Friday, January 26, 2007

"Yob Nation"

A review of Francis Gilbert's new book

Although the author's guilty of thinking that Stone Island is spelt Stone Ireland, it's about time someone attempted an insightful look into what's happening to Britain without the crassness of tabloids or the opportunism of Labour and Tories. Is yob culture just a chav-confined phenomenon? How did the country switch from the sadness of having low social classes trying to emulate posh affectation and posture to the tragedy of the other way round? Why does UK social life revolve around getting pissed until you vomit on the pavement and your privates itch with clap of uncertain origin? Why aren't streets, buses, trains safe anymore? Or, if anything, why has the perception changed?

Francis Gilbert, an experienced schoolteacher who knows a thing or two about parents calling round to deck you for having told their scally kids off, does it all with knack. His book is a brave and well-researched trip around the country, trying to decipher chavs and yobs without the traps of mocking or patronising. No nook is left unexplored. From bullying in the army to the City of London, from ASBOs to gangland, from tabloids to the ClubRep-like joke that UK universities have become, Gilbert nails it on the head with his meticulous search for cause and effect behind a truly disheartening picture. Were it left to the reader, I'd guess tabloids would have a thing or two to answer for, given how influential they can be in the wider culture. To get the gist, one only has to think of the 1999 The Sun campaign against paedophiles escalating into paediatricians being attacked or The Mirror's absurd anti-German goading that marred England's campaign at Euro 96.

As if the task wasn’t complicated enough, Gilbert doesn’t do himself any favours with his force-fed parallelism with Westminster politics. Laudable though his intention may be (and sure enough there's a bone or two to pick with Alistair Campbell and the wreckers of the Labour Party), those abrupt and constant links are tenuous at best and artificial at worst and, frankly, the book's weakest link. Otherwise, back-to-front reading is ensured.

No comments: