criminality, framed as some kind of nostalgic dream that Britons should aspire to return to; people speaking the same language, having similar cultural interests, histories, engaging in self-regulation (i.e. emulating ideas of informal policing mechanisms), with the consequence of the alternative being framed as lawless anarchy. It is almost as though he spent an inordinate amount of time rifling through any Criminology textbook he could find to try to secure the smallest sliver of justification for spewing hatred about migrants and refugees. It is unclear whether or not this was a deliberate attempt to appeal to academic audiences, but it may have been worth (rather than remaining in the 1930s) actually reading ahead to more contemporary work which largely discredit some of these bygone theoretical ideas as inadequate in explaining “crime” rates in large metropolitan cities. Even so, Farage’s Chicago School ideas seemed misguided. Discourses relating to ‘community cohesion’ and ‘integration’ were thrown out without adequate explanation, closely linked to his views on immigration; the cause of our economic woes being framed as some kind of ‘burden on the state’ as a result of migration.

In Farage’s post-truth world, deregulation of industry and business is framed as a solution to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Well, we know the inevitable consequence of deregulating industry…we have been privy to the process in slow batches for 12 years. The UK also fell victim to this kind of neoliberal model during the Thatcher era. There is a vast archive of state-initiated and state-facilitated corporate crimes (and other significant individual and ecological harms) that can be attributed directly to the deregulation of major industry, and that’s even before talking about the horrors of the Grenfell Tower fire. These arguments for neoliberalism were accompanied during the interview by a narrative fixated on attacking globalism (e.g. “globalist idiots”) in defence of economic, political and cultural nationalism. The outrage at the state-facilitated actions of rich bankers that caused the 2008 Economic Crisis, and the subsequent Austerity programme, was framed as some kind of exaggeration (“hardly anyone lost their jobs”).

While there are statements made throughout the interview that those opposing the current Conservative government could agree with, like the weakness of the Party in resonating with ‘regular’ people (due to being out of touch with social reality), and the fact that they are almost certainly “headed for a 97-style wipeout, and they deserve it”…it is worth noting that the message is also reliant on the messenger. As a private-school educated politician, with a background in corporate tax avoidance, Farage is the epitome of the ‘establishment’, the ‘metropolitan elite’ who he claims to oppose. Despite this discursive war taking place in political, social and academic arenas, the “anti-” narrative needs reclaiming not through defensive practices, but ones which engage in active reframing of the ‘establishment’ as being all-encompassing of the vices associated with neoliberalism; greed, selfishness, individualism, ego-centrism and inevitable narcissism.

“…the result is the same:  beasts of prey and ignorant thieves”

Photograph by AP in The Guardian

Since the ousting of a close Putin ally (ex-President Viktor Yanukovich) from Ukrainian politics and territory in 2014 during the Euromaidan revolution, the closeness the country had come to actually joining the defensive NATO alliance seems to have irked Putin enough to swiftly “recognise the independence” of, as with Crimea in 2014, two Eastern-Ukrainian regions, Donetsk and Luhansk. It is not a new politically strategic move and certainly not unique to Russia. Examples of this kind of act can be seen around the world in regions where complex power interplays are rendering regional enclaves powerless in garnering enough support for the recognition of their own independence from oppressive regimes, genocide or in securing mere rights to self-determination (e.g. Kashmir in Northern India, Artsakh in South-Eastern Armenia etc.).

Yesterday morning we awoke to the news that Russia’s Vladimir Putin had ordered a full-scale attack on Ukrainian sovereign territory, in violation of international law (among many other violations of basic morality and human decency). I should emphasise here that this is a Putin-centred issue rather than one which encompasses the Russian Federation, since it is not inconceivable to suggest that ordinary Russian citizens are not particularly excited that their relatives, friends, children are being sent to die like cattle in another country while their billionaire leader basks in complete safety in his ivory tower. With an attack from the northern, eastern and southern borders of the country…and now the imminent arrival of Russian troops in Ukraine’s capital Kiev…this does not seem like just a case of Putin’s desire to rebuild a modern-day Russian empire incorporating its former Soviet nations, but a much deeper personal desperation to be seen to be the only globally-remaining strong leader.

