Saturday, 3 July 2010
For Fox Sake
On Sunday 4th of July, Channel Four aired a documentary film entitled 'Urban Fox Attack'. The web-synopsis read:
"In May 2010, on a balmy summer night, east Londoners Pauline and Nick Koupparis heard a noise from their twin baby girls' room. They were horrified to find a fox in the cot and the two girls covered in blood. The fox fled and the parents rushed their babies to hospital, where one remained for 12 days. Film maker Riete Oord has been filming foxes for three years in Hackney, the borough where the attack took place. In this film, she examines the issue that is dividing the suburbs: whether the urban vulpes vulpes is a welcome reminder of the countryside and an asset to every back garden or a dangerous menace."
This documentary arrives on the back of a series of sensationalist tabloid headlines such as 'Fox attack on my girls was like a horror film', and 'Maimed' and a BBC documentary aired on 1st July imaginatively titled 'The Fox Attack Twins'. This was produced by a company called Leopard Films. Coincidentally the father of the twins, Nick Koupparis is the Head of Finance for Leopard Films. Clearly the attack on these two children was awful and the writer of this blog naturally wishes them a quick and full recovery. However, since the attack a swathe of sensationalist headlines have adorned the front pages of the scandal sheets. The ubiquitous urban fox has it seems almost come to replace Osama bin Laden in the press and media as public enemy #1.
So good they named him twice
Other attacks are now making the headlines with a child in Brighton reported in The Argus to have suffered an 'attack' at the hands of the vicious now-garden dweller. Indeed it's seemingly such a threat to Western civilisation that it's been named twice - vulpes vulpes - emphasising the uniquely terroristic qualities of this surreptitious night-stalking sampler of sprogs. The sense of heightened fear around the Koupparis incident was further enhanced in the local community when police made the decision to provide the family with round the clock police protection over a few days for fear of a repeat attack by a determined bushy-tailed 'divine winder'.1 The police stressed that talk of a series of threatening phone calls to the family with a distinctive 'hedgerowy accent' were silly rumours and not the reason for the protection. The police confirmed that the reason for the protection was fear of reprisals from animal rights activists who according to a report in the left-wing London Evening Standard, have made "online threats". With their usual steely logic and clarity of thought, Scotland Yard have said that they "are aware there is a potential threat" although they further noted that "there were no specific threats".
A brief and potted history of the press-induced 'moral panic' - the Irish menace
The press have a long and distinguished history in raising the spectre of the fear of an internal enemy. From the 'gin panics' of the early 18th century to the anti-Irish onslaughts where the Irish were regularly portrayed as ape-like terrorists in sickeningly racist Victorian caricatures. This was during the growth of Fenian resistance in the shape of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, to continued British rule and oppression in Ireland. In many respects, and mirroring the fact that Ireland was Britain's oldest colonial acquisition (remains), the anti-Irish hysteria continued thorughout the 20th century. It reached something of an apogee in the 'Irish joke' and the terrible miscarriage of justice in the wrongful imprisonments of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four during the 1970s (again shadowing the heightened campaign by Irish nationalists in this period to remove British political and military interference from Northern Ireland).2
Making anti-semitism respectable
The gutter-press were also at the forefront of a campaign against Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe escaping a wave of anti-semitic pogroms at the turn of the century, which directly laid the foundations for the 1905 Aliens Act. In the decades following this campaign, anti-semitism became the preferred form of racism for right-wing political opportunists and many middle class bigots who coat-tailed them. This was adopted by Oswald Mosley and his fascist Blackshirts in the 1930s who like their German Nazi counterparts blamed Jews both for disseminating virulent anti-capitalist communism throughout Europe and Britain, and for using their domination of the banks to bring about the Wall Street Crash and subsequent global economic slump. The same processes are at work today with the Nazi BNP and their fellow travellers the fascist EDL. It is they who have picked up the baton of virulent anti-Muslim racism - Islamophobia - from the press, politicians and the media in portraying Islam (and by association all Muslims) as responsible for the spread of militant Islam and terrorism. Once again, imperialism has played a dominant role in promoting racism and division to justify wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lock up your doors and your daughters
In the 1970s, the word 'mugging' was invented by the press and used specifically to colour public opinion against young black men, who were portrayed as a predatory threat to civilised society, or worse, were heavily sexualised and ready to pounce on unsuspecting young (white) women. This coincided with the global downturn of 1973 and the wholesale jettisoning of thirty years of Keynesian economic policy in the form of state intervention for a return to the once discredited economic orthodoxy of the Chicago School and the doctrine of laissez faire. As politicians took the axe to public spending and jobs, the press and media actively promoted the idea that the free market could provide services, jobs and our social needs far more efficiently than could the cumbersome state. In reality, the market let rip throughout society and the economy resulted in mass unemployment, the destruction of capital on a scale not seen since the Great Depression and massive social upheaval. That this impacted on the poorest sections of society, more usually ethnic minority groups, was reflected in the increased levels of confrontational and racist policing of black communities. Young males of West Indian descent became the the targets of the police and the racist 'sus laws'.3 Riots were the almost inevitable outcome of the massively increased levels of racist policing. The portrayal of young black men in this way was designed to provide the public with an alternative target for their anger instead of blaming the politicians for the devastation.
