Wednesday 31 August 2011

Channel 4 what were you thinking?

As a massive atletics fan I always associate watching major atlethics championships with the BBC.

Imagine my disappointment and scepticism to hear that this year's coverage of the World Athletics Championships in Daegu South Korea was now on Channel 4.

When I watch athletics I want to see and hear familiar faces like Steve Cram, Colin Jackson and Brendon Foster, what we've got instead is the disaster that is Ortis Deley.

Why have Channel Four got him presenting athletics? After about 30 seconds of watching him earlier this week, I realised he wasn't just out of his depth, he was actually drowning! I switched channels it was too embarrassing to watch.

It came as no surprise to discover this compilation of some his worst gaffes. Channel 4 have now decided to 'scale back' his presenting duties for the remainder of the Championship.

The only good thing Channel 4 has done is recruit the legend that is Michael Jonhson from the BBC. His punditry and analysis is almost has good as his sprinting.

Looking forward to being reaquainted with the BBC's athletics coverage at next year's Olympics.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Not the situation Abercrombie and Fitch had in mind.

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you'll know I like to keep up with the some of the serious news stories of the day.

It may surprise you to know, that I also find time in my life to watch a worrying amount of reality tv nonsense. I can probably tell you just a much about the Kardashians, as I can about the Euro Zone crisis.

One of my favourite reality tv shows is Jersey Shore. If you haven't seen it, think Big Brother but with Italian Americans who spend their time fighting, clubbing, drinking, and shagging!

It's been in the news this week as one of the stars of the show, Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino has been offered money by the fashion label Abercrombie and Fitch not to wear their clothes on the show.

Mike the 'Situation' Sorrentino being the Situation.

According to Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike the Situation, is not the kind of person that best represents what the brand is about. In there own words they have said of Sorrintino his: 'association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand'.

I used to be a big fan of Abercrombie and Fitch, but I've gone off the label, and pretentious comments like this help to explain why. Their clothes are a 'preppy' more upmarket version of Gap. Their shops are staffed by the most ridiculously good looking people, to point where I no longer go to the flag ship London store, as I only feel fat and ugly and most of their clothes don't even fit me anymore.

If there's anything aspirational about A&F it's about an unatainable version of beauty.

Anyway it got me thinking about brand reputation and how companies try and manage their reputations. This week I've read reports that the sports brand Addidas has suffered as a result of the UK riots, with many looters being seen wearing Addidas clothes.

I think A&F might have got this one wrong. It's not as if their brand has been damaged in recent months. Jersey Shore is one of the most popular reality tv shows around. Far from making the company appear cool and aspiratonal, it looks uptight and takes itself far too seriously.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

'UK Riots: 'whites have become black' I don't think so David

Whenever David Starkey turns up on your tv screen, you know things won't be dull.

I've become used to his overly controversial appearances on Question Time, but been entertained by his history programmes on Channel Four.

On Saturday I got the chance to see what he said about the UK riots in Friday's edition of Newsnight.

I'm not going to deny that the riots have raised some uncomfortable questions about our country, particularly around the issues of poverty, class and race.

He may have wanted to sound controversial, but to argue that white people rioting was because they've started to act black would be ridiculous, if it wasn't quite so offensive.

As soon as anyone starts quoting Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech you begin to worry where the debate will end up.

Starkey is arguing that black culture has somehow corrupted white british youth. There are elements of Black American street culture that have become popular amongst kids in the UK, but that's not an explanation for the causes of last week's riots.

The problem I have with much of what David Starkey had to say, is that he's fallen into the same tired old cliche of assuming that there is only one form of black culture and only one way of being a black person.

This is what he had to say when talking about the Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy:

'listen to David Lammy an archtypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off so you were listening on radio, you'd think he was white'

What a stupid comment! David Lammy talks like David Lammy. Firstly he's a trained lawyer and MP, a middle class professional, why would he speak like he's from the street. But for some people that's not what being black is about.

If you're white it makes no difference whether you're a so called chav off a council estate or an upper class toff, nobody questions your authenticity as a white person.

If you're black however, as soon as you fail to fit neatly into the black urban/street stereotype, you're seen as not being a 'real' black person - you're somehow acting white.