The stepping down of Angela Merkel in Germany, ousting of Donald Trump from the US, and the failure of Brexit in achieving what he thought would be a political and economic disaster for the European Union, have all contributed to Putin’s desperation. The poisoning and subsequent arrest/detention of Alexei Navalny, the populist Russian opposition leader who in recent years managed to almost successfully stage a political coop against Putin, demonstrates the lengths Putin will go to convince his increasingly oppressed citizens that the alternative to his leadership will equate to the kinds of political and economic failures they have witnessed of Western nations.

It is clear that the UK’s sanctions have not gone near far enough in preventing the kinds of miscarriages of justice that will inevitably follow from Putin’s appointment of a de facto Russian leader on Ukrainian soil without democratic support from the Ukrainian people. But I wonder whether the seemingly lazy response from Boris Johnson and the UK Conservative Party is indicative of the deeply-rooted corruption which helped his eventual election into British politics. We had for many years been aware of the extent of foreign money laundering through UK banks by Russian and Azerbaijani oligarchs, the billions of pounds’ worth of UK property owned by those with close ties to the Kremlin, the millions donated to fund the Conservative Party, and perhaps most significantly, the “we’ll return the favour” investments by Conservative politicians in Russian-owned banks, stocks and shares. Is it then surprising that Putin was so supportive of the Brexit campaign and the election of Donald Trump, both seemingly aimed at destabilising the West; the US, UK and EU? Surely, now is the time for the British public to demand the highest level of openness and transparency of their politicians, particularly those who have already been elected under the banner of lies. Perhaps this will help in our collective political and economic response to miscarriages abroad, as well as within our borders.

NATO nations’ unwillingness to intervene, militarily, in this conflict is evidently the green light Putin needed to set foot in sovereign territory under the guise of “denazification” (bizarre considering Volodymyr Zelenskyy – the current Ukrainian President –  is himself Jewish).  This should form a stark reminder to former Soviet nations not to be seduced by the thought of reliving some kind of Soviet nostalgia of perceived religious and cultural similarities with Russia which has been drip-fed for many years since the collapse of the USSR. Those living in this hazy nostalgic dream will soon forget the reality that the experience of a Russian invasion will be grounded not in the form of communism which once secured its citizens with guaranteed housing, easy employment, and annual trips to the sanatorium…but in a dangerous oppressive dictatorship and an isolationist economic model. To quote a well-known message from a 1993 Russian film Window to Paris: ‘Sure. You brought up builders of communism. Now, it’s builders of capitalism. And the result is the same: beasts of prey and ignorant thieves’.

Former Soviet nations not aiding and abetting the current aggression in Ukraine (as Belarus is doing) should now be alert to the fact that they will never be safe in a military limbo, nor under Putin’s wing. It is a time where citizens of these regions should let go of any hope of a return to a “simpler way of life” and move to securing effective political and military support for their nations away from Russian influence.

Merry Christmas

“Merry Christmas”, a seasonal greeting dating back in 1534 when Bishop John Fisher was the first on record to write it.  Since then across the English-speaking world, Merry Christmas became the festive greeting to mark the winter festive season.  Although it marks a single day, the greeting relates to an entire season from Christmas Eve to the 12th night (eve of the epiphany).  The season simulates the process of leading to the birth, circumcision and the baptism of Jesus.  Like all births, there is an essential joy in the process, which is why in the middle of it there is the calendar change of the year, to mark more clearly the need for renewal.  At the darkest time of the year, for the Northern hemisphere the anticipation of life and lights to come soon.  Baby Jesus becomes an image of piety immortalised in numerous mangers in cities around the world.        

