The Mystery of the Manic Safety Dancer

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One of the more peculiar internet obsessions is to do with the absurd popularity of Canadian New Wave synth-poppers Men Without Hats. The Montreal outfit were founded at the end of the seventies by the Doroschuk brothers, Stefan (guitarist) and Ivan (vocals, keyboard), and rose to international prominence off the back of their sole successful single, the infuriatingly catchy ‘Safety Dance’. Having released an EP called ‘Folk of the 80’s’ in 1980, the band, with its ever-revolving cavalcade of members, released their first full-length album, entitled Rhythm of Youth, on the tiny Statik Records label (with international distribution picked up by MCA and Virgin). The album was trailered by two singles. The first single was ‘I Like’, which charted in the lower rungs of the US Top 100. However their second single, released in the US the week before the album in March 1982, managed to break into both the US and UK Top 10’s, also managing to top the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts. It was an unprecedented success and one which the quirky Doroschuk brothers struggled to follow-up over the ensuing decade of activity.

Like many apparent one-hit wonders before them Men Without Hats should have been destined for a short shelf-life, followed by an obscure reincarnation on the late-90’s nostalgia circuit. Yet their relatively insubstantial body of work has continued to sell steadily, as new generations of young muso’s have been switched on to their slightly haughty brand of baroque synth-pop by the relentless energy of that transcendental break-out hit. Over the last decade, or so, Men Without Hats have made a modest 2003 comeback, that resulted in the album No Hats Beyond This Point, as well as a few festival appearances in 2010 and 2011 (these featured only Ivan Doroschuk, of the original band members). The amount of attention that these low-key activities generated has been nothing when compared to the continued fascination with the bands ‘anthem’, a fascination that in some places has bordered on the creepily infatuated. Most disturbingly the substantial internet attention devoted to ‘Safety Dance’ seems not so much about the song, as about the video. Moreover it generally fixates on an enigmatic presence at the very centre of this pop curio.

It is with the video for ‘Safety Dance’, directed by The Cure favourite Tim Pope, that things become a little like a story that might feature in a Jon Ronson book. Taking a song that already contained one of the most infectiously bouncy dance rhythms in the whole of 80’s New Wave electronica, coupled with lyrics that have an almost childlike glee in incongruous rhymes and repetitions, Pope and Ivan Doroschuk added one of the most bizarrely off-kilter and eccentric pop videos ever made, even by the ludicrous standards of the 1980’s. In the video Doroschuk, the only band member who features, is wandering through some rural idyll of the British countryside, dressed in some romantic French Revolution idea of peasant attire and accompanied by a dwarf in a jester costume (played by Mike Edmonds). After thirty seconds of skipping through wind-blown fields of long grass and gesticulating theatrically to the lyrics, Doroschuk and the dwarf hook up with a deliriously dancing young woman, sporting a wild thatch of long crimped blonde hair, who is kitted up in what looks like some kind of ruffled linen skirt, with a black leather underbust corset and a billowing white blouse. Together the trio head into a small rural village where a group of morris dancers are parading toward the market square. One notable scene sees Doroschuk and his fellow travellers make the bizarre ‘S’-shaped dance gesture whilst standing in front of a gate and a dilapidated farm building, before proceeding into the town to partake in the pseudo-medieval festivities.

Despite Doroschuk’s rather singular appearance (all dark features, angular bone structure and flowing flaxen locks) and exaggerated mannerisms, it is this woman, who appears to be the very embodiment of chaotic human free-spiritedness, that seems to have hooked so many. There is indeed something compelling about this briefest of moments in the spotlight, a true ‘pop’ performance if ever there was one, with the woman’s blithe, ceaseless, skipping and dancing casting an almost hypnotic spell over the viewer. Pope does a magnificent job of centering the video around Doroschuk’s assured, strutting, promenading presence. Yet by using incredibly tight continuity editing, Pope also allows this beguiling presence to insinuate her way into shots as if she were the very rhythm of the song given corporeal form.

