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denial and revaging...

thousands dead...

where do you want to go today?

 

Be afraid, be very afraid. Neighbourhood Watch is all that keeps the angry criminal underclass from kicking down the front door and slitting throats. Security-driven logic keeps us locked inside our homes. The wealthy move into luxury enclaves designed for Bond villains, with restricted entry, guards and private roads; while the rest of us rely on a locksmith. The spectre of violent crimes is kept at bay with five-bar locks, bolts and security gates. Despite every statistic showing that we're far more likely to be attacked by our nearest and dearest, we insulate ourselves against the outside world.

In the US the search for absolete security is a boom industry. In Beverly Hills and Bel Air wealthy home owners are hiring architects whose design details come from military command posts and overseas embassies. No ninetees-built Bal Air mansion is complete without a 'terrorist proof security room'. In the face of urban poverty, homelessness and welfare cuts, investment is ploughed into private security rather than alleviating social conditions. Let's redecorate the bunker, baby! It's not just the rich who are battening down the hatches. British property developers are alking in terms of 'restricted housing' for the young as well as the elderly. Developers are beginning to offer child-free environments. Some three bedroom semis are going to start coming with the provisio that homeowners have to sell up and move on if they decide to have children. Kids make noise, play on the street, grow up to be dangerous teenagers. A 'good' area is a dead zone with deserted streets from 6pm onwards. Crowds, street life and spectacle are something we see on TV or at the cinema. It's the privatisation of experience.

Public space is becoming a thing of the past. The great municipal parks of the 19th century are all that remain of the egalitarian idea that people need space. Most parks are locked up after dark . We're allowed to gather in large groups if we're willing to pay for the privilige. Pop concerts, theme parks, shopping centers and sporting events are more or less the only places where crowd isn't met by cops in riot gear. MCA, Universal, Granada and Disney capitalise on our craving for crowds and bustle for supplying sanitised theme park versions of streets. Why bother visiting the real Beale St or Baker St when for a free you can stroll down a safe tourist version complete with costumed actors? It's a junk food version of urban life.The lack of public meeting places is a mesure of repression. In parts of Central and South Africa and the so-called 'third world' people aren't even allowed to meet up in church. It's not Jesus Christ who's perceived as a threat, but the act of gathering together as a group. Whenever there is a domestic crisis the first thing the authorities do is break up a crowd. The British Criminal Justice Bill gives police the right to disperse groups of more than three people. Three's a crowd who might just be planning a revolution.

Bus shelters are now designed without benches so that kid are discouraged from gathering in them, and the homeless can't use them as a shelter. In Britain, the Goverment-appointed 'Homelessness Tsar', Louise Casey, announced moves to sweep the homeless from the streets. Calling for an end to the 'culture of kindness', she claimed soup runs and handouts housing but to punish poverty. The US has long waged brutal, low intensity warfare on the homless. According to Mike Davis in 'City of Quartz':

"The City (LA) is engaged in mercilness struggle to make public facilities and spaces as 'unliveable' as possible for the poor... adopting the idiom of a urban cold war, it promotes the 'containment'of the homeless in Skid Row along Fith Street east of the Broadway, systematically transforming in the neighbourhood into an outdoor poorhouse."

Even places that have been used as common land for centuries are under threat: Glasgow Green's long history of being the spot where generation after generation gathered to debate and air their political grievances didn't stop Glasgow's Labour Council from trying to sell it off to private developers. The Green's political significance can't have eascped the council.

In the absence of human contact we're supposed to turn to business culture as a panacea for our isolation and loneliness. The delivery of interactive media and virtual reality means that we can work and shop from our own homes. Actual space has been replaced by virtual space, but only for those who can afford it. MCI promises a world without race, gender or age: "Is this a great time or what?" IBM offers "solutions for a small planet" while Microsoft asks us, "Where do you want to go today?"

What sounds like an offer of limitless freedom is a short cut to ending up with a load of old Bill Gates software. The language of choice gives the illusion of diversity; but the communications giants aren't offering us liberty, or the promiscuous feeling of being among strangers, or excitment, adventure, and the thrill of human contact. Oh no. We're being offered isolation from society... the chance to stay at home, stay paranoid and keep buying things.

 

Buy-buy, buy-buy.

from Chumbowamba's "Pass It Along" ["WYSIWYG", 2000]