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Old 04-14-2009, 10:32 AM   #1
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"Britain's Worst Hour"

Since there seems to be a lot of these kind of "UK decay" threads lately, I thought I'd post this for wider discussion.

Britain's worst hour

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Britain's worst hour
Megan O’Toole, National Post

Something is rotten in Britain. Young men are stabbing each other to death at an unprecedented rate, the centres of many towns are no-go areas on weekends as drunks spill out of bars and terrorize passersby, and Britons are obsessed with celebrities such as Jade Goody, whose funeral last weekend led to scenes reminiscent of the death of Princess Diana.

In a recent article, British talk show host Michael Parkinson heaped scathing criticism on Ms. Goody, calling her "all that's paltry and wretched about Britain."

Brought up by drug-addicted parents in a poor neighbourhood of London, she was transformed by the glare of reality television into a multi-million-dollar product whom the public was urged to celebrate, especially after being diagnosed with cervical cancer, Mr. Parkinson noted.

"Jade Goody has her own place in the history of television and, while it's significant, it's nothing to be proud of," he wrote in the Radio Times.

"When we clear the media smokescreen from around her death what we're left with is a woman who came to represent all that's paltry and wretched about Britain today. She was ... barely educated, ignorant and puerile. Then she was projected to celebrity by Big Brother and from that point on became a media chattel to be manipulated and exploited till the day she died."

What made Ms. Goody stand out in her reality-TV appearances was her shocking ignorance of her country's geography, her naked and drunken exploits and her racist bullying of an Indian housemate.

But she is not the only sign something has gone awry.

Over the past 25 years, an incredible decline in unity has become evident in everything, from rioting at soccer games to the "alien nation" characterized by high numbers of immigrants in some areas, said Ninian Mellamphy, professor emeritus of English at the University of Western Ontario.

"It looks as if the whole nation has, to a greater sense, kind of lost its moral focus," he added, noting this may reflect resentment at a loss of status resulting from the dissolution of the British Empire.

"[It took away] a kind of self-respect that had to do with British power and perhaps British arrogance, and so you have an arrogance now that has no relationship with power."

Last year, Ray Winstone, an actor known for tough-guy roles, threatened to leave, saying Britain had "gone to the dogs" and citing increasingly lawless behaviour among youths. "We're a mess. And do I really want to live in this mess any more? I feel bad saying it, but I'm just not sure."

In Mr. Mellamphy's eyes, the spiritual malaise gripping modern Britain has created something of a "moral vacuum" that feeds off itself.

Last week, two brothers, aged 10 and 11, were accused of attempting to murder two other boys, who claimed they were robbed and beaten in a wooded area in northern England. The accused, who had recently been placed in foster care, became some of the youngest people ever charged with such a serious crime in Britain.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office called the crime a "disturbing but singular event" that should not be used to draw conclusions about the state of society.

Yet signs of cultural decline have also become evident in the familial sphere, an area the opposition Conservative party has identified as a priority, touting a goal to make Britain the most "family-friendly" country in the world.

It seems they have far to go. In February, Alfie Patten, 13, was reported to have fathered his 15-year-old girlfriend's baby. Though The Daily Telegraph dubbed him "the exploited face of broken Britain," it soon appeared he was only one of several teens claiming paternity. DNA tests later confirmed he was not the father.

Other young people, increasingly girls, are getting drunk at an alarming rate. A Daily Mirror series on the "epidemic" said more than 5,000 teenage girls landed in hospital last year because of binge drinking. Those same teens - loaded up with cheap alcohol - have been fuelling soaring crime rates.

"Last year violent crimes by teenage girls reached a shocking 23,000, many of them alcohol-related," the Mirror said, going on to note that British teenagers "now drink more than almost anywhere in Europe."

But it's not making them any happier. A recent report by the New Economics Foundation found Britons aged 16 to 24 experienced some of the lowest levels of trust and belonging - key elements of social well-being - in Europe. Only Bulgaria and Estonia reported lower rates.