In a video for the bands earlier release ‘I Like’, Pope, who was again on directing duties, had used the same woman to man Ivan Doroschuk’s vacated keyboard. As with the video for ‘Safety Dance’ the woman is rarely seen clearly, either because she is in constant motion, or her face is buried beneath her wild blonde mane. At times Pope seems to deliberately play the camera away from her, either featuring her on the very edge of long shots, or cutting away after barely a second. Due to the insertion of an ‘and Sing’ line in ‘Safety Dance’, delivered in a female voice, many fans initially thought that this actress was in fact a member of the band. However, the Doroschuk’s have always stated that only Ivan, of the band members, features in the ‘Safety Dance’ video. Strangely they’ve never actually confirmed who in fact this fleeting presence in their pop careers was. Which is what makes things curious and curiouser.

A devoted little clique of messageboard posting ‘fans’ have become increasingly proactive in trying to unearth the mysterious female figure. Understandably their odd ‘enthusiasm’ has come up against either an outright wall of silence, with the Doroschuk’s essentially mocking all enquiries into the woman’s identity, or a frequently obfuscating drizzle of information from random posters, who claim to know the woman, or have met the woman. Aside from the stalkerish intensity with which some of these individuals have set about trying to acquire information leading to her identity, perhaps the most unusual thing about this whole affair is the way in which it has proven seemingly impenetrable to the all-pervasive modern media scrutiny of the internet age. Like some Warholian experiment in celebrity the video has established this woman as a significant ‘cultural presence’ in the nostalgic imaginations of a group of fortysomethings, yet a ‘cultural presence’ without any actual identity, beyond that of carefree, eccentric, dancing maiden. In this day and age of instant celebrity, where fame is prized above almost all other things, it is as if there is something deeply unsettling about the mysterious lack of identity that animates ‘Safety Dance’.

The internet has given people a direct means to comment upon and investigate all manner of things that in previous decades would have been effectively off-limits. It has redrawn the idea of ‘privacy’ more thoroughly than any other technological invention of the twentieth century (including the CCTV camera). At once ‘privacy’ has been assaulted by the expanded sense of ‘public forum’ that comes with global internet communication, whilst simultaneously the potential for subterfuge has exponentially increased, as people have embraced on-line identities, avatars and alternate profiles as a means of engaging with others on their own terms. The internet age that is advancing upon us has the potential to bring diverse groups of people into direct contact with one another at a greater rate than at any other time in human history. But what of those people who don’t care for such improved levels of ‘connectivity’, ‘interaction’ and ‘networking’?

In the case of the ‘Safety Dance’ saga the resistance to elucidation has clearly indicated a reluctance on the part of the actress to engage with the excitable celebrity culture of ‘fandom’. From the likes of Guanolad and Pierocampa there have been shrine-like websites devoted to expressing an ‘appreciation’ of a woman’s fifteen seconds of fame, almost thirty years ago. Messageboards devoted to the topic and a Facebook page with the specific aim of trying to uncover her identity, give the same silly reasons for being so desirous of knowing who she is, namely, that they want her to know that people really have appreciated her work. Decades ago it would have been almost impossible for such invasive inquiries to circulate with any resonance in the culture. However, with the rise of the internet and its limitless potential for information distribution, even strange little obsessions like this can gather a kind of critical mass that then begins to encroach upon the targeted individual’s life. It’s therefore quite understandable that the ‘Safety Dance’ woman would prefer to remain anonymous, rather than engage with people who feel some kind of entitlement toward ‘knowing’ the superficial details of her existence, as if they are indeed meaningful to them.

On one of the messageboards devoted to this topic a poster had managed to convince the domain operator and other regular user of the messageboard that they did indeed know the ‘Safety Dance’ woman. For a brief period a supposedly current photograph was put up on a separate website. Further enhancing the enigmatic status of this woman, the photograph was quickly removed from its location never to resurface (no mean feat with the ease of image duplication nowadays). The communities that are devoted to this cause were briefly excited into a flurry of activity based upon this photograph, not thinking this may be just a straightforward hoax. Information was supplied from sources that remained as anonymous as the woman herself (something the internet is particularly good at). Apparently she was a local from West Kington called Louise, who had moved to London and become a single mum of two children. In conflicting rumour-fact she was likewise known as Louise and was now living in the Midlands, having turned her back on acting. Some people have argued that she also appears in the ‘Pop Goes the World’ video for the band, but this appears to be a simple case of mistaken identity. Regardless of what is fact and what isn’t, these on-line communities have struck on the name ‘Louise’ as a preferable appellation, giving a vital element of identity to the fantasy figure that has been constructed from a few seconds of footage.

