Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Under Pressure?

By Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

I think the pressure might be starting to get to us. Us all that is.

The moment that it hit me was on route to work a couple of weeks ago. Running late, I opted for the tube rather than my usual calming walk in. On the first tube two men had a fight – or at least it would have been a fight if either had had enough room to move their arms. On the second tube an old woman started shouting at a four year stranger… that’s right, a four year old. I know he was four because his shocked father screamed it back in the old lady’s face.

In itself it was essentially just a bad journey. It probably wasn’t even that bad, just a shock to the system – I’ve noticed that you start to lose your London edge quite quickly when you stop travelling by tube every day.

Then again, I wonder if it was perhaps symptomatic of something more significant. Symptomatic of the pressures of modern day living starting to show?

Last week the latest crime statistics showed an overall drop in crime. And as happens every year, the majority of the country reading the glowing report on improved policing measures and effective crime prevention, raised a baffled eyebrow, had another swig of coffee and turned the page to read about a grandfather being “happy-slapped” to death.

Within this seemingly never-ending catalogue of bad news and violent outbursts, there were two particularly horrendous stories in quite close succession, linked only by their unusualness and muted public reaction.

In June of this year, taxi driver Derrick Bird shot dead 12 people and injured 7 others, before turning his gun on himself. What characterised this event was not only how reportedly out of character the attack was, but also the notable lack of public recrimination – except against the police that is. There is no dancing around the fact that what Bird did was to go on a killing spree. And yet the day’s events were largely met with shock and sadness, not anger. A surprising number of people came out in Bird’s defence, and those who didn’t, could at least understand where the others were coming from.

Then in July of this year, the now notorious Raoul Moat went on a similar rampage. Similar in that he picked up a gun, sought out individuals who he felt had wronged him and shot them, killing his ex-partner' new boyfriend. Then he became relatively indiscriminate in his mania, injuring an unarmed police officer*. Similar in that the early public reaction was many things, but rarely disgusted. Most were fascinated, many concluded that he must have been provoked, whilst others were convinced of an elaborate police cover up of some sort. The whole story had, dare I say it, an air of macabre humour about it; enter Gazza. Again, the unfolding events were drenched in tragedy and sorrow, not anger. That is until resident idiot Siobhan O’Dowd took “empathy” a step too far and jolted us back to our senses.

There are a million and one reasons why public response might have been what it was to both gunmen. One is that we’ve just become so used to violence that it’s no longer as shocking as it should be. The other is that we have become a more compassionate and understanding nation.

But I wonder. I wonder if deep down we have comprehended these murders, so unusual and dramatic in nature, to be the breaking point of modern day living. I wonder if our characterisation of both Bird and Moat as victims in their own right, is because we’re all starting to feel the pressure. That we know that we wouldn’t pick up a gun and randomly start shooting, but we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if our neighbour, or colleague, or postman did.

Are we reaching the breaking point of modern day living?
Yesterday a man killed his wife and two young children – his neighbours say they don’t understand what could have happened, that it is entirely out of character.

*Ed. Original article mistakenly stated that Raoul Moat killed an unarmed police officer. The officer in question actually survived the attack and the post was amended accordingly. Hat tip to ‘Anonymous Coward’

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  1. Killed an unarmed police officer ?
    Don't think so ...

    Anonymous coward.

  2. Brilliant post!
    Its something I've been thinking bout loads recently.
    Sometimes I find things incredibly overwhelming as if everything is resting on the edge of a chaotic madness almost too much to bear.
    Then other times it feels like the potential greatness of everything is so incredibly beautiful its also almost too much to bear...(dont know if that makes sense?) The immense pressure/potential both positive and negative lurking just beneath the surface of everything is both exciting and terrifying and has actually inspired me on a massive new body of work. I'm not much of a words person but here's my latest painting exploring this.
    Visually I've been really inspired by volcanoes and some natural disasters amongst other things. I guess they're a bit like a metaphor for the bottled up emotions and pressure...they are both destructive and creative.

  3. @ Anonymous Coward

    Cheers for the spot. Quickly corrected!

    @ Rebecca Glover

    Thanks for posting and sharing your thoughts. And your art, great painting!


  4. ...This is what he actually did to the unarmed police officer (sorry if you're squeamish) How did he survive this??


    But I actually think for a nation our size densely packed with people in our urban centres, we are incredibly calm. Compared to societies like America where people go absolutely spastic every day (killing their wives, killing their neighbours, killing their teachers, killing their bosses).

    The Bird and Moat incidents were both alarmingly American in nature. But more alarming was that the public reaction was quieter than it had been for previous UK massacres such as Dunblane and Hungerford. Almost as if we are beginning to accept such incidents as 'normal'.

    The media clearly has a big part to play in not normalising these horrible events. So, the Guardian's live minute-by-minute coverage of Bird (while he was still on his rampage) was not entirely appropriate. This is not entertainment.

    I don't think we have become de-sensitised to violence as the majority of us do not come into contact with it in our daily lives. However, we have become immune to the reality and consequences of violence. We are now able to talk about people being shot in the face or roadside bombs going off in a casual jokey way without really acknowledging the seriousness of these things. And that could be seen as a dangerous trend.

    If our media continues its path toward US-style new coverage and we end up with live police car chases, live shoot outs, live hold ups at petrol stations then violence in our communities will increase due to normalisation.

    But, you know, let's all just Keep Calm And Carry On eh?

    Josh (UNCUNT)

  5. Just re-reading this post. Truly excellent!