my own personal observation of sullen teens in ghastly clothing loafing
about dreary British shopping malls, I'd say a lot more of them seem to
be hooded than their equivalents in dreary American or dreary Canadian
shopping malls. It's some while since I've been to a dreary Fijian or
dreary Uzbek shopping mall, so I don't want to overstate my case but
there seems to be some indication that the United Kingdom is becoming a
world leader in hooded teenagers. Why should this be?
CCTV. The British are the most videotaped people in the history of
mankind, caught on
by official surveillance devices as they go about every humdrum public
manoeuvre. If you're a grown-up, this might not seem a big deal: you can
go back to your pad, collapse on the sofa and pick your nose far from
Tony Blair's prying eyes, though doubtless this chink in the 24/7
monitoring system will eventually be rectified.
But, if you're an
adolescent, far more of your social rituals take place in public -
meeting friends at the bus stop, enjoying a romantic moment by the
non-operative ornamental fountain outside the KwikkiJunk Centre, etc -
and it seems entirely reasonable that adolescent garb has artfully
evolved to provide its wearers with such privacy as can be found under
the constant whirr of the Big Blairite Brother's telly cameras.
This is the usual
law of unintended consequences. Just as the increasing sophistication of
home-security systems has led burglars to conclude that it's easier to
wait till you're in, knock on the door and punch you in the face, so the
ever-present 24-hour surveillance devices have ensured that, even if you
get a look at your assailant, you'll never be able to pick him out of a
police line-up. "Er, well, he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, officer."
"Did the shadow on his upper chest indicate any other features, such as
the length of his nose?" "It might have, but I couldn't tell, as the
sweatshirt was black." "Hmm. A black sweatshirt. Well, that narrows it
down a bit."
In the comic books
of my youth, there used to be ads for amazing X-ray specs that allowed
you to walk down the street and see through women's clothing to the lacy
brassiere underneath. Even at that tender age, I was suspicious of how
the amazing specs knew how to penetrate the coat and blouse but stop
discreetly at the underwear.
But, if the
technology does indeed exist, then clearly we now need to install
special hood-penetrating cameras up and down every High Street. Indeed,
if rural constabularies are still planning to put cameras in trees to
watch for illegal hunts (as was announced a while back), they might want
to order extra-strength X-ray film just in case wily MFHs start
obscuring their features by pulling up their fourfold scarves.
Instead, in the
absence of a multi-billion-pound overhaul of the CCTV network, the
Government is now toying with bans on headgear and hooded garb. Not all
hooded garb, of course. Burqas, chadors, hejabs and so forth will be
more than welcome. But more provocative clothing, such as baseball caps
and Lord Irvine's old full-bottomed wig, will be out.
clothing will undergo another evolution, and the youth of the nation
will be hanging out dressed like John Simpson in that burqa he wore to
One assumes the
Prime Minister is genuine in his wish to restore "respect on our
streets". He has made Hazel Blears the minister for "Anti-Social
Behaviour, Community Safety and Active Citizenship", and, if it takes
making her full-blown Secretary of State for Respect, he's prepared to
do it. Perhaps he'll promote her to Lord Privy Seal of Approval, in
charge of the National Dress-Code Licensing Authority.
But respect is a
two-way street, and two-way streets are increasingly rare in British
town centres. The idea that the national government can legislate
respect is a large part of the reason why there isn't any. Almost every
act of the social democratic state says: don't worry, you're not
responsible, leave it to us, we know best. The social democratic state
is, in that sense, profoundly anti-social and ultimately
Even as Tony Blair
was calling upon his surly citizenry to re-learn elementary social
interaction, the European Parliament was voting to forbid British
citizens from working more than 48 hours a week. The Guardian seemed to
think these two items were related: "A government that wants its
citizens to treat each other with greater respect, while also lobbying
to allow businesses to have employees work longer than 48 hours a week,
is surely confused between cause and effect."
For the lads at
the Guardian, the baying yobbos on Britain's streets are workaholics
letting off a little steam after 10-hour shifts; to others, they're
bored adolescents who'd benefit from a part-time job or two.
Each to his own.
Possibly it's true, as the Euro-regulators insist, that some folks are
being coerced by bosses into working more than 48 hours against their
will. But coercing everyone into not working more than 48 hours
regardless of their will is, in the long run, more damaging.
Why is it that a
political culture that thinks nothing of radically liberating the
citizen from so many traditional responsibilities reacts with surprise
when so much of the other social capital accumulated over centuries
turns out to have vanished? If you insist on treating free-born citizens
as children incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives, it's
hardly likely such people will inculcate ancient social norms in their
CCTV is at least a
literal baby monitor for the public square; most of the other
infantilising trends of advanced society are merely metaphorically so.
In that sense, whatever we're wearing, these days we're all boyz in the