The meaning is primarily religious dating back to when faith was the main compass of moral judgment.  In fact, the celebrations were the last remnants of the old religion before the Romans established Christianity as the main faith.  The new religion brought some changes, but it retained the role of moral authority.  What is right and wrong, fair and unfair, true and false, all these questions were identified by men of faith who guided people across life’s dilemmas.  There is some simplicity in life that very difficult decisions can be referred to a superior authority, especially when people question their way of living and the social injustice they experience.  A good, faithful person need not to worry about these things, as the greater the suffering in this life, the greater the happiness in the afterlife.  Marx in his introduction to Hegel’s philosophy regarding religion said, “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes”, or religion is the opium of the people.  His statement was taken out of context and massively misquoted when the main thrust of his point was how religion could absorb social discontent and provide some contentment. 

Faith has a level of sternness and glumness as the requirement to maintain a righteous life is difficult.  Life is limited by its own existence, and religion, in recognition of the sacrifices required, offers occasional moments for people to indulge and embrace a little bit of happiness.  When religious doctrine forgot happiness, people became demoralised and rebellious.  A lesson learned by those dour looking puritans who banned dancing and singing at their own peril!  Ironically the need to maintain a virtuous life was reserved primarily for those who were oppressed, the enslaved, the poor, the women, many others deemed to have no hope in this life.  The ones who lived a privileged life had to respond to a different set of lesser moral rules.       

People, of course, know that they live in an unjust society regardless of the time; whether it is an absolute monarchy or a representative republic.  Regardless of the regime, religion was there to offer people solace in despair and destitution with the hope of a better afterlife. Even in prisons the charitable wealthy will offer a few ounces of meat and grain for the prisoners to have at least a festive meal on Christmas Day.  Traditionally, employers will offer a festive bonus so that employees can get a goose for the festive meal, leaving those who didn’t to be visited by the ghosts of their own greed, as Dickens tells us in a Christmas carol.  At that point, Dickens concerned with dire working conditions and the oppression of the working classes subverts the message to a social one. 

By the time we move to the age of discovery, we witness the way knowledge conflicts with faith and starts to question the existence of afterlife…but still we say Merry Christmas!  There is a recognition that the message now is more humanist, social and even family focused rather than a reaffirmation of faith.  So, the greeting may have remained the same, but it could symbolise something quite different.  If that is the case, then our greeting today should mean, the need to embrace humanity to accept those around us unconditionally, work and live in the world fighting injustices around.  “Merry Christmas” and Speak up to injustices.  Rulers and managers come and go; their oppression, madness and tyranny are temporary but people’s convictions, collectivity and fortitude remain resolute.     

Christmas is meant to be a happy time full of joy, wonder and gifts.  Lights in the streets, cheerful music in the shops, a lot of good food and plenty of gifts.  This is at least the “official” view; which has grown to become such an oppressive event for those who do not share this experience.  There are people who this festive season live alone, and their social isolation will become even greater.  There are those who live in abusive relationships.  There are children who instead of gifts will receive abuse.  There are people locked up feeling despair; traditionally in prisons suicide rates go rocket high at the festive season.  There are those who live in such conditions that even a meal is a luxury that they cannot afford every day.  There are who live without a shelter in cold and inhuman conditions.  These are people to whom festivities come as a slap in the face, in some cases even literal, to underline the continuous unfairness of their situation.   

 Most of us may have read “the little match girl” as kids.  A story that let us know of the complete desperation of those people living in poverty.  A child, like the more than a million children every year that die hoping until the very end.  The irony is that for many millions of people around the world conditions have not changed since the original publication of the story back in mid-19th century.  During this Christmas, there will be a child in a hospital bed, a child with a family of refugees crossing at sea, or a child working in the most inhuman conditions.  Millions of children whose only wish is not a gift but life.  The unfairness of these conditions makes it clear that “Merry Christmas” is not enough of a greeting.  So, either we need to rebrand the wish or change its meaning!         

