by Richard Grayson:
MORE ICE CREAM
RIOT - I WANNA RIOT / WHITE RIOT - A RIOT OF MY OWN / WHITE RIOT
- I WANNA RIOT WHITE RIOT - A RIOT OF MY OWN
PEOPLE GOTTA LOT A PROBLEMS / BUT THEY DON'T MIND THROWING A BRICK
WHITE PEOPLE GO TO SCHOOL / WHERE THEY TEACH YOU HOW TO BE THICK
AN' EVERYBODY'S DOING / JUST WHAT THEY'RE TOLD TO
AN' NOBODY WANTS / TO GO TO JAIL!
THE POWER'S IN THE HANDS / OF PEOPLE RICH ENOUGH TO BUY IT
WHILE WE WALK THE STREET' / TOO CHICKEN TO EVEN TRY IT
DOING / JUST WHAT THEY'RE TOLD TO
NOBODY WANTS / TO GO TO JAIL!
YOU TAKING OVER / OR ARE YOU TAKING ORDERS?
ARE YOU GOING BACKWARDS / OR ARE YOU GOING FORWARDS?
The Clash White Riot (Strummer/Jones)
best lack all conviction/while the worst are full of passionate
'The Second Coming' WB Yeats
have all heard and understand the phrase 'a children's crusade',
although when you think a little more about it is not easy to
attach a single unitary meaning to it. A web search on the phrase
brings up everything from a church youth initiative to social
action to ensure childrenŐs education in the inner city. It does
seem to speak of innocent unspoiled expression coming deep from
Certainly in overtly Christian contexts the innocence is seen
as paramount, giving some sort of visionary quality - bunches
of smiling uncorrupted kiddies wreathed in light travelling towards
some salvation that their youth - and lack of exposure to the
ways of the world - guarantees - as opposed to the rather rockier
path that the more hardened occluded sinner is meant to travel.
Within the rhetorics of religiosity this loading is maybe because
the youthful soul is seen as having 'only just arrived' in this
world, therefore less sullied by sin, and closer to its ideal
When it comes to the historical event(s) that gave rise to the
phrase things are murkier and darker. Between 1200 and 1212 there
were marches lead by two youths - one Stephen of Cloyes in France
and another Anthony in Germany. Independently they set across
Europe with bands of people who may have been youth, or may have
been composed of the lower orders and therefore seen to be like
children, legend has it up to 20,000 in number. Thousands starved
of hunger or died of cold in the Alps, and those who survived
to commission ships to take them to the 'Holy Land' were sold
into prostitution and slavery by the captains that they had hired.
Despite this being a vicious debacle, Catholic sources talk of
this event as returning to the 'purity' of the crusader ideal-
one can only believe because they are dazzled by the reputed youth
of the participants. Whatever the truth, these events became legend
and culturally entrenched.
Generally we privilege the idea of youth with possessing insights
and agendas that are more deeply felt and better somehow than
those that have compromised by time and life. The 'idealism of
youth' is referred to in a way that is a combination of admiration,
nostalgia and distain.
Similar approaches and attitudes have become entrenched, mythologised,
and commodified by popular culture - from flower children dreamily
placing blooms in the gun barrels of soldiers (who are working
for 'The Man' ) to the high-spirited gang in Scooby Dooby Doo
always uncovering the dastardly plots of dishonest grown ups,
to soft focus shots of Shirley Temple type kids asking lispily
'why adults can't just bury their differences and live together?'
in a thousand domestic break up movies. Out of the mouths of babes
etcetera... echoing the innocence that we are meant to have possessed
before the Adamantine Fall.
Our culture has come to privilege the unmediated response over
the mediated and to glamorise the spontaneous gesture as being
of a transcendental order of 'realness' and therefore of a great
value. Look at the comparison of the inactive (and by implication
effete) 'schooled' white to the direct action taken by black people
in the lyrics to the Clash's 'White Riot'. Somewhere in the unconscious
racial stereotyping of the song we can locate the ghost of Rousseau
walking with the noble savage, closer to the ways of nature and
therefore to 'natural law' before the will was sapped and the
moral view occluded by the lies of civilisation.
Generally in the stories and rhetorics of the Left and the Right
the 'spontaneous' uprising of the oppressed proletarian or the
honest Aryan is fetishised and memorialised, and a great deal
of energy and effort invested in making political actions - riots,
uprisings, whatever -seem as unstoppable expressions of energy
and emotion - as 'natural' events rather than social or constructed
In this scenario this 'Realness' and emotional truth are constructed
to give the act a weight and an essential autonomy against the
artificial hypocrisies and engines of oppression. The moral and
the truthful are located somewhere in nature rather than in culture.
Slowly and inevitably we drift to the position where any deracinated
gesture of 'opposition' becomes privileged without any consideration
of its usefulness or value in actual or political terms being
taken into account. In the contexts of the 'art world' the work
that is seen as political (no matter how idiotic and feeble) is
seen to be removed from the epicine and complicit bourgeois codings
of the art world or indeed from any of the criteria that would
normally be used to determine whether something was any 'good'
or not. It is 'Real'. To say that a work which expresses itself
as being against exploitation is terrible is to identify yourself
as being with the forces of oppression. Conversely it is a given
that any work that claims to be in 'opposition' is de facto 'good'.
This generous if simple minded equation has encouraged unfortunate
As if in perverse recognition of the way that we value ideas of
the innocent and the spontaneous as means of legitimisation for
actions, a great deal of time and effort has in turn been spent
in describing political actions as being constructed. Marches
are described by the authorities (or the opposition) as being
'orchestrated' by shadowy others who are taking advantage of innocent
participants and real grievances to their own dark and nefarious
ends, events are 'infiltrated'. There is an enemy within, people
who are responsible for the action becoming 'bad' protest rather
than 'good' protest... If something has become mediated it has,
it seems, lost its essential virtue.
In these common political constructions and exchanges around the
ideas of childhood, youth and innocence, curiously what doesn't
get a look in are the activities of 'the playful' The act that
is seen as 'playful' or anarchic or mischievous is suspect as
it is both dangerously solipsistic and dangerously fluid. Within
the gestural vocabularies of political action it has come to be
seen as anathema - as 'play' threatens the orderings of the real
and is in a state of permanent shift.
This mutates into the area of social event and language described
by Bakhtin as The Carnivalesque: which has as its function to
uncover, undermine - even destroy, the hegemony of any ideology
that seeks to have the final say about the world. The video tape
of child protesters makes us question the way we read and load
this event and other similar events. The staging of the march
and the promiscuous and generous spread of issues and manifestos
embraced by the marchers (drugs, smoking, housing, ice cream)
serves to atomise our readings and our certainties. It starts
to subvert the idea of subversion itself, opening up a hall of
mirrors and ushering the event into a context where images and
actions are reflected into infinity, become manifold and various,
removed from easy narrations or simple causality.