The New York Times carried a report on the UK riots, “London Riots Put Spotlight on Troubled, Unemployed Youths in Britain,” which included an interview with one of the “rioters,” Louis James, 19, who lives in a government-subsidized apartment in northern London and received $125 jobless benefits every two weeks.
Poor Louis “never had a proper job” and learned to read only three years ago. “His mother can barely support herself and his stepbrothers and sisters.” And his father, who was a heroin addict, is dead.
“No one has ever given me a chance; I am just angry at how the whole system works,” “Mr. James” told the Times, whose reporters seemed to be ISO the “root causes” of what is basically nothing more than a form of old-fashioned hooliganism made easier thanks to iPhone and Facebook, the twitter hooligans. Louis spends most days watching television because, he explains, that “is the way they want it.” They give him enough money so that “I can eat and watch TV all day.” So it was they who made him steal (or “taking” as The New York Times put it) a $195 sweater.
Yep. Economic despair, boredom, alienation, racism, a junkie mother, a dead father made them do it, which sounds very much like the way the members of the Jets gang rationalized their behavior is the 1957 musical “West Side Story” (script by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins) about rival gangs in New York.
“Hey, I got a social disease,” insists one of the thugs in the classic “Officer Krupke.” “My daddy beats my mommy, my mommy clobbers me/ My grandpa is a commie, my grandma pushes tea.” My sister wears a moustache/ My brother wears a dress!/ Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!”
It is worth watching the clip from the film version. Notice that the white punks from the 1950’s look like they just came out of “Banana Republic” catalogue. At the same time, their rivals the Puerto Ricans Sharks, converse and sing in English and act like real gentlemen. Some things do change.