There are lots of different black cultures and experiences that both black and white people need to recognise. The black urban experience isn't any more authentic then other black experiences, and it can't be held responsible for the riots.

If there was one point I agreed with David Starkey (and there wasn't many) it was his reference to the London street accent 'Jafaican'. It's certainly become more prominent in London in recent years.

But you know what? That's language for you.

Language is constantly evolving and changing. New words and phrases enter the language, others become obsolete. We can't control language whether we'd like to or not.

Despite the controversy, Starkey has refused to apologise. I don't have a problem with plain speaking which is what he claims he was doing. But I do have a problem when people decide to resort to boring, outdated, and misinformed cliches and stereotypes, that don't offer any real explanations on the issues that have contributed to the riots.

Stop blaming Hip Hop

If in doubt about the moral decay of today's youth, you can always use rap as an excuse.

David Starkey talked about rap's negative cultural influence on Newsnight, and although it's clear he knows nothing about the music, you know there's plenty of other people out there that probably agree with him.

I've listened to Rap/Hip Hop since I was a kid. I've listened to all the different styles and sub genres including 'Gangster rap'. I think I've turned out ok - I'm a law abiding citizen that's never gone out looting!

Gangster rap is a term that gets thrown about to describe an entire genre of music, so for those who don't know, he's a very brief history.

Gangster rap emerged in the late 1980's and early 1990's and involved a few key artists from Los Angeles. The likes of NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Snoop Dog, and Ice T.

The original gangster rap template was always an odd mix of lyrics about hustling, police harassment, militant Black Power politics, smoking weed and partying, and yes run ins with bi*ches and ho’s! These artists were telling their story about their own West Coast lifestyle which hadn't been heard before.

By 1995 Gangster rap was dead. Anything after that simply became a parody of the genre, with record labels realising they could make lots of money selling a fantasy gangster lifestyle to both white and black kids.

What started out as quite a militant anti establishment form of music, was incorporated into the mainstream, repackaged and then sold back to suburban kids.

When people argue that gangster rap is a corrupting influence they fail to understand that a lot of rap/hip hop is simply entertainment, no different from watching gangster films like Goodfellers, Scarface or the Godfather.

Blaming rap is just a weak attempt to deflect attention from the role that successive governments and our overall society have played in creating the conditions that resulted in the riots.

Thursday 11 August 2011

The UK Riots: What is going on?

In the last few days I’ve been shocked and embarrassed watching some of coverage of the rioting and looting that’s been taking place in London and other UK cities.

On Monday night, I turned on Sky News to see reports of buildings on fire in Croydon, looting in Clapham, South London, I thought: ‘What is going on!’

It felt like the police and the government had actually lost control of the streets. It still doesn’t feel like they’ve regained total control now.

Since then, I’ve had conversations with people at work as well as lengthy email discussions with friends on the situation, all in an attempt to make sense of it all.

That’s the difficult part - so much of the violence makes no sense and doesn’t appear to serve any purpose.

I’ve thought long and hard over what’s been happening. I will attempt to put together some coherent thoughts on the events of the last few days. There's just so much to discuss and so many questions to ask.

What’s going on in our inner cities? What do we expect from the police? How are young people being brought up and educated? What jobs are out there? Is the gap between rich and poor too big? Is our society too materialistic?

It’s hard to know where to begin, but a good place to start would be with what happened in Tottenham last week.

As cynical as it may sound, the riots that took place in Tottenham following the peaceful protest against the death of Mark Duggan came as no surprise.

Having been to plenty of football matches at White Hart Lane, I know that High Road quite well. The whole area smacks of poverty, alienation and deprivation. It’s the kind of place where I would expect something like this to happen at some point.

But moving on from Tottenham, the escalation of the riots to other parts of London and the rest of country totally baffles me.

The only time I can remember or know of riots similar to what’s happening now were during the 1980s. The thing is Britain today compared to 30 years ago is a very different place. The Brixton riots in 1981 were some of the worst this country’s seen, but the political and social landscape was completely different.

I remember watching a documentary on the 1981 Brixton riots, what soon became obvious was just how bad local community policing was back then. The police acted more like an invading army, it was no surprise that people rose up against them.