Considering the on-line activity regarding this mysterious individual it has been surprising that a sturdy wall of privacy has remained around her identity. All the verifiably public figures who were involved in the video have been unable,or unwilling, to supply any information. This leads one to consider the possibility of a particularly sophisticated Garboesque piece of mythmaking being undertaken by all those concerned with Men Without Hats. Perhaps, when realising the interest in this woman’s presence Ivan Doroschuk and his band mates have deliberately gone about cultivating this rather bizarre mystery, anticipating the small-scale, cult allure it may bring to their work. Alternately, all concerned could just be ensuring that a request for privacy is maintained. As has been mentioned, the truly bewildering element to this whole story is how such a seemingly insignificant piece of pop culture has been invested with a much more significant point and purpose. The inability to acquire knowledge, to experience the internet immediacy of contact, to observe the current celebrity circus rules applying, makes the ‘Safety Dance’ woman an uncomfortably alienating presence, that belongs to a bygone era. In her own way the ‘Safety Dance’ woman is comparable to a J.D. Salinger, or a Greta Garbo, in the way that her silence authenticates an air of mystery around her. Unlike both of those artists however, there is not only the post-vacuum status of the reclusive star, but the Warholian obscurity of the instant celebrity lacking the context of a body of work. It is as if this woman existed merely for the duration of the videos, with no past and no future. Maybe this is the extra ingredient which continues to make the ‘Safety Dance’ video so daftly compelling. In this inscrutable female presence an emblem of ‘pop’ modernity is outlined, which calls into question our current complacencies and assumptions about celebrity, fame and fandom. It also points up our modern inability to cope with such lacunae in our narratives of the ever-swelling public realm.

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Summertime, When the Living Ain’t Easy – Israel and the ‘Tent City’ Protests

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In many ways 2011 has, thus far, been a year of public protest and action, frequently verging on the revolutionary. With the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Algeria and Syria, either having proved successful in changing government and/or government policy, or showing no signs of abating until they do, global media attention has become focused on how such outpourings of public discontent are being organised and maintained. Much writing and commentary has been devoted to the internet as a source of free-floating information that circumvents the controls governments have previously been able to exert over their populations. A negative aspect of this preoccupation, has been the increasing ‘threat’ to social cohesion that the internet has come to represent even within supposedly democratic governments such as France, the UK and the US.

 

After the UK riots at the beginning of August, much of the press and government criticism was directed toward the ease with which individuals were able to organise and incite public violence via on-line social media and mobile technology. In many ways this has paralleled the increasing mistrust of the internet amongst more obviously totalitarian regimes, such as Iran and China, which in turn is fuelling the desire for western democracies to crackdown on the ‘too free’ circulation of information via the internet’s various social media sites. Part of the UK government response to the riots was to utilise emergency legislation to prosecute individual’s who were seen to be using the internet to spread provocative and inflammatory information regarding the public violence. In America the S.773 Cybersecurity Act of 2009, proposed by Sen. John Rockefeller and Sen. Olympia Snowe, has been working its way through Congress. This act whilst seeking to tighten the US’s Federal interstate internet security procedures, also includes the possibility for the federal government to seize control of private-sector internet networks (in much the same way as the Chinese government does), in the event of a ‘cybersecurity emergency’.

 

The internet has become a source of intense paranoia for global government regimes, as internet users far from being bound to their desks by the ready availability of frivolous on-line entertainment, have increasingly sought to use the powers of the internet to organise large-scale public activities and demonstrations. Aside from the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, there have also been Tea Party and anti-Tea Party rallies throughout the US, all year long, many of which have harnessed similar social media tools to give their movements shape. In Greece and Spain general strikes and protests have been organised, via the internet, in response to vast and rapid cuts to ailing public sector institutions and state welfare services. Throughout Europe and North America regular protests against the Afghan War have similarly been prompted by direct internet action. Whilst in Chile students have organised various actions against the government during August, in protest at the poor infrastructure in the Chilean secondary and higher education systems.

