These are not hunger or bread riots. These are riots of defective and disqualified consumers. […] We are all consumers now, consumers first and foremost, consumers by right and by duty. The day after the 11/9 outrage George W. Bush, when calling Americans to get over the trauma and go back to normal, found no better words than “go back shopping”. It is the level of our shopping activity and the ease with which we dispose of one object of consumption in order to replace it with a “new and improved” one which serves us as the prime measure of our social standing and the score in the life-success competition. To all problems we encounter on the road away from trouble and towards satisfaction we seek solutions in shops.
☛ Social Europe Journal: “The London Riots – On Consumerism coming Home to Roost” by Zygmunt Bauman, August 9, 2011.
A few days later, Slavoj Žižek reacted to Bauman remarks:
Zygmunt Bauman characterised the riots as acts of ‘defective and disqualified consumers’: more than anything else, they were a manifestation of a consumerist desire violently enacted when unable to realise itself in the ‘proper’ way – by shopping. As such, they also contain a moment of genuine protest, in the form of an ironic response to consumerist ideology: ‘You call on us to consume while simultaneously depriving us of the means to do it properly – so here we are doing it the only way we can!’ The riots are a demonstration of the material force of ideology – so much, perhaps, for the ‘post-ideological society’. From a revolutionary point of view, the problem with the riots is not the violence as such, but the fact that the violence is not truly self-assertive. It is impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival. (London Review of Books: “Shoplifters of the World Unite” by Slavoj Žižek, August 19, 2011).
Finally, Stuart Hall commented the riots in an interview he made with The Guardian. The interview was published just yesterday:
“The riots bothered me a great deal, on two counts. First, nothing really has changed. Some kids at the bottom of the ladder are deeply alienated, they’ve taken the message of Thatcherism and Blairism and the coalition: what you have to do is hustle. Because nobody’s going to help you. And they’ve got no organised political voice, no organised black voice and no sympathetic voice on the left. That kind of anger, coupled with no political expression, leads to riots. It always has. The second point is: where does this find expression in going into a store and stealing trainers? This is the point at which consumerism, which is the cutting edge of neoliberalism, has got to them too. Consumerism puts everyone into a single channel. You’re not doing well, but you’re still free to consume. We’re all equal in the eyes of the market.” (The Guardian: “The Saturday interview: Stuart Hall” by Zoe Williams, February 11, 2012).
Photo from The Big Picture blog over at Boston.com: “London Riots” by Lana Turner, August 8, 2011 (26 photos total).