The Shopping Riots

One theory of riots is that they are a performance, that people riot as an inarticulate means of acting out something they can’t express, or get heard, any other way.

Although a performance of power and control – a massive and unacceptable trantrum – this week’s riots are not an outcry of protest against police injustice, Government oppression or racial tension. These riots are not merely destructive, but powerfully acquisitive.

These few hundred people, mainly young men, are smashing their way into shops in order to loot items such as trainers, TVs and mobile phones that they already legitimately own.

This is not the fall of the Berlin Wall, where people excluded from Western capitalism rushed to go shopping. They are not attacking palaces from which they are excluded in order to take things they cannot have, but are ransacking and burning their own local shops.

So what is being expressed through this compulsion to take by dramatic force the very things they already possess? The torching of Miss Selfridge in Manchester yesterday evening could be seen as a symbolic act, demonstrating power and control over a site that holds such significance that it had to be destroyed, a violent rejection of totemic goods that have failed to deliver on their promise.

Whatever it is we’ve been selling them all their lives, the riots this week declare that these few disaffected kids no longer want to be sold the things they want. They want to take them. Or burn them.

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