The Criminology Team would like to wish “Social Justice” for all; our colleagues who fight for the future, our students who hope for a better life, our community that wishes for a better tomorrow, our world who deals with the challenges of the environment and the pandemic.  Diogenes the Cynic used to carry a lantern around in search of humans; we hope that this winter you have the opportunity (unlike Diogenes) to find another person and spend some pleasant moments together.           

Spend, Spend, Spend!

It is that time of year where I start to appear to be like the Grinch that Stole Christmas (before the happy ending). Whilst I love to spend time with family and friends during Christmas, I find the excessive consumption that surrounds this festive holiday to be quite problematic.  

It is only November yet the annual hysteria surrounding Christmas is being pushed via the news, adverts, social media and shops selling all things deemed ‘Christmassy’. With it being Black Friday today this issue is likely to intensify. This worries me, it was only this week that I happened to be watching a television programme where a caller phoned the show ask the host;  

If I am already in 50K (ish) worth of debt can you help me borrow another 3k so that I can buy Christmas presents?  

It might seem easy to see debt as an individual issue. Yet, if using a bit of criminological imagination, debt can be perceived as an issue that is influenced by culture, and by capitalism, which encourages people to buy things even if they cannot afford to do so.  

I do worry about the strains that Christmas may have on those workers who are already working in very poor working conditions, and with very poor pay. Especially as capitalism continues to be oppressive along citizenship, class, gender and race lines.

How will those that work in sweatshops find the increased Christmas demand? If a bit of extra pay is possible perhaps this might be welcomed, (especially due to the effect of covid), but this does not erase the issues of exploitation. Some people may say that capitalism is needed for survival and human ‘advancement’. In the past, ideas about human advancement have been used to justify the most brutal experiences of enslaved and colonised people. I am no expert but it seems that, in contemporary society, this so called ‘advancement’ is having dire effects on many, including the living situations for indigenous people and the planet.

Emma Dabiri: https://twitter.com/emmadabiri/status/1368269490845270021

Surely there is room to operate in a way which balances the profit based motive with more ethical considerations of humans?…Or maybe the whole system needs to change? What would happen if people were able to be critical of capitalism. Or for those that are already critical, what if they really thought about whether they need to buy all of the items in their online baskets? What if those with disposable income find that they have lots of savings due to reducing spending and decide to gave the money to charity (/or to those that need it more than them)? I wonder if this would then encourage businesses to becomes both more ethical and affordable.

Rest assured, I am not writing this post to be smug about my own lifestyle. Although, I will never really fully understand why people want to have/buy so many things with such high levels of inequality.  

It’s different now… it happened to me

A few weeks ago, @paulaabowles shared an article on the Criminology Facebook page which posed the question of whether graffiti is art or crime. My response was art. And like all art, not all variations, interpretations or styles are for everyone. I know I can look at some graffiti and be quite taken aback at the brightness, boldness and creativity which shines through. I can also look at some and go ‘eugh’. However I have the same reactions to various classical and well-known pieces. My unrefined self does not get all the hype about a number of Picasso’s works (possibly all the ones I have seen). Nevertheless this is the beauty of art: it is down to individual taste.

So for me, I was fairly certain on my opinions and convictions towards graffiti as an art form, and as an example of the CJS further stigmatising and criminalisation young people’s behaviours: something I am certain we are all quite familiar with at this stage in our criminological journey. However those beliefs and informed views were put to the test over the Bank Holiday (BH) Weekend, and in all honesty I think I am still trying to get to grips with them. It is different now…. It happened to me.

Some context: as those of you who have read various blog posts from myself will no doubt remember, my partner runs a small kiosk near one of the Royal Parks in London. Often during the weekends and summer months, I provide an extra pair of hands to help clean and serve during the busier periods. And as a result of the pandemic, my partner finds themselves going from a team of 4 down to just them, and me when I am able to support: this was the case for the BH Weekend. Off we popped, down to London for a day of serving hotdogs, drinks and ice creams. However our day was thrown off course by some ‘ugly’ graffiti all over the front of the kiosk.

