Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 7 days, (and let’s admit, who can blame you?) you would have been bombarded continuously by the countless news stories related to the London Riots.
24 hour TV coverage, specialist radio programmes, You-Tube videos, Facebook and Twitter posts; a media frenzy that has tornadoed through our lives, ripping across the seams of society and leaving behind a littering of moral panic.
Looting the general public of their ability to make informed decisions and tarnishing the young population with the same photo-shopping, cutting and pasting sensationalist brush.
The digital age has brought with it access to a million points of view, all at once, and all trying to nudge us into thinking a particular way. The news has always been biased, but as a growing commercial enterprise, there’s no escape. The lines between reality and a regurgitated represented reality are being blurred, so much so that the media has an ever increasing and frighteningly high stake in public opinion.
Logging on to Facebook last Monday, about 98% of people’s statuses were riot-based, and interestingly enough there seemed to be divide between those that lived within the areas that were hit by the riots, and those that lived in, say, the Surrey or Oxfordshire countryside.
The majority of London dweller’s statuses attempted to attack the problems behind the rioting, whereas those who were not directly hit by the riots were attacking the yobs, criminals and looters. The interesting contrast here is the level of mediation that each resident has been subjected to, with questionable originality regarding the construction of these ‘opinions’.
Perhaps what we need, to combat this encroaching deluge of media influenced opinion, is to develop alternative ways of thinking. Perhaps we can take influence from the artistic and creative thinkers of this world, who often indulge in critical analysis. If the public were to begin to recognise their own creative validity within the cultural sphere, perhaps public opinion would become more public-led, rather than led by those at the top of the media chain (Rupert Murdoch, anyone?).
So what if creative thinking could be applied as a solution to other aspects of the riots?
The arts have been one of the industries worst hit by the government cuts. Jobs in the arts are becoming increasingly rare, budgets for the arts and humanities departments in higher education institutions are being slashed, and arts companies are facing great holes in their staffing structure, which they struggle to fill through lack of funds.
The arts are seen as a luxury, a cultural-add on for countries that can afford it. But what the government did not consider is how the arts actually shape society. Art is not an extra, art is essential for a country’s social infrastructure, especially one in ‘financial meltdown’. Particularly for young people, art provides a way of expression that cannot be sought through any other means.
A favourite quote by John Martin states, ‘Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living’.
The riots came after 8 out of 13 youth clubs were shut down by Haringey Council. So how can the government think that the arts are an expendable resource?
Ok, so a lot of the rioters did just want new tellys and trainers. But what happens if we replace this obsession with material goods - this all-encompassing consumerist society, with a passion for something else?
A passion for making music for example, or dance, or art. Creative thinking is not something that can just be switched on and off, it is a matter of displacement. Art is something that can bring people and communities together, it is something that encourages a new and different way of thinking, a way that is desperately needed, more so now than ever.