Part of the problem seems to be the number of people leaving school without any qualifications as the dropout rate remains stubbornly high.

Education experts are trying to reshape the curriculum to equip students with the skills they need to function today.

A new report on the primary school curriculum in England and Wales encourages educators to place more emphasis on technology than on traditional subjects.

According to its recommendations, students would not necessarily have to learn about the Victorian era or the Second World War - teachers could choose two "key periods" of British history - but learning skills such as blogging, podcasting and Twittering would take a central role.

The report also calls for a shift from core subjects to cross-cultural "themes," such as sex and relationships, healthy eating, Internet safety, dealing with violent behaviour and managing money.

With such a dramatic confluence of ills, Mr. Mellamphy, an expert in British culture, says it is difficult to envision how British society may begin to right itself.

"There's certainly a need for some kind of a movement [toward] integration rather than resentment," he said. "How exactly they're going to do that, morally and politically, I can't guess."
Some user comments that I thought might provoke further discussion:

Quote:
Folks...there are other countries with similar political ideologies that have computers and mobile phones and they seem to be doing OK. What GB does have is an extremely divided class and educational system that streamlines kids quickly into what they will be doing and who they will be very early on in life. Combine this with a bad football club and an abundance of pubs and you get the picture.
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Which immigrants is the professor referring to? Since 1948 groups of immigrants have been settling in the UK from Asia, Africa and the West Indies. Just like in Canada some groups and individuals have integrated more easily than others and have been accepted by the British more readily than others. The biggest problem is that the British have become a cynical lot. They have no faith in the monarchy, the government or the system and they have little interest in changing it.
Thoughts?
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Old 04-14-2009, 01:17 PM   #2
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Quote:
Folks...there are other countries with similar political ideologies that have computers and mobile phones and they seem to be doing OK. What GB does have is an extremely divided class and educational system that streamlines kids quickly into what they will be doing and who they will be very early on in life. Combine this with a bad football club and an abundance of pubs and you get the picture.
I think this sums it up. If a lower class student is not receiving the same education as an upper class kid, there goes that poor kid's pride and sense of self-worth in society. Just look what happens in the U.S. with over crowded schools, no after-school activities, and a community that seems aimless. The kids lose interest in pursuing an education, and they turn to self-destructive ways. Same thing with the UK.
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Old 04-14-2009, 01:28 PM   #3
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This has a lot to do with the dire inequalities in wealth and class based issues, I have to agree with Pearl there. Although I still think this whole 'dying britain' issue is being hugely exaggerated.
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Old 04-14-2009, 03:26 PM   #4
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I don't actually think its just a 'british' problem at all . . . I think there is evidence of this type of 'social malaise' in many western cultures (can't comment on others as have no real knowledge) . . . think perhaps the problem is exacerbated somewhat by the traditional 'class system' that has dominated in the UK for so many years, but who are we kidding . . . every culture is based on 'class' . . . here in supposedly 'classless' Australia there is still a tiered system . . .mainly based on where you live really

Its daggy and old fashioned to say it - and yes, the world is changing, but the inherent qualities of community and respect (not just for others but for self as well) just seem to be getting lost in the instant gratification culture that seems to be pervading everything . . . no sense of having to really work work work to achieve . . . we want it all and we want it now and not getting it when we want it is making the world an angry angry place

my two cents great topic by the way
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:06 PM   #5
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I wouldn't care to guess too much as to what ails Britain, but if decline of empire was a good enough cause, London would have looked like 28 Days Later by the 1960s. I doubt anyone younger than the Queen would have a first-hand sense of Imperial Britain as opposed to plain old Britain, minor island and friend of the USA.

Personally I blame it on the above noted trends that can be observed in all manner of ways around the globe. Britain certainly isn't 'dying'... I suspect the early 1800s were not a pretty sight on many streets either. But the optimistic version post-1945, is taking a pretty severe battering.