My partner was angry, and felt personally attacked (not really sure by who- but guess that’s besides the point). It is not the first time the kiosk has had graffiti on it, but it is the first time I have seen it in person and witnessed my partner’s response. Rather than starting our working day and opening up, we had to clean the graffiti off. My partner set to this: just over 3 hours later some of it has been removed, but so has some of the kiosk’s paint. It looks a mess. We are now at midday and we cannot afford to remain closed and keep cleaning. We have lost 3 hours of trading time to try and remove it, only to remove some of it and some of the kiosk’s paint. I am informed that we shall need to go to B&Q to try and find some graffiti remover: Capitalism wins again! But seeing my partner cleaning for 3 hours, losing the trading hours and for this end result: I can’t help but feel angry, frustrated and in want of some kind of justice. It’s different now… it happened to me.

But what realistically would justice be in the scenario? What do I actually want as a result? I have no idea. I asked my partner who said they just wanted them ‘not to do it’. It is private property, will my partner call the police? Nope: just nuisance annoying behaviour, but not much anyone can do about it. I feel less inclined to call it art. I like my partner’s use of ‘nuisance’ behaviour: it feels very accurate. I do not think my partner was targeted, I think it was available as a surface to be used for that individual or individuals to express themselves. But I am shaken in my previously held convictions. Shouldn’t something be done. We lost 3 hours of trading, the kiosk now needs to be repainted and we shall need to purchase some graffiti remover. All for some expression of ‘art’? Shouldn’t there be some kind of repercussion?

I am not too sure. I also know when this has happened before, and I have not been present to witness the impact it has on my partner and the kiosk I have been very nonchalant about it. ‘Oh dear, that’s frustrating’, ‘ah well, never mind’. But being there and seeing it: I view it differently. And this is something many of us come to grips with when considering hypothetical moral situations and larger ethical questions. We think we will act one way, but if it happened to us: it is quite possible our opinions, informed views and beliefs would change. I still think graffiti is art, but I am not so convinced in my previous assertation that it is not a crime…

Keep Calm and Forget the Pandemic or What to do in a pandemic? Take advantage of the situation

Eleven months now and there is a new spectre haunting Europe; a plague that has taken hold of our lives and altered our lifestyles.  Lockdowns, the r rate, viral transmission, mutations are new terms that common people use as if we are experienced epidemiologists.  Masks, made of cloth or the surgical ones, gloves and little bottles of antiseptic have become new fashion accessories.  Many people report mental fatigue and others a state of confinement inside their own homes.  Some people have started complaining that there is no light in this long tunnel, in country after country face with overwhelmed medical staff and system.

The optimist in me is unequivocal.  We can make it through.  Life is far more powerful than a disease and it always finds a way to continue, even in the most hostile of conditions.  In my view however this is not going to be a feat of a great person; this is not going to be resolved by one solution.  The answer is in us as a collective.  Humanity thrived when it gets together and the ability to form meaningful bonds that is the backbone of our success to survival.

Imagine our ancestors making their first communities; people that had no speed like the felines, no strength like the great apes and no defensive shell to protect them.  Coming out of Africa thousands of years ago, this blood creature had no offensive nor defensive structures to prevail.  Our ancestors’ survival must have been on the brink.  Who could imagine that some thousands of years ago, we were the endangered species?  Our endurance lies on the ability to form a group that worked together and understood each other, carried logic, used tools and communicated with each other. 

The current situation is a great reminder of the importance of society and its true purpose.  People form societies to protect each other and advance their opportunity for success. We may have forgotten that and understandably so, since we have had people who claimed that there is no such thing as a society, only the individual.  The prevailing economic system focuses on individual success, values individual recognition and prioritises individual issues.  In short, why worry about others, miles away, feet away, steps away from us if we are doing well. 

