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The Great UK Shopping Riots

Funny. All those proud tweets about how social media was the powerful force that provoked and allowed the revolutions of the Arab Spring have become mysteriously muted. It seems that we’re less happy to take blame for the UK Shopping Riots than we were to take credit for the Egyptian uprising.

And that’s basically because most social media “gurus” are wankers whose only talent appears to be as a sort of human RSS feedreader. All they do is wait for someone to do something different, and then they turn that into a tweetable top 10 list with a fancy slide. In general, social media gurus are about as useful as a one man flashmob.

But some of them, the ones who aren’t bottom feeders, are asking: is a riot coordinated on BlackBerry BBM a social media riot? It’s at least a social networking riot, if nothing else. Wags on Twitter have been commenting on the lack of iPhone penetration into the lucrative “Pissed Off Bored Kids Stealing Shit” segment of the market. Currently, the favourite theory is that the iPhone rioters have been waiting for the “Where 2 Loot” app to be launched in the App Store.

Forget that app. The overwhelming need is going to be for an app that turns your iPhone into a stun gun. Decades of namby-pamby liberal guilt has apparently come home to roost for the English. Poor sods. Did they really think pretending to treat uneducated, stupid, existentially bereft poor people as human would trick those people into believing it? They’re not THAT stupid. They know that “human” is a term defined by the powerful, and that they’re far from fitting the bill.

And force-feeding people adverts about things they’ll never have, and lives they will never be allowed to share, was almost certain to result in a mob that has decided to steal life, rather than live it vicariously through Wayne Rooney’s shopping lists published in tabloids. We might be next, of course. BEE bling is all very well if you’ve managed to earn it. But the thousands who aren’t given the opportunities to earn might eventually, as in the UK, decide to just take. Teaching your electorate to expect entitlement is a useful tool for politicians seeking votes, but it’s one that’s going to backfire.

At the same time, liberals are going to have a tough time turning the Great UK Shopping Riots into any sort of political statement. In the same way that it’s not easy to turn South African xenophobia into some sort of revolutionary statement, English kids trying on trainers before they loot them is not easy to spin into some sort of political nihilism. Come on! At least burn down a post office or something, not a department store or your poor neighbour’s house. It’s as dumb as those “edgy” graffiti artists in South Africa who tag suburban garage doors. Whoah! What courage! Go tag a police station, you big baby.

Still, the Great UK Shopping Riots prove that advertising works. The shops that are being looted are mainly brands that have sold themselves to poor people. As with social media gurus, though, I don’t see many ad agencies lining up to brag about how good their advertising is. “Nike — chosen by 9 out of 10 looters!’

Follow Chris Roper on Twitter @chrisroperza

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Chris Roper
Chris Roper

Chris Roper was editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian from July 2013 - July 2015.

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