 

Perhaps one of the most intriguing and challenging of recent national protests have been those taking place in Israel for the last six weeks. Whereas the ‘Arab Spring’ protests, were in effect uprisings, whilst the Greek, Spanish and Chilean protests were limited to narrow, if important, political aims, and the Tea Party/anti-Tea Party rallies in the States were more about different, conflicting ideas of governance, the Israeli protests have featured a panoply of social and political issues that have come from middle-class Israel, as well as lower-class Israel, and have sought to blur the strict, dividing boundaries between Palestinian and Israeli concerns. At the core of these protests is a disillusionment with the lack of socially responsible economic reforms made by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud government, which has in turn spilled over into increasingly radical demonstrations against social issues that are, as a result of this inaction, biting at the financial heels of more than just the worst-off in Israeli society.

 

These economic and social action protests have politically energised and engaged a normally relatively docile, if divisive, Israeli population, with over 450,000 people having taken to the streets in various different demonstrations and activities over the last six weeks. Unlike in London, where a slow-acting and alienating government, endured the kind of violence that stems from a generalised breakdown in the relationship between youth and authority, with little or no obviously articulated political agenda underpinning the rage and chaos upon the streets, Israel has seen weekend after weekend of carefully marshalled and organised political and social demonstration. Much of this activity has directly stemmed from the population’s engagement with different internet forums (at the forefront of which have been the ‘Activism’ blogroll and the ‘Wisdom of the People’ portal, which utilises a live chat messenger service to help organise events and actions) and social media, leaving Netanyahu’s government looking increasingly embattled.

 

The origins of the Israeli protests can be traced back to the issue of housing and accommodation in Israel, as well as a more generalised concern with the cost of living, as embodied by the effective protests regarding the price of an Israeli dietary staple, cottage cheese. The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, has written extensively over the past six weeks about the protests. Initially the protests developed around a Facebook-organised protest instigated by Daphni Leef, which asked for people (at first mainly students) to congregate along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and construct a ‘tent city’. Leef, a filmmaker who had been involved in previous political protests regarding army service and civil marriage, had discovered, when she was looking for new accommodation in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, that rent costs had doubled over the previous five years. Concerned and shocked by this information she set about sounding out students and young people on Facebook, to see what other people’s experiences were of the rental issue.

 

On Thursday 14th July 2011, the first tents began to be erected in and around Rothschild Boulevard. Within days the movement had transferred to other cities and communities (such as Beersheba and Ramat Gan) and the Likud government began to realise that there was a significant Israeli popular political protest underway, for the first time in the country’s brief, but troubled, history. Normally Israeli’s would limit street protests to issues of defence and settlement, fearing that a protest directed at domestic policies of government would destabilise their regional power base in the eyes of external aggressors, such as Iran. Leef’s movement seemed to be establishing a different relationship between Israel and her neighbours, seemingly channelling some of the energy from the Arab uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Bahrain and directing this toward Netanyahu’s government and their apparent lack of understanding of basic domestic issues affecting the majority of Israelis.

 

As Bronner points out Likud and their finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, initially were seen to react quickly to the concerns and demands of the protestors:-

“promising construction of thousands of new housing units, along with a set of changes to bulldoze bureaucracies and press landlords to expand the market through a mix of carrot and stick (sell and get a bonus; don’t sell and face a tax)”

Yet some are now beginning to question whether Israel’s government have perhaps been a little too responsive to the demands of protestors.

