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Alien Nation

Watching the news this week and reading reports of the rioting in Britain, my first reaction was, “What is going on?” I have lived in the US for 32 years now; about twice the years of many of these kids doing the rioting.

Being away from my country of birth for that long, and going back infrequently, the UK has changed so much that it is now the foreign country to me.

But the more things change the more they stay the same; as the old cliché goes. A recurring phrase I keep hearing and reading is that these young people in Britain feel “Alienated.”

Well guess what? Teens and twenty year olds have always been alienated in the UK; at least they were 60 years ago when I was that age.

Take what happened with music in Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s. First of all in America around 1956 young white kids started listening to what the young black kids were listening to; Rock n’ Roll, in much the same way young white adults today listen to Rap and Hip-Hop.

Elvis Presley became such a huge phenomenon because he was a white kid singing like a black man. That is not a joke; listen to Presley’s early recordings with Sun Records. Bill Hayley too; actually a band of older musicians, but white and paying Rock ‘n Roll. This same music and these same records were a huge hit in Britain at the time.

However, in 1950s America the good Christian white folks did not take kindly to their children listening to black music, they would surely all be going straight to Hell in the proverbial hand basket.

The music establishment, the record industry, took Elvis and cut his hair. They toned down his music; and put him in a string of awful movies. In other words, they cleaned him up and he would never be the same again.

Clean cut Christian white singers were brought in, like Pat Boone, but compared to the original Elvis, Fats Domino and Little Richard, as boring as Hell. Other Cookie Cutter artists appeared; they all looked the same and sounded the same, singing songs of teen love and angst.

In Britain teens were alienated from the adult world; their parents, the church, or the government for that matter, could care less what they did or listened to.

Teens and young adults stopped listening to what was coming from America and went back to the roots of American Black Music. Traditional Jazz, Dixieland and New Orleans style that had been popular in the US during the 1920s and 1930s; and also the Blues that had later become Rock ‘n Roll.

Recordings of this older music were hard to come by, so older established musicians in Britain were smart enough to form bands and record this music as well as play live gigs. Teens and young adults soon found this music was not that difficult to play; if you could play three chords on a guitar, a bass could be made out of a wooden box, a broom handle, and a piece of string.

Add a washboard to the rhythm section and you had yourself a Skiffle Band. I know because I was in one around 1958. This all led to the explosion of home grown music in the early 1960s, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and many others.

The rest is history as they say, and history repeated itself in the late 1970s when the recording industry became so powerful it no longer produced what young people wanted. The result was the “Punk” movement and the music it produced.

So what does all this have to do with what is going on in Britain today?

What I have just described is something positive that came out of teens being suppressed and alienated. British kids did not accept what adults, even adults in another country were trying to dictate they should listen to.

The music these kids created changed the face of music for the whole world; it has even been said that this same music is what brought down Communism and the Soviet Union.

These riots in Britain are a negative result of this same alienation. These young people are not accepting what older adults and the establishment is saying they should do. They feel desperate and more suppression will only lead to more despair.

The British police are a big part of the problem. They have powers that people living in the US would not believe, and with power comes corruption. When the Murdoch scandal broke a few weeks ago it revealed that certain police officials were taking bribes. Again my first thought was nothing changes.

On London streets the slang name for the police was “The Filth” which implies “Not Clean.” As a teen I was often stopped and searched late at night for no reason other than I was walking home at a late hour. A person could be arrested for “Sus” as it was known on the streets, so I made sure I had absolutely nothing in my pockets..

Say a person had a screwdriver and a flashlight in his pocket; he could be arrested; not for actually committing a crime, but for being “Suspected of about to commit a crime.” (Hence “Sus.”) To make such a charge stick the police would then use what was known as the “Verbal.”

The Verbal was when the arresting officer gave evidence in court he would say something like this, “After I read the prisoner his rights I asked him if he had anything to say, and he replied, ‘I don’t break into people’s homes, just shops.’” Of course the prisoner never said any such thing, but this statement from a trusted member of law enforcement sealed his fate.

In the mid 1960s there was a huge scandal in Britain when police all the way up to high ranking Scotland Yard officials, went to jail for taking bribes from London criminals. Things got cleaned up after that, but many years have since passed and I wonder if over these intermediate years the situation has become as bad again as it was in the 1950s. If it has it would account for the feeling of despair among young people

I don’t condone rioting, vandalism, and other criminal activity, but the British Government needs to be looking deeper into the root cause of the anger and despair. Because trying to control it will not work.

There is now talk of bringing the army in if the police can’t control the situation. Yea’ right; that worked real well in Northern Ireland. Doesn’t history teach anybody anything?


Reader Comments (15)

I don't usually get all involved in this political malarky, but I really must chime in here.

Firstly, your historical stuff is more than accurate I'm sure. I'm in my early 30s and my parents were about my age at the end of the 60s.

However, I really do not think that the kids that are rioting have a cause. You say:

These riots in Britain are a negative result of this same alienation. These young people are not accepting what older adults and the establishment is saying they should do. They feel desperate and more suppression will only lead to more despair.

But really, I think that the majority of these kids are benefits babies. They were bought up on benefits, and many have never done a days work in their lives. Us Brits need to realise that we are raising a section of society that genuinely believes that they deserve everything in life for little or no effort on their part.

Finally, A peacful riot turned nasty because an opportunistic moment has not been policed. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for the prosecution of the police officer who pushed Ian Tomlinson. I believe that the police have maintained a "hands off" approach in order to avoid taking blame for the (possibly) heavier enforcement (inc. kettling) that they have used previously.