It is interesting to try to imagine a society as a random collection of indifferent individuals, but more people begin to value the importance of the other.  After years of austerity and the promotion of individualism, more people live alone, make relationships through social networking and mostly continue to live a solitary life even when they live with others.  Communities, as an ex-prime minister claimed as broken and so people waste no time with them.  We take from our communities, the things we need, and we discard the rest.  Since the start of the pandemic, deliveries, and online companies have been thriving.  Whilst physical shops are facing closure, online ones can hardly cope with the demand.  As a system, capitalism is flexible enough to retune the way wealth is made.  Of course, when you live alone, there are things you cannot have delivered; intimacy, closeness, intercourse.  People can fulfil their basic needs apart from the one that makes them people; their socialisation.  We will have to address it and perhaps talk about the need to be a community again. 

In the meantime, what happens at the top? In the Bible there was the story of the pool of Siloam.  This miraculous pond blessed by an angel offered the opportunity for clemency for those who swam in the waters.  Wipe the slate clean and start again.  So, what do governments do? Interestingly not as much.  Right now, as people try to come to terms with loss, isolation and pain, different governments try to address other political issues.  One country is rocked by the revelations that its head of state has created a palace to live in.  Another one, has finished construction of his summer palace.  In another country they are bringing legislation to end abortions, in another they propose the introduction of police on campuses.  Others are restricting the right to protest, and in a country famed for its civil rights, legislation is being introduced not to take pictures of police officers in public, even if they may be regarded in violation of duties.  It seems that it is open season for the curtail of civil liberties through the back door.  In an island kingdom the system has ordered and moves forward with the construction of more and bigger prisons.  A sign that they anticipate public upheaval. Maybe; whatever the reason this opportunity to supress the masses may be tantalising, but it is wrong.  When ever we come out of this we need to reconnect as a community.  If this becomes an opportunity for some, under the suppression of civic rights, things will become problematic.  For starters, people will want to see their patience and perseverance rewarded.  My advice to those who rule, listen to your base. 

Black son of the south (A 2-part short story in prose). #BlackenAsiaWithLove

Pt. 1: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

As the sun rises, and over the horizon, I can see the first capital of the Confederacy, I am forced to remember that this is the south.

There’s country music blasting from the speakers in this restaurant, and the young woman serving me has such a twang, you’d think she’s about to sing…her own rendition of Achy Breaky Heart.

The waitress calls me ‘Sweetie’ though she’s clearly half my age.

I’d much rather be called ‘sweetie’ than sir, not that I’m ashamed of being middle-aged.

I appreciate coming back down south and feeling this cosy feeling from virtually everyone I meet. Plus she’s sincere, too. I can see that the staff here are mixed, and yet I have this burning feeling that there’s more here than meets the eye.

In this part of the country, we pride ourselves on our gentile ways.  For years I’ve wondered if this is just how we southerners learned to cope with an excessively violent past.

My grandparents fled from here in the 40’s, just after the war, so terrorized were they of establishing a life of dignity outside the cotton fields they plucked as kids. Now, there is a localised justice initiative to mark the numerous racial hate crimes known as lynching.

The initiative has an eerie collection of jars filled with actual soil from (known) lynching sites. There’s at least one of these large pickle jars full-o-dirt from every county in this state alone. You know it’s Bama, too; there’s so much of that familiar chalky, red clay that’s still all around us. Dirt so red, you now wonder if it’s ferrous or blood!

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Notoriously, lynching is NOT a practice of the antebellum south, for black labour was far too valuable to just maim, torture and burn up black bodies like what’s done in these heinous hate crimes then.

I know not every white person down here is a descendant of slave-holders, slave-drivers or slave-catchers. Many may have never owned a single slave, yet…

Yet, any white person down here benefits from white-skin-privilege. Even white immigrants have famously fallen into line, capitalising on the slave economy, commoditizing King Cotton in one way or another. Not only Stevie Wonder, but even Wikipedia can see that.