What genuinely does worry me about the present, all over the west anyway, is, if this is how taut, angry and desperate the vibe is in nominally 'good times' (as they were until very recently), what happens in a genuine great depression? In Australia too, I see a certain type, and I think if the flow of consumer baubles dried up for a second, you'd have a fascist army in the making.
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:32 PM   #6
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classism to me seems far more blown out of proportion than is actually the case.

if we're going to talk about classism, then let's talk about france for a while.

how do you say aristocracy in french?
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:33 PM   #7
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good topic for discussion though, melon. meant to say that in my original post. jade goody is indeed a classic example of what's wrong with society.
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:37 PM   #8
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by the way... what should we do with chavs? take their kappa shoes away? put them in special "camps"?

give them money?

i'm open to suggestions here, gang.
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:41 PM   #9
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just when you think things can't get any more lethal in the uk: Air travel 'as bad as stabbing person in the street', says MEP | Mail Online
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:51 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by partygirlvox
This has a lot to do with the dire inequalities in wealth and class based issues, I have to agree with Pearl there. Although I still think this whole 'dying britain' issue is being hugely exaggerated.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
I wouldn't care to guess too much as to what ails Britain, but if decline of empire was a good enough cause, London would have looked like 28 Days Later by the 1960s. I doubt anyone younger than the Queen would have a first-hand sense of Imperial Britain as opposed to plain old Britain, minor island and friend of the USA.
Whilst as recently as the Thatcher governments of the 1980's and Major government of the early to mid 1990's, there were still a few of the old school toffs hanging around the place, they were of declining importance in the grand scheme of things, and they knew it. Thatcher was a grocer's daughter from Grantham and Major was from even more humble origins.

When I worked for a UK audit firm a few years ago there happened to be a few people in the office from bona-fide upper crust backgrounds, but the idea that they would have been more likely to get promoted quicker than the rest of us lower middle class plebs just by virtue of their backgrounds would have been seen as rather absurd. Mind you, if they brought in the clients, they probably would get promoted more quickly, so I supposed that coming from the environment they did , it might have been easier to pick up good clients.

There is now the curious phenomenon of people from upper class backgrounds seeing fit to disguise their social origins and affecting 'estuary English' lower middle class accents.

On the other hand, while the power of the old school toffs has declined:

Quote:
Top professional jobs are now 'closed shops' to all but the richest because social mobility in Britain has gone backwards over the last 20 years, a government report has found.
Families from wealthier backgrounds are now far more likely to work in professional jobs than those from poor or even average income households.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...backwards.html


The best educated or most cultured people in Britain are probably every bit as well educated and civilised as in any other country in the world, but the whole chav culture/underclass thing does seem a bit more pronounced in Britain and in Ireland, than elsewhere. So, yeah, there's a problem with people feeling excluded.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoomerang
classism to me seems far more blown out of proportion than is actually the case.

if we're going to talk about classism, then let's talk about france for a while.

how do you say aristocracy in french?
It is a slightly different type of classism than perhaps we find, or used to find, in the UK, but in France the top politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists are generally graduates of a very small range of universities and schools. Sarkozy enjoys portraying himself as a bolshy outsider coming in to shake up the system, but if you look at his background, he really isn't.
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Old 04-14-2009, 08:14 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Zoomerang96 View Post
by the way... what should we do with chavs? take their kappa shoes away? put them in special "camps"?

give them money?

i'm open to suggestions here, gang.
This is a bit......corny but isn't it really about fostering better community values?

I find it odd one of the commenters on the article posted mentioned the pub as a kind of contributor to the whole social malaise, because historically the village pub was a great social leveller. I suspect the whole binge drinking hysteria is symptom rather than cause.

If we are talking of community values, we can look at the notorious statement made by Thatcher all those years ago 'there is no such thing as society - there are only families and individuals' and hold that up for scrutiny. And round about the time when there were first talk in the media about an 'underclass', back in the late 1980's if I recall correctly Mrs Thatcher said this was not something she recognised, people shouldn't be put into class boxes - but that, I think, was naive, because what Thatcherism expounded was fine for the aspirational middle class and the aspirational working class, but there were people getting excluded. I personally think she was honestly wrong rather than maliciously wrong, others will disagree, but fine.

