Why didn’t the riots return (in the years following 2011)?

What happened to that energy/impulse that Slavoj Žižek said was split between positive/emancipatory and destructive, which burst out in 2011? For me, the destructive energies/impulses of the UK riots in August of that year exemplified both the explosive jolt out of neoliberal capitalism’s snatching of our hearts and minds that 2011 showed glimmers of (even, as to quote a friend, if anything the riots were in fact that very neoliberal right wing libertarianist “system expressing itself”), whilst also being an exemplar of why these energies/impulses seem to have evaporated since.

I must admit, as spring met summer in the following year of 2012, it slowly became clear to me that it wouldn’t return during this calender year. Specifically here in the UK, as such antagonistic energies, and an ability for cognitive mapping of the social landscape were being diverted and dissolved by a succession of Jingoist demands on the population (the Diamond Jubilee, England’s place in the Euro 2012 Football tournament, and last – but certainly not least – the London Olympic spectacle.) Yet, I really expected this energy to return in 2013, expecting that survivalist adrenaline the media hype of the riots induced in me with ominous anticipation. I expected it to the extent that I found myself in uncomfortable arguments with people who mistook my desire for the fault-lines in this social-Thatcherism-par-excellence point in time to become like gaping chasms in the streets we walk, with a desire to see a return of the mob violence and ruination of livelihoods which was the truth of the riots for many.

Come-what-may they didn’t return (and I severely doubt they will again this year). As I said, I felt they were both an exemplar of the energy/impulse that erupted in 2011 as well as for the reason it didn’t return, because here in the UK nothing else shook the real of neoliberal Britain than they did. And as part and parcel of the justified fear  they induced in the rest of the population (hyped by the media so that it felt like it was happening in every street – “they’re coming for you!”) was the way in which the clampdown by the state could drag down and smother all the emancipatory lifeblood that was flowing through that year along with the riots.

What crept into my thought processes in the following couple of years was the reverse: a total lack of energised belief, an audacity to challenge the post 2008 zombie capitalism, that (like the recent, fast zombie, movies) is feeding off life at an unprecedented speed. A malaise, an ever more privatised construction of our world has ensued (consisting of a deep immersion in sound-bite-sharing on social media, pictures of cute kittens, Netflix dramas etc). A higher level of unreality, repetition of our own lives until then, side by side with an increasing narrowing of future horizons towards that (“one day, surely!) ever-harder to attain secure, stable full time job, and that desire to remain in whatever employment we have, which has raised the protestant work ethic in the work place to an hysterical level (such that the frenzied, yet pointless bureaucratic landscape of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian film Brazil now just looks like another day at work.)

Energy has been zapped, time increasingly taken from us (as the need to be constantly checking our cell phones, social media profiles – “as something promising is surely behind that sms envelope/bright red notification” – dominates our subconscious) and the ‘gloves off’ neoliberal capitalist assault as plunged us all into a survivalist state of being, centred around an eternal present where each day merely resembles the next one. Climate change, escalating situations in only-just-out-of-sight countries – these things become both too much to comprehend and also worryingly unreal, like looking at the world through a just-emptied Jack Daniels bottle. How can the energy/impulse for change that is so crucial right now return under all of this? Everything is moving so fast, yet there’s never been so much malaise when one is confronted by anything beyond their increasingly porcupine-like ego. It is hypermalaise.

When I attempted to undertake a Cultural Studies course in London during the fall of 2012,  the many social, environmental, existential issues were all seemingly at a tipping point on my horizon. Perhaps, because of this, I caved in on myself down there and needed to return to the familiar South/West Yorkshire landscape. Of course, if they were at a tipping point 2 years ago, they most certainly are now. Yet, likely because of the aforementioned predicament , they suddenly feel off radar, miles away, happening but not happening at the same time. As well as this I had to train myself to become a little distant from what I saw around me after London simply just so I could function, because not being able to function when I needed to find work again simply wasn’t an option.

In 2013, my approach was to pick up ideas on a ‘cognitive mapping’ of our contemporary landscape from the shards of an unfinished course, and apply these to my home landscape, in an attempt to build a coherent picture to challenge the disorientation and confusion surrounding our contemporary landscape that everything else was more or inducing in me, and (seemingly) most other people too. After veering away from this project during the last 6 months, I have come back to realising just how crucial it may be as a way of grasping reality from the hands of the neoliberal state’s media control over reality, where the amnesia of now, leaves us blind to anything but an ever-distant past (surely this is why countless people find themselves perplexed that the 1990’s – just before society became immersed in the Eternal Now of cyberspace – is actually a long time ago now) . Thus, I have begun making these maps again, memorising what caught my attention in urban/suburban landscapes during the same day, before it disappears into this time-hole. The map below is the one I made yesterday.


map 17 june


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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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