Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sofyen Belamouadden and the perils of pixels

I was interested to read in the Telegraph the remarks of DCI John McFarlane about the events that led to the horrific murder of Sofyen Belamouadden at Victoria Station in 2010:
People are playing games on computers in which people are getting stabbed and shot... Where is the real world? For them there is a blurring between the real world and those in the computer world. There was a blurring of the reality. 
I appreciate that McFarlane’s words are probably being used selectively and out of context (more reality blurring at work, then) but there are a few things that need unpicking here. First, it has to be pointed out that scare stories about violent entertainments predate computer games by a century or more. 19th-century penny dreadfuls, 1930s gangster movies, horror comics in the 1950s and so-called video nasties in the 1980s all prompted moral panics about the degeneracy of contemporary youth and were tied, with varying degrees of accuracy, to specific crimes of violence. Computer games are just the latest bad guys.

But McFarlane then appears to move seamlessly from the violence depicted in the games to the uncertain border between the real and virtual worlds; kids believe, it is implied, that if they can dismember 20 ones-and-zeroes bad guys in an afternoon with no comeback, they should be able to pull off a similar stunt amidst the bricks and mortar of a London rail terminus. So what’s the real problem; the Baudrillardian detachment from reality or the virtual violence they experience in that space? I ask because it’s later revealed that the investigation into the murder required sifting evidence from 80 mobile phones, 30 computers and over 1,000 hours of CCTV footage. If anyone’s in danger of getting lost in a hyperreal screen dream it’s the poor saps sitting through that lot.

And I can’t help thinking that conservative scaremongering about stylised violence and/or blurred realities is a wee bit rich since they’re both manifestations of globalised capitalism; which, since the arrival of the Blessed Margaret – now, there’s a simulacrum to think about – has been the only game in town.

Oh, one more telling sentence from the Telegraph report:
The attackers were all A-level students from St Charles Catholic VI Form College in West London, with many coming from respectable middle class homes. 
I don’t get it. Is that supposed to make things better or worse?


Garth said...

Tim - I'm sure that nobody who reads your cultural snow believes
a. that computer games cause crime or b. that anyone who reads the telegraph has a thorough grasp on reality.
The screen that causes the most damage is the one the beams the daily propaganda of entertainment-styled-pseudo-political bullshit into the livingrooms of the world.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I think the "all A-level students" and "many coming from respectable middle class homes" is supposed to make it weirder, i.e. why would they be driven to such seemingly desperate actions when they may have a comfortable life and some prospects.

Garth said...

@Gadjo Dilo: as if "A-level students" and "middle class homes" were the pinacle of civilisation. It can't happen here