The Wiki history entry of the in-famous commodities firm Lehman Brothers’ opens dryly like this: “In 1844, 23-year-old Henry Lehman, the son of a Jewish cattle merchant, emigrated to the United States from RimparBavaria. He settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he opened a dry-goods store…”

Henry’s brothers came over within a few years – legally, supposedly – and thus began the in-famous firm. The brothers quickly saw that the farmers were rich during harvest and broke when it came time to plant. The dry-goods store quickly began accepting raw cotton as a form of payment. They hoarded cotton when it was plentiful and cheap, selling it when stocks drew low; economics running counter-cyclical to farm life. Did it matter to the brothers that the cotton was produced by slaves?

The brothers opened their first branch in NYC in 1858. That’d be New Yawk ‘fore the Northern War of aggression, y’all. Their firm dug so deep into the commodities trading economy that the youngest Lehman brother’s son, Herbert, was eventually a senator, 4-time governor of New York, and among other accolades is quoted in the current US passports espousing the value of immigrants to the nation’s roots and success. Lehman Brothers’ 2008 bankruptcy has been called “the biggest corporate failure in history!”

Did you know there are entire regions of the United Kingdom that evolved on the back of King Kotton as a commodity? Manchester, “famed as the world’s first industrial city,” was nicknamed Cottonopolis. The Industrial Revolution was fuelled by slavery! Ironically, the liberation of one group of people depended upon the enslavement of another. His-story should tell both sides, else it’s a damn lie. Did you know those cotton mill workers were sent aid by the Union government when the Civil War curtailed these cheap exports?

But anyone down south was in one way or another entangled in the slave economy as much as all of us today can’t have a smartphone free of labour and land exploitation. The fact that I may never see a child mining tin in Indonesia, or set sights on bonded labourers toiling away for cobalt in the Congo, does not admonish me and my gadgetry from any responsibility to do better.

So, the pleasantries that we southerners find necessary are well-crafted ways of disarming one another from a past filled with mass artilleries in everyday life.

I am a Black son of the south.

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@ The Equal Justice Initiative

Free from these chains, I hasten to think what life was like for my grandparents. Armed with their southern draws, having actually grown up cultivating the region’s cash crops, what life could they possibly have imagined for themselves as adults there?

What I do know, however, and I’ve heard this from my own elders, is that while they couldn’t imagine a future there for themselves, they did dream of that vision for us.

And so, here I am living my life…somewhere. Over the rainbow.

The ‘other’ BBC worldservice. #BlackenAsianWithLove

The ‘other’ BBC worldservice.

If you google “BBC+Mandingo,” please be aware that it is NSFW. Use your imagination. Now, imagine an auction block. Imagine a slave standing there. Breeding slaves underpinned the ‘white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal’ system that placed their bodies upon that auction block. Hyper-sexualisation of Black bodies began right there. It is bell hooks’ Intersectionality lens that’s necessary for a holistic gaze upon consumer commodification.

Now, imagine that one Black boy in class, vying for attention just as any other adolescent, yet he’s got an entire multitude of hyper-sexualised images filling the heads of virtually everyone in the room. By the time they hit the locker-room, everyone is expecting to see this kid’s BBC. I’ve had many (non-Black) adults say that to me explicitly, inexplicably in any given situation where one might not otherwise imagine penis size would surface so casually in conversation. Hence, we can all imagine that with the crudeness of adolescent male vernacular: Your kid is asking my kid why his penis isn’t what all the rappers rap about. we-real-cool-cover

Why are so many commercially successful rappers’ fantasies reduced to “patriarchal f*cking?” Reading Michael Kimmel’s essay “Fuel for Fantasy: The Ideological Construction of Male Lust,” in her seminal book We Real Cool: Black Masculinity, bell hooks clarifies: “In the iconography of black male sexuality, compulsive-obsessive fucking is represented as a form of power when in actuality it is an indication of extreme powerlessness” (hooks: 67-8).

