Watching the latest music video from rapper/singer Plan B I thought to myself ‘what the hell is this?’ With its searing violins the track, Ill Manors, is a bit of an assault on the senses but it’s the provocative visuals that make you sit up and take notice, along with the fact that the production makes you feel like Plan B is actually shouting ‘Oi you’ right in your face. It’s instantly recognisable as scenes from last year’s riots. My initial reaction was one of disgust, seeing all this replayed; cars being burnt out, people being aggressive and I thought how disrespectful to all those who lost their lives, homes and businesses during the riots… but then I looked a bit closer, listened a bit closer and did a bit of research by reading the lyrics, listening to a couple of Plan B interviews and looking at a few articles.
Whilst I can understand the controversy over the video I don’t think it benefits from being assessed in isolation. In essence he’s trying to urge people towards looking at why youths behave in an antisocial way and provoking people into considering how negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media can back people into a corner and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not wrong to search for answers. It does not excuse the behaviour but it goes some way towards preventing it from happening again. Unfortunately a call for a deeper understanding of a problem is often seen as someone condoning bad behaviour.
The riots are still a raw subject for a lot of people. I for one did not appreciate the sight of riot police charging down my road, the noise of helicopter propellers disturbing our sleep in the early hours of the morning, being evacuated from the public library for fear of marauding teenagers, not being able to buy a loaf of bread or milk because the shops all closed mid-afternoon (if they opened at all) and I hated the fact that I couldn’t even take the kids out past 4pm for fear of their safety. It truly brought tears of anger and sadness to my eyes to see ordinary shopkeepers sweeping up glass from the pavement because each and every shop front had been smashed. To see people who I knew made homeless just because they happened to live above shops that had been burnt to the ground. To hear stories of neighbouring children who had nightmares because they could see buildings burning to the ground. To speak to parents who had to struggle on for days because they’d lost their weekly shopping after the gas and electricity had to be cut off during the fires.
But if it’s worth punishing the arsonists and thieves it’s also worth questioning what it is that makes people feel that they can just take what they want and destroy the rest because in most cases the people that they were taking from were little better off than themselves.
I struggle to view the events of last year as a political protest but it’s also not enough to label it as pure opportunism. What is it that makes some people seize on the opportunity to cause mayhem and then seize once again on the opportunity to say it’s because of injustice and deprivation? Of course these things are valid factors in some cases but for each person who jumps on that bandwagon it devalues the argument for those for whom these things really were a factor in their bad behaviour. So Plan B’s video rubs people up the wrong way. Rap always rubs people up the wrong way. Rappers are an easy target and an easy way for authority figures to deflect attention away from their own failings but I don’t think he’s wrong to raise questions. I’m just not sure the message is overt enough in the video for people to see past the dramatic scenes and listen to what he’s saying.