 

A few weeks prior to the tent protests, Israel’s government had faced political pressure over the soaring cost of cottage cheese. Under fire from various protest groups the Knesset authorised State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to look into the issue of cottage cheese prices, resulting in a 25% reduction in the price of cottage cheese. Clearly buoyed by the success of this particular issue, certain groups on the political left in Israel, such as The National Left, had begun to cultivate and mobilise protest groups against the issue of housing costs. Leef’s decisive intervention in establishing a Facebook site for much of the political dissent bubbling under the surface of Israeli society, has since snowballed into the longest period of political protest in Israeli history and has effectively brought together elements of the political right and left, as well as Israeli and Palestinian communities – one of the most noted ‘tent city’ constructions was that carried out by Palestinian activists in the Israeli-Arab city of Tayibe (or Taibeh).

 

On consecutive weekends during the last week of July and the first week of August, protestor numbers swelled to over 300,000, counting for something like 5% of Israel’s total population, a figure unheard of in Israeli domestic protests. The movement had shifted from its narrow focus on issues to do with housing, to a concern with something it was terming ‘social justice’, with the left-leaning independent mayor of Beersheba, Ruvik Danilovich listing “education, health care and affordable housing” as the most pressing social issues that the Israeli government needed to address. The general tenor of the protests themselves was seen as being a commitment to numbers rather than issues, with a feeling that the protests whilst being mainly peaceful, were doing nothing more than creating ‘party atmospheres’ in which politics was taking a backseat. Regardless of the protestors intentions, the sheer volume of people on the streets couldn’t be ignored by Netanyahu and his government.

 

As Gideon Rachman puts it in his excellent FT column, 2011 has had a the feel of “the year of global indignation” and whereas nothing obviously links the politics behind the street demonstrations in Chile, Greece and China, with those occurring in Israel, Rachman is right to point out that

“Many of the countries hit by unrest have explicitly accepted rising inequality as a price worth paying for rapid economic growth”

The free market, possibly neo-liberal, economic theories of the likes of Friedman and Stigler have been refined and gradually worked into policy in countries like Chile, Sweden, the US, the UK and, of course, Israel. The aggressive rolling back of the social policy mechanisms of state in many countries, after the economic turmoil of 2008, have left an increasing number of people around the world feeling dramatically disenfranchised from the apparent wealth of their national economies. In Israel, as Bronner points out, Netanyahu’s government has, on paper, managed economic growth superbly. Yet despite the fact that the

“unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, a 25-year low and about half of that of Europe. Its currency, the shekel, is strong. Its exports outstrip its imports. It is attracting foreign investors, especially in the high-tech sector”

it has still being unable to adequately convince large parts of its population, particularly those under forty years of age, that these are indeed times of plenty.

 

Having already extracted numerous ‘assurances and guarantees’ from the Likud government, as well as some noted immediate policy intervention, in recent weeks the protest movement has once again morphed from peaceful protest and demonstration to a slightly more legally ‘dubious’ approach. Esther Witt, a special education teacher, originally from the Netherlands, is one of the figures who has spear-headed the ‘lightning squat’ recently adopted by ‘social justice’ protestors. Witt had been in attendance at ‘tent city’ protests in Independence Park, Jerusalem, earlier in August. In an article featured in Haaretz she had given a very clear, individual picture of some of the difficulties families were facing in Israel just to meet the costs of keeping a roof above their heads.

 

During the last weekend in August Witt, and a coalition of fellow activists, engaged in the first truly ‘controversial’ piece of political theatre of the protests, thus far. The group broke into a vacant building owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), not far from Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem. Taking over the four-storey building they christened it the ‘People’s House’ and held a public squat, that Witt hoped would force the government to introduce stricter property-ownership regulations, making it impossible for such buildings to remain unoccupied. In a Guardian report by Luke Brown, Witt claimed

“We’re trying to make a point – this building could easily house four families but it has stood empty for 15 years, … We want those people who own apartments in Israel but only come to the country for two weeks a year to feel that if they leave their apartment empty, it’ll be squatted, and so it’s in everyone’s interest if they rent them out instead.”

Witt, and those like her in Israel, are people newly committed to an old-fashioned idea of ‘society’ in the face of a perceived widening of social inequalities, as a result of aggressively pursued policies for economic growth. Whereas the noises from governments throughout the developed world are mainly of the bemused variety (how can people be protesting when so many nation’s are wealthier than they have ever been?), it is in protest movements like that in Israel that we are seeing the first articulations of dismay with the self-serving nature of much global economic policy and social reform.