Those riots were more about people saying they’d had enough of brutal and discriminatory police tactics. They were speaking out against poverty and the lack of opportunities, during a time of rising unemployment and social tension.

This isn't the situation today. You can say what you like about the police, but things have improved greatly.

This is what I don't understand about this week's rioting. Where's the political aim? There isn't one. It isn't about people struggling to make their voices heard - This is just random violence, criminality and looting.

It’s like there’s two different countries in the UK living side by side; you have the mainstream and then you have this alternative parallel community of people who live by a completely different moral and ethical code.

It’s been building for a good generation or so now. Occasionally you see glimpses of it, but in the last few days its as if the whole country has been confronted by this ugly underclass.

So who or what is to blame?

I’m not falling for the simplistic ‘it’s the government cuts’ argument. That’s irrelevant. Some on the Left might try and push that argument but it doesn’t wash with me.

There's a number of issues, firstly poor parenting, and fractured family structures. I was telling my friend that I've been lucky in my life, as my Dad has always been around. I also had other male role models in my family, most notably my grandfather who came to Britain in the mid 1950s.

Within two years of arriving he'd found a job, brought a house and paid for his wife and 7 kids to come over from the island of St Kitts in the Caribbean. Many kids don't have such role models in their families, particularly those from my own West Indian background. Having stable, solid family environments is crucial.


Although we always hear about how successful kids are at passing GCSE and A Levels exams, many kids leave school ill-equipped to deal with the world of work and living in mainstream society.

My cousin has been teaching in schools around London for a number of years, some of the stories he tells me about the education system makes me think that for some schools its more about ticking boxes. Making sure a school does well in the local league table rather than actually providing kids with skills for the job market.

Secondly, I've heard some real horror stories from friends who've been educated in some of London's tougher inner city schools. These schools sound like breeding grounds for the types of kids we've seen on our TV screens in the last few days, the kids have no chance.

Employment opportunities

In some parts of the country I wonder what jobs are available for people; secondly I think many kids simply don’t have the skills or social intelligence for full time employement.

I live in Stratford, East London, 20 minutes walk from the Olympic site. Do you think any of the locals are involved in the construction of the Olympic village? No they're not. Many of the jobs have gone to Eastern Europeans. Surely if our own youth were better educated and trained we wouldn’t need to recruit so many foreigners.

I accept that 40 - 50 years ago there was more unskilled manual jobs available for people without qualifications that simply don't exist today. But surely we have to do better in training and educating youngsters for the types of jobs that do exist.


We live in a highly materialistic and at times selfish society. There’s a book I’ve just finished reading which I highly recommend. It’s called Affluenza by Oliver James.

It looks at how anxiety, depression, stress and envy are increasing in Western Capitalist societies, most notably in the UK and the US. This ‘affluenza’ is now according to the author spreading to other parts of the world.

How does this relate to the riots I hear you ask?

Well the book argues that capitalism and consumerism are about making us dissatisfied with our lives and our possessions.

Too much of our status amongst family, friends and society are seen through what we own, how we spend our money. If we have the flat screen TV, the car, the holidays abroad, the house in the suburbs; all of this will somehow make us happier and better people. What we own are signs of our value, our success and worth within our societies.

Living in the West many of us experience this to greater or lesser degrees. People at the bottom of society are just as materialistic as everyone else. As a society we tell people that the possession they own make them better and more successful people.

Some will work hard and save money to get such possessions, but as we've seen there are many who feel they don't need to do that. They feel entitled to these things.

Since the end of the Second World War, we've experienced greater levels of wealth and prosperity, and I think as a society we have greater expectations of what governments and society should provide for us. There's a greater sense of entitlement from people.

For many people they realise that by hopefully contributing something to society, like paying taxes they will get something back in return, but unfortunately there's a growing underclass that have this sense of entitlement, but don't feel or want to contribute to the society they're living in.

I think I'll leave it at that for now. There's much more to be said, a lot more soul searching to be had. Don't worry, I know in the next few days, and coming weeks I'll have more thoughts on the riots and what it all means for everyone living in the UK.