Our politicians and police chiefs need to grow some balls and actually police our streets.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOllie

The big lesson for the free world, democracies, is “Don’t count on the Government to Help”. Reference Katrina in the richest country in the world.
The underlying issue really is not just hooliganism but racial; see the movie La Haine for getting up to speed.
The English police did nothing after hooligans burned a police car Saturday, in retaliation for a police shooting to death one of theirs: They did nothing in Tottenham. The carnage spread cause as Home Secretary Theresa May said Tuesday: “The way we police in Britian is not through use of water cannon. …(it) is through consent of communities”.
In Britian only one of 12 convicted burglars are sent to prison. Hell, only one in 12 burglaries are even solved!
Note to Americans: Buy guns and lots of ammo. Learn how to use them. When the riots start here, don’t wait for the police to “handle” it. Protect your home, your family and maybe your neighbor. Unlike Britian, we the people have lots of guns here.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

In response to Steve's final note I can only say that in 2009 (the last year I can find stats for) there were 13,636 murders in the US - about 23 times the UK rate. And 9146 of the 13636 were committed using guns.
With no disrespect intended I would take Steve's suggestion that everyone should rush out and buy more guns and ammo as an extremely cogent argument for NOT living in the US.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Hobbs

Giving young people benefits is alienating them, what they really need is a job and a purpose in life. Like a child who misbehaves to get attention, instead of attention he is given money for ice cream and told to go out and play.

To be fair the US has over 5 times the population of the UK. Most gun murders in the US are young drug dealers killing other young drug dealers. I never feel threatened, also people are less likely to break into my home because they don't know if I am armed or not.
There is an interesting article in the Telegraph in which the writer speculates how the riots would have been handled differently in the US.

August 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

If remembering history teaches us anything it's that remembering history doesn't teach us much of anything. New era; same old crap.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkfg

It is difficult to have a society based on greed and materialism, and at the same be dead last among industrialized nations in social mobility. Add to that balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class and the poor, and you have a perfect recipe for social unrest.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug P

Wow! You have been away a long time.
It's surprising what 13 years of socialist 'benefits' and unfettered immigration can do to a society.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Almond


watch all 6 parts. This is the reason.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJW

Whats this to do with riding a bloody bike? Dave Don't we get enough of this on the tellie and news?papers. I left Brum in 1957 saw the writing on the wall so to speak. I was very aware that if I stayed in England I would end up working in a factory like my mates. living off the government.and would end up. as the program on Brit tellie 'Waiting for god' shows. The same problem is now hitting the USA very hard, with the Pres and Dems we have, we are going to end up just like the Brits.The reason I came over here, was for the chance to make something out of my self. I was a private investigator for over 40 yrs, did real well at it. Try that in England. fat chance.

August 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY CRUMPY

There is a distinct difference betyeen kids now and kids 50 years ago. Back then you could pretty much rely on a low paying factory job even if you decided to drop out of school. But then game the 90's, 00's and 10's, the low paying factory jobs were transferred to even cheaper countries. This was the desire of the "big money" that controls our world. This trend has been visible for over twenty years and still nothing much has been done to bring England from the 50's to the 21st century.

This is a global trend that can be seen for example in UK and France. In Pakistan these people provide an endless source of fighters for terrorist organizations. Even in Finland there are small telltale signs of increasing "anarchism" within young unemployed men (who ironically identify themselves as extreme right wingers). Atacks against minorities have increased noticeably during the last two years.

What can we do? Well, you don't see many unemployed PhDs or MScs rioting there. The best way to keep society from collapsing is to educate everyone to as high level as possible. Not only does this generate well behaving individuals, it also generates individuals who invent new things and employ themselves and others. It may also generate voters who think by themselves and make their on choices at the voting booth, but that is something the politicians must deal with.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTorben Putkonen

Torben comes closest to the point I think. This is not about benefits, but more about jobs. And of course, the new austerity measures the government is trying to institute. Seems to me Germany and the Scandinavian countries have proven that investing in infrastructure and the populace - rather than instituting austerity measures - is the way out of this current mess. That, and we need to start seeing some bankers go to jail.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

What does this post have to do with cycling?
A government of free people is there to insure its people can pursue happiness. Does cycling make you happy? Good luck riding on shitty pot-holed roads because your government has spent your taxes on their pensions. Instead you might take up riding trains as Obama envisions all Americans doing with high-speed rails.
Our founding fathers of the United States wrote in the Constitution the pursuit of happiness, not the redistribution of happiness. In a free society there will always be those with more money, the successful and the poor and lazy. Government has no business (geesh, antipode to government) running a car business, taking over health care or running our lives.
Or running up unimaginable debt.
Government’s main job is to protect our freedom so we can pursue happiness. It does that by making sure we have water, electricity, good roads and police/military to protect us, not run or rule over us like in N. Korea or Iran or China.
We need to get back to a government that will do its job and not some one else's. They’ve gone where they never should have, as in Europe. And that is not freedom. And you need freedom to ride your bike in peace.

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Perhaps what corruption, self destructive priorities, misallocation of public resources, suppression and years of brewing anger begets? Blowback from years of DENIAL from those in power?

But back to reality, hasn't the 'Duchess of Cambridge flown the flag well for British designers on her latest travels to sell the image of life in the UK?

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Great post. When people riot in Syria or Libya, they're freedom fighters and the government needs to reform. When it happens in Britain there's a police state crackdown and nothing changes. One of the rioters said something to the effect that there was no other way of getting attention. It's a shame that for may people in Britain, he was probably right.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSurly Dave

"One of the rioters said something to the effect that there was no other way of getting attention".

For what? Benefits not high enough?

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjw

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