It’s auto-asphyxiation, a kind of nihilistic sadomasochism that says, if the world thinks of me as a beast, then a beast I shall be. Plenty of kids work this out by the time they hit the playground. “Patriarchy, as manifest in hip-hop, is where we can have our version of power within this very oppressive society,”  explains writer/activist Kevin Powell (qtd. in hooks: 56). Ironically, Powell came to fame in the 90’s on MTV through the original reality show aptly entitled “The Real World.”

Plantation Politics 101

Since at least 2017, commercial rap has been the most widely sold musical genre; it’s pop. Beyond roughly 700,000 sales, Black people are not the primary purchasers of commercialised rap, as explained in the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It takes millions to earn ‘multi-platinum’ status. Yet, while created by and for Black and brown people in ghettoized communities, it has morphed into a transnational commodity having little to do with the realities of its originators, save for the S&M fantasies of wealth beyond imagination. And what do they boast of doing with that power, read as wealth? Liberating the masses from poverty? Intervening on the Prison Industrial Complex? Competing with the “nightmareracist landlords like Donald Trump’s dad Fred? No! They mimic the very gangsters they pretend to be. Once Italian-Americans held hard that stereotype, but now it’s us. It’s always about power. Truly, ‘it’s bigger than Hip-Hop’.

We-real-coolThe more painful question few bother asking is why commercial rap music focuses so keenly on pimps, thugs, b*tches and whores? Like other commodities, commercial rap is tailored to the primary consumer base, which isn’t (fellow) Black people, but white youth. What is it about contemporary white youth that craves images of salacious, monstrous, licentious and violent Black people boasting about killing and maiming one another? Describing this mass commercial “Misogynistic rap music,” hooks states: “It is the plantation economy, where black males labor in the field of gender and come out ready to defend their patriarchal manhood by all manner of violence against women and men whom they perceive to be weak and like women” (hooks: 57-8). Plainly, the root of commercial rap’s global prominence is the reenactment of “sadomasochistic rituals of domination, of power and play” (hooks: 65).

Hyper-sexualisation is a form of projection onto Black people a mass white anxiety about our shared “history of their brutal torture, rape, and enslavement of black bodies” (hooks: 63). She goes on to explain: “If white men had an unusual obsession with black male genitalia it was because they had to understand the sexual primitive, the demonic beast in their midst. And if during lynchings they touched burnt flesh, exposed private parts, and cut off bits and pieces of black male bodies, white folks saw this ritualistic sacrifice as in no way a commentary on their obsession with black bodies, naked flesh, sexuality” (ibid). Hence the BBC obsession finds a consumer home safely in pop music!

“I am ashamed of my small penis,” a stranger recently mentioned to me in a grilled wing joint I happened upon here in Hanoi. The confession came from nowhere, having nothing to do with anything happening between us at the time. Is this the locker-room banter I always hear about? Are straight men really so obsessed with their penises? Given his broken English and my non-existent Vietnamese, I tried comforting him by explaining in the simplest terms the saying: “It’s not the size of the wave but the motion of the ocean.” Colloquialisms never translate easily, but I did at least deflect the subject away from ethno-sexual myths spread worldwide through contemporary consumer culture.

We’ve got to talk about ethno-sexual myths with openness, honesty and integrity. Silence is the master’s tool; silence = death! Further, echoing ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’ Audre Lorde, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. I am Black in Asia, and there are perhaps no two groups of men at polar opposites of ethno-sexual myths. Like the hyper-sexualisation of women of colour, these myths reveal that neither Blackness nor Asianess is at the centre of these globally circulated myths. Hyper-sexual in comparison to who or what? Hegemonic heteronormative whiteness. Say it with me: Duh!

 

To get In-formation:

hooks, b. (2004) We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Lorde, A. (1984) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

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