 

CODA:- (Since starting work on this article much has changed about the situation of the protests, that can only really be reported, rather than directly commented on. What follows is an addendum tracing outlining recent events)

This latest escalation in the protest movement was followed by a momentary lapse in demonstrations, where the numbers of protestors in ‘tent cities’ across the country dwindled, but on Friday 2nd September the largest protests of all were stage across Israel, pulling in upwards of 450,000 people. The largest protest was staged at Kikar Hamedina, a large plaza in the centre of Tel Aviv. Protest leaders and student groups addressed the crowds asking for action and recognition from the Knesset. In the aftermath of this historic night Israeli city councils poured pressure on the protest movement to begin sustained dialogue with the Knesset and the Trajtenberg Committee instituted by Netanyahu on August 8th 2011 to examine the socioeconomic issues at the heart of the protests.

 

A temporary hiatus was called amongst the protest movements various bodies, but no solid attempt, as yet, has been made to discuss issues pertaining to Israel’s socioeconomic problems with the Trajtenberg Committee (many protestors remain opposed to any talks other than with the Knesset). The protest movement has since intimated its demands are to

“ “eliminate economic centralization”, propose a discussion to end monopolies, dismantle economic pyramids, increase competition, tax reform that would cancel the lowering of corporate taxes while raising taxes on high-income individuals, lowering indirect taxes, and monitoring of the capital market.”

Furthermore there have been increased calls for a return to the ‘welfare state’ model of social governance, that Netanyahu’s government has assiduously dismantled. Within the last 48 hours, a hardcore contingent of protestors that have chosen to ignore the requests of the government, local councils and the protest movements leaders, have been engaged in skirmishes and clashes with Israeli police. It remains to be seen what will happen next in this monumental protest movement, but it is unlikely that Netanyahu’s government will be able to ignore the events of the past six weeks and attempt to draw a line under proceedings.

Whose LOLing now?

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As a 17-year-old Suffolk teenager is slapped with a 12-month internet ban, 120 hours’ community service, a 12-month youth rehabilitation order, a 7pm curfew and absolutely no Domino’s pizza (probably), for what amounts to some poor-taste pratting about on Facebook, I ask whether the British government has learnt anything from the last 10 days?

At the start of this week David Cameron addressed a news conference from a youth centre in his parliamentary constituency of Witney. The idea of Cameron declaring a ‘war upon gangs’ from this quaint little West Oxfordshire market-town,  a location, socially and politically, a million miles away from most of the sites of civil unrest, shouldn’t really have got past the ‘suggestion’ phase of whatever inner-circle brainstorming session the Conservative Prime Minister and his coterie of advisors were engaged in over the weekend. The fact that it clearly seemed like such a good idea to Cameron and his cronies gives us a little bit of an insight into just how detached our chief policymaker is from the affairs of his nation. Granted Cameron was standing in front of a graffiti-daubed wall that proclaimed a single word ‘Base’ (a perfect match, perhaps,  for Cameron’s gung-ho call to arms) alongside a cartoon ‘hoodie’ (again probably meant to evoke the cuddly ‘hoodie’ hugger of old), but surely it would have leant a bit more ballast to his bombast if he’d taken his press conference onto the streets of Tottenham, the provisional ground-zero of the rioting. Instead the routinely patronised ‘general public’ are presented with what could be more cynically interpreted as an expression of that easy idleness that has formed the waspish sting of so many attacks on the riots, the rioting and the ‘underclass’ of rioters. Why bother traipsing off to London town, the Midlands, or the dreary North, when you can far more easily squeeze yourself into a press conference next door to your constituency surgery?

During the press conference Cameron talked up his long-held desire ‘to mend our broken society’, talking of a ‘social fightback’ to coincide with the ‘security fightback’. He made a point of highlighting the necessity to confront ‘the moral collapse’ of British society, as well as pulling the discussion of the underlying causes of the violence away from ideas it was linked with poverty and deprivation, choosing instead to focus on the terms ‘behaviour’ and ‘responsibility’. In perhaps the most irritating and empty piece of rhetoric, Cameron talked up a culture of selfishness and irresponsibility that left:

Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control.