In any case, neither the left nor the right can escape criticism in all of this.
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Old 04-14-2009, 08:23 PM   #12
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"We live in a political world,
Love don't have any place.
We're living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don't have a face"



"Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates,
Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts.
Broken words never meant to be spoken,
Everything is broken."



"Drought and starvation, packaging of the soul,
Persecution, execution, governments out of control.
You can see the writing on the wall inviting trouble.

Trouble,
Trouble, trouble, trouble,
Nothin' but trouble.

Put your ear to the train tracks, put your ear to the ground,
You ever feel like you're never alone even when there's nobody else around?
Since the beginning of the universe man's been cursed by trouble.

Trouble,
Trouble, trouble, trouble,
Nothin' but trouble.

Nightclubs of the broken-hearted, stadiums of the damned,
Legislature, perverted nature, doors that are rudely slammed.
Look into infinity, all you see is trouble.

Trouble,
Trouble, trouble, trouble,
Nothin' but trouble."

~Dylan



"People did whatever they felt like doing."

~Judges 17:6
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Old 04-15-2009, 05:10 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoomerang96 View Post
classism to me seems far more blown out of proportion than is actually the case.

if we're going to talk about classism, then let's talk about france for a while.

how do you say aristocracy in french?
when i moved to France, someone said to me "there's 3 class systems in the French countryside, the "paysans" (peasants) who will welcome you with open arms, but cross them, and they will stab you in the back and throw you in the river; the "bourgeois" who will weigh you up for a while and take their time to befriend you, but when you're friends, you're friends for life; and the "aristocracy", who you will never ever see"

i've found all of this to be true and false

in my experience here, i've seen a lot of blurring of the boundaries, which i love! people here where i live don't seem to give a monkey's about class or status, and just seem to hang out together as "friends" regardless of "class" or whatever, and there's people from all different walks of life here (lots of local farmers, teachers, painters and decorators, a handful of "celebrity" writers, academics, film/theatre people, artists, photographers, musicians, unemployed folk, computer peeps, pharmacists, nurses, people from the "aristocracy" as in family history/known family names, etc.), but there is a huge sense of community here which seems to be the overriding thing...

i've found the lack of "snob value" ever so refreshing compared with the UK... plus more generally, there seems to be a lot more access to activities for children (some of which are perceived as more elite or for the rich in the UK), like horse-riding (which is a fraction of what it costs in the UK) and musical training which is heavily subsidised here and open to all...
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Old 04-15-2009, 11:48 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zoomerang96 View Post
jade goody is indeed a classic example of what's wrong with society.
There we go - there's an example of 'broken britain.' How is it that a woman, a woman with a hard upbringing, little schooling and, until her quick rise to fame, little money, can develop cancer so young (with two young children) and die, and half the british public seems to feel it appropriate (no, IMPORTANT even!) to degrade her, belittle her and ultimately condemn her. For what? Our obsession with celebrity? Our utter disgust of a woman from a working class background making something of herself? Of her 'casual racism' (lacking in malevolence and solely borne from petty ignorance) that half the people condemning her are probably guilty of themselves?

I think the British public's treatment of this woman is far more representative of the ills in our society - and representative of the utter contempt held for the lower classes.
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Old 04-15-2009, 03:18 PM   #15
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here in the antipodes there wasn't a whole lot of fuss about the late Ms Goody . . . she did seem like the ultimate media creation and while she seemed to stand for all that is wrong with reality television and shows in that genre (in as much as the media build build build then tear down) I actually admire her for making the most of a hideous situation, . . . for trying to take control when all control had been fairly ripped from her hands . . .

have really enjoyed reading this thread - love ironhorses post by the way - really given me pause for thought
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