Thursday, 20 September 2012

Chalk Farm

A: Reckon it's well soon to be writin' about the riots in London... could be a bit bleedin' previous to have some faces from Glasgow tryin' to comment on somethin' happenin' in yer own manor... I dunno.

B:It's not like the riots aren't symptomatic of a deeper cultural malaise, and expression, if you will, of the seething discontent at the injustices of the Conservative - Liberal Democrat government. And within the broader, international context, it stands comparison with other spontaneous, and violent uprisings. Why, it is even a cliché on the left wing to question why the riots in Syria were seen as revolutionary, while the ones in London were written off as mere thuggery.

A: Yeah, right. I was up in the Weeg when it all kicked off - had a bit of business to sort. All I remember is these Jocks laughin' at it and sayin' how they wouldn't riot, just to prove they were better than the English. Besides, this wasn't a political thin'. It was a good laugh an' all.

B: I think that Chalk Farm makes an effort to go beyond the simplistic readings of the tabloid headlines. Both of the characters - mother and son - acknowledge the way that the rioters were demonised and although justice is served - of a sort - at the end, the script has a great compassion for those caught in the spiral of poverty, bad housing and social stigma.

A: Still, I dunno. It's well limitin' to only have two actors to try at get at the thin'. Like, it was all races an' that out on the street, all ages. An' in under an hour, it's tough enough to get beyond yer basic assumptions. I wasn't buying the young lad as an informed observer- like his muvver said, he's just a kid. I dunno. It worries me when you ascribe meanin' to actions that the geezer doing 'em don't have. Makes humans into little more than animals.

B: In a structuralist context - which the orthodoxies of Marxist and left wing thought unconsciously cite - the individual is moved by the pressures of their context. Individualism is a romantic myth, and like all romantic myths, serves nicely to justify capitalist and conservative thinking. The mother and son in Chalk Farm are trapped by their environment... so the son's rebellion - which is against his mother as much as the state - can only be expressed in these terms.

The young man observes himself - or rather, his friend says to him that the riot is the inevitable consequence of a system that defines the individual by what they own, then fails to provide the income that allows large parts of the population to own very much.

A: Right. So the big ruckus wasn't just about lootin' some stuff: the stuff was a symbol of what the underclass are wantin'. Pretty shit, that: the best they can think of gettin' is shit out of a supermarket.

B: I think that is part of the problem that Chalk Farm is trying to address. I think the authors are toying with the tension between personal responsibility and a more collective understanding of culpability. At the end, when the mother assumes the guilt for her son's behaviour, it is ambiguous. Is she simply accepting the tabloid - and David Cameron's - insistence that the parents are to blame?

A: Or has she come over all Jesus? I didn't like that... and all that about the pink fizz. She liked a drink, that mum. And her kid goes and rips off some booze for her. So maybe she is guilty. If she hadn't been on the sauce, maybe they could have had a bit of quality time.

B: Once you start to examine the script, it has a more complex intention and a subtle tension between competing versions of what the riots meant.

A: You say that as if you ain't sure.

B: I am concerned that there were places where it was sentimental - the mother's love perhaps, or the vision of the young lad as basically decent. It certainly lays out the abstract issues around the riots, but I cannot be sure that it grapples with the reality of the event.

A: You are sayin' that the analysis could be applied to any violent uprising and the conservative response? Like I said, maybe it's too soon.

B: And maybe a more authentic voice might come from the manor where it all happened. I am not sure... perhaps the arguments felt too familiar. It's compassionate, but a little condescending. It offers a way into the discussion, and refuses to have an easy resolution but the basic conflicts - mother and son, government and estate, rich and poor, tabloids and reality - are in danger of being reduced to a series of abstract ideals.

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