Thursday 15 July 2010

Raoul Moat and Class Pride

As if the world needs one, it's time for another Raoul Moat post. Since his expiration on a rain soaked bank in the early hours of Saturday morning, the surreal media circus surrounding Moat's pursuit and stand off will not let him rest. Moat the man is dead, but his ghost is very much abroad. You can't move for tabloid tales about his failed relationships, his separation from his kids, and how he had developed paranoid tendencies. Every aspect of his life has been picked over, chewed up and spat out as lurid copy. Editorials rhapsodise about his misogyny and condemn him for his actions, but gleefully perform necromantic rites over his sad and wasted life to feed the insatiable demand for more, a demand they cynically contrived in the first place for ratings and paper sales. But when people outside the Fleet Street bubble take the media's lead and voice positive things about Moat on the internet, bewilderment strikes followed by hypocritical denunciation.

And so it is with the defunct Facebook page, 'RIP Raoul Moat you Legend'. I'm sure everyone's familiar with the story by now. A page expressing sympathy for Moat appears. It attracts some 35,000 people who "like this". Some of them pay tribute. Cue media shit storm. This prompted an intervention by Dave who rang up Facebook to voice his displeasure. He then was quoted by the media saying he couldn't understand why anyone would sympathise with a "callous murderer". Well Dave, it's the same reason why many Tories got the hump over General Augusto Pinochet's arrest in 2000 while the rest of population looked on bemused. B
ecause it's a *class thing*.

I'm not about to argue Raoul Moat is some sort of working class hero. He was a misogynistic social inadequate whose inability to deal with a lifetime's accumulation of disappointment and failure saw him lash out violently. True, there are suggestions of psychological problems and drug abuse but no one is saying he was mad or didn't realise what he was doing. While questions must be asked about the extent to which the authorities suspected Moat was dangerous, and whether the three shootings could have been avoided by early interventions, Moat was still conscious of his actions. He set out in the early hours of a week last Saturday with the intention to kill.

How the hunt for Moat was framed during his week on the run was crucial for him going viral as a glamorous outlaw. We were told Moat had sent a long letter to the police that said "The public need not fear me but the police should as I won't stop till I'm dead." This was a serous media management
faux pas because it opened the door to allowing the portrayal of Moat to assume a folky aspect. Rather than being a manhunt for a dangerous killer, coverage of the operation degenerated into a Smokey and the Bandit-style farce. With a Facebook following, Twitter spoofs and a range of T-Shirts feeding off the frenzy it was only a matter of time before the half-sympathetic media profiles of Moat elicited support from some quarters. And no, this time it wasn't bleeding heart liberals: it came from a small layer of the white working class.

For the people who joined the Facebook tribute pages and left flowers outside Moat's house, the sentiments expressed in his letters and recordings condense a confused but widespread consciousness common among the more deprived sections of our class. It's a barely coherent sense of dislocation, frustration, and despair that impotently kicks against 'official' society. It is the social reservoir from which the BNP and EDL fish, that gave us Kerry Katona and Jade Goody. They are the dangerous class that keep politicians awake at night, repulse the arbiters of good taste, and earn the ire of ever-so-superior middle class columnists. It doesn't matter that Moat killed someone. He had been abandoned by society and left to rot like so many others, and for a brief moment he was the lightning rod for lumpen anger and defiance. He is their
Taxi Driver, the man who couldn't take any more.

The sympathy for Moat does seem perverse, but it is rooted in that section of the working class the rest of society loves to bash. The publicity around Siobhan O'Dowd's Facebook group is an unwelcome reminder of the social refuse British capitalism produces generation after generation. But that this strata exists without prospects or hope is the real perversion, not some daft commentary on the internet.


Andy said...

This is the best analysis of the Moat spectacle that I've read anywhere so far. Excpet for the "social refuse" comment.

You don't have to be without prospects or hope to see an oppurtunity to kick middle class sensibilities in the teeth as a piece of comedy gold. You might live a life and have habits that could lead middle class people to think you are a piece of social refuse, you might even eat white bread. They might think you're lumpen and angry, with a copy of the Sun on the dashboard of your Transit and they probably find you a bit scary.

What do they know anyway? They think you support Moat when really you've just bought a comedy t-shirt and had a laugh at some proper funny texts about him. Just like you did when Diana died, a space shuttle exploded or a ferry sank.

Phil said...

I think it's simpler than that. Lots of people - working-class people in particular - see the police as an agency of social control directed at least as much at controlling them as keeping them safe. Lots of working-class people hate the coppers, in other words, and they're not self-evidently crazy to do so. In the immortal words of George Orwell: "when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on".

(As always, there was more going on there than Orwell let on. On one hand, the first half of that sentence is the usual self-promoting guff about how he doesn't idealise workers, not like those nasty Communists who are all bourgeois and that, which I think needs to be taken with a bucketload of salt. On the other, he himself was an ex-cop, so he can't really have believed that ACAB, or not without a fair dose of self-hatred. But it's still a good line.)

Journeyman said...

I think you explain the social basis for Moat's following well. However if we don't challenge the view of him as folk-hero, we actually do a dis-service to the vast majority of white working class males.

Anyone with their heart in the right place loves an outlaw. But Moat wasn't an outlaw, he was a lumpen-ised arse-hole who was a danger primarily to his own family - and his own community.

Sadly he does represent something larger in society, but the middle classes - whether bleeding heart liberals or condescending snobs - do not have to share the same estates as these angry characters or get in their way on a Saturday night.

John Demetriou said...


Caught your article off Wikio for Moat. It's a very interesting, from-a-left perspective on the issue. I have, if you're interested, my own take on this over at my place (Boaty & D).

It's a different take, but if you want to see a contrary right libertarian view point, it's one of a few.



Unknown said...

For what it's worth:

Phil said...

Cheers. Perhaps you're right, Phil. But I can't help see the parallels between the sympathies for Moat, votes for the BNP, the roots of Jade Goody's outburst on Celeb Big Brother in 2007, and the demonstrations against paedophiles stirred up by the News of the World in the early 00s. In their own ways they're expressions on inchoate lumpen anger, and I think this comes out above the 'we hate cops' stuff on the notorious Facebook pages.

Anonymous said...

The BNP gained votes as labour slid further to the right, Blair Brown two major people to take control of Labour and move it away from the working class. I looked around thinking well labours gone now to the middle glass where the hell do I go, in the end I did not bother voting actually I was all out to vote for Plaid but I though well they are not really a party.

I did feel a strange feeling for Moat, it was not sympathy I can assure you, anger that social service have again missed somebody who is without doubt suffering mental health issues. But to be honest if a Police office had places a round into him ending it then i think I would have said he is better off.

But today another piss up in a brewery, a doctor who missed Baby P injuries get a year off for god conduct. what a mess, but hell Baby P was from the bottom anyway he would have grown up to be on the dole anyway.

I'm angry but not yet angry enough to vote in a bunch of morons in the BNP

Mark Walmsley said...

Nice post Phil

Anonymous said...

Raoul moat was a thug and like most men a sick thug..probably would have abused his daughters at sexual maturity or even earlier,england is not a nice place to live anymore,it is full of sick bastards,porn hoarders and faceless thugs on the street with their camera phones etc..moet got what was coming to him,he was a threat to the public,fathered six children and probably paid for none,your taxes pay for this S*** and *cum of the earth..
end of!
raoul moat rip..