The simplicity of this listing technique, as if Cameron had just reached into his back pocket and pulled out the shopping list, begged for some sense of issues that had been grappled with over the last few days of analysis and reflection. Instead Cameron gave the glib assurance that he wouldn’t be ‘found wanting’ when it came to confronting unspecified ‘issues’ with the determined voice of his people.

Despite the best part of a week to contemplate what exactly had got so many young people’s knickers in a twist, the best that Cameron could do was tell the public that he would definitely do ‘stuff’ and he’d wage war on gangs to do it. It appeared that upon the etch-a-sketch (come on it was actually an I-Pad,  you know) William Hague, Theresa May and himself had been constructing their analysis, they’d realised that these ‘youths’ were organising themselves using the most sophisticated, cutting edge and ‘clandestine’ of new technologies, like the BBM.

After his press statement on the riots, Cameron did visit Tottenham, but under a partial media-blackout. Cameron was happy to have the cameras rolling alongside him whilst he visited leisure centres, sat down with police and emergency services and turned up at a fire station. However, the cameras were not allowed to follow him into the homes of the 50, or so, families he visited, who’d been victims of the violence in the area. Now this could be Cameron simply being respectful to members of the public, as we know how his caring Conservatives always try to avoid unhelpful and reductive generalisations that may be perceived as  disrespectful and unhelpful by large sections of the population (sorry, it’s mean, but I couldn’t resist). On the other hand it could just be a certain reluctance on his part to advertise to the nation his inability to even come close to placating the anger of people who may have more pressing things on their mind other than a ‘war on gangs’.

Regardless of all this, the ‘social fightback’ began in earnest today however, with the first convictions of teenagers who had been implicated, via their Facebook profiles, in inciting the ‘gang’ violence and rioting that had taken hold of Birmingham, London and Manchester.  One of these ringleaders, who received the punishments listed above, was able to potentially provoke looting and pillaging from that hotspot of social unrest more commonly known as Suffolk. According to the Bury St. Edmonds magistrates court that passed sentence on the 17-year-old, he had posted messages on Facebook that stated “It’s about time we stood up for ourselves for once. So come on rioters – get some. LOL.”. Now am I alone in thinking that this may not necessarily be quite the organisational genius David Cameron’s ‘war’ suggests it should be? Wasting the magistrates courts time with prosecution of a dumb sentence or three, seems almost as foolish as the comments themselves. The fact that the prosecution made reference to the boy having over 400 friends on Facebook, some of whom replied to the message just to call him an idiot, only further compounds the ludicrous show of pantomime paternalism from a government that wants people to start being ‘responsible’. The boys defence pours further scorn on the pursuance of this government policy, when he claimed rather plaintively “I meant it as a joke which is why I wrote LOL at the end.”.

There we have it then, not only has David Cameron routinely underestimated the scale of the violence, the alienation and disenchantment of certain urban populations, the general tenor of public outrage and the aspects of the violence which have struck the strongest chords with citizens of the communities most affected (it’s not like that in Witney, though), but it also seems his government is so out of touch with the youth of Britain that it can’t even discern a joke when it reads one. Even a joke with the prerequisite acronym signposting of ‘LOL’.

The fact that today barrister, and former anti-terror adviser, Lord Carlile has been speaking out against the way in which Cameron’s government have appeared to ‘lead’ the law courts toward tougher, harsher sentences for those involved in the riots, can only make Cameron’s response to the riots look as kneejerk and nonsensical as Bush’s rail-roading of civil liberties for his ‘war on terror’. The major difference here being that whereas Bush, however foolishly, was declaring a ‘war’ upon enemies of America, it would appear that Cameron may have embarked upon a ‘war’ against his own people. Without the sense of a considered and reasoned analysis of the riots, any such ‘war’, whether genuinely directed toward ‘gangs’ (however they may be defined) or not, can only end with further unrest and a repeat of this po-faced farce.