HIV-AIDS - it's a gay thing apparently
One specific moral panic is however never satisfactory in engendering a wider climate of fear and increased social atomisation. In the mid 1980s the threat to society (and the Victorian family values the Tory government were promoting) came in the form of another press and media driven moral panic. This time another oppressed minority group became scapegoats as a new and fatal disease took its toll on men from the gay community. The press and media surpassed themselves in sensationalising the threat that HIV/AIDS posed to the public. Led by the Murdoch press, The Sun, always game for providing the tabloid reading public with 'witty' sensationalist headlines dreamed up the term 'Gay Plague' which rapidly became absorbed into the public lexicon. Gay men, because of their 'deviant' sexual behaviour were seen as wholly responsible for inflicting this almost medieval contagion on humanity, because they rejected the Victorian morality and family values. The almost millennialist fervour with which gay men were portrayed by the press not as victims but as the progenitors of this terrible disease and part of the wider cause of social breakdown in British society was in marked contrast to the their collective amnesia in denying any link between the disorder and years of neoliberal economic orthodoxy promoted by a government that wanted to spend less public money on public health, not more. This irrational fear of HIV/AIDS (and gay men) was in 1986 codified in law as the notorious piece of homophobic legislation known as Section 28. This prevented local authorities from promoting or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality "as a pretended family relationship".
The 'enemy within'
The miners and Arthur Scargill came in for a particularly nasty press and media campaign with Margaret Thatcher famously evoking the ghost of Senator Joseph McCarthy 'red menace' branding them and their leadership as 'the enemy within'. Dutifully, the right-wing press, the police and the leadership of the Labour Party and trade unions, combined to provide Thatcher's assault on the Conservative Party's historic enemy with the tools that led to the miners' eventual defeat. Despite being proved correct in his analysis of what the government had in store for the mining industry in Britain, the name Arthur Scargill today is synonymous with a particular sort of violent and irrational militancy. The assault by the combined forces of the state on the miners was never about closing 'uneconomic pits' (nuclear power has been uneconomic since its inception) but about smashing the organised working class in order to lay a proper foundation for the neoliberal onslaught. It was also about retribution for the humiliating defeat of Heath's Tory government in 1974 brought down by the miners and a militant working class.
Mum's the single word
Since then, single mothers, young kids with no jobs and nothing to do but get pissed or stoned in order to while away the almost complete alienation instilled in them by the 'must have' capitalist system ('feral estate-dwelling youths), paedophiles, 'black on black' crime and gun-toting/knife-wielding black youths, have provided unscrupulous journalists and news proprietors with the social tinder necessary to instil widespread fear into an increasingly atomised society. With the 'new politics' of Camoclegg, it's now the (re)turn of the undeserving poor - in this case anyone unfortunate enough to be claiming long-term Incapacity Benefits - who are portrayed as scrounging idlers stealing from those that need it and an increasingly strained or nigh-on-empty public purse.
The clash of civilisations - the Hijab, the Burqa and the threat young Muslim women pose to the fabric of Western society
Finally, a more recent target for the combined ire of the press and right-wing bigotry alike, and one the promises to take centre stage at sometime in the not-too-distant future is the young Burka or Hijab wearing Muslim woman.4 Having played itself out in France, and more recently in Belgium, a ban on the wearing of the Burka or Hijab in the public arena will find support in the most unlikely of places. Prepare to see an unholy alliance of middle class liberals incensed at the inate and fundamentally oppressive nature of these medieval religious symbols and Daily Mail/Sun readers whose primary motivations will be racism dressed up in the garb of enlightenment rationality.5
The 'Red Menace' out-foxed?
But what about our erstwhile friend (or enemy) Renert? While the urbanised fox continues to target the be-feathered ecologically friendly egg-layers of Hackney's Good Life living 'Tom and Barbaras' (or indeed the odd bite of a wayward podgy hand), he'll continue to make the headlines.
Yet there is a more serious sub-text to this latest 'moral panic' and it's about class. The more sceptical among you might concur with this author and the historical record in suggesting that there might be vested interests in raising the current fox-terror-threat to critical. If foxes can be culled in our inner-cities because they're deemed 'a pest' (the subtext being that they really do constitute the most serious threat to the stability of capitalism,seriously undermining the ability of the middle classes to reproduce the next generation of managers through eating their children alive while they sleep), then why can't they be culled in the countryside. They are after all pest there as well. They consume large quantities our poor farmers' poultry which is damaging to our National Agricultural interest. And of course, there are thousands of toffs with thousands of currently unemployed horses and dogs literally chomping at the bit to get their teeth into this quintessentially self-effacing nocturne.
With the election of the Tory coalition government whose leader supports repeal of the 2005 Hunting Act, it is simply a matter of time before the Countryside Alliance backed by their wealth and a long list of public-spirited landowning pest controllers have their day. Maybe even TV chef Heston Blumenthal can make use of what's left of their torn bodies and knock up an extravagant fox-based menu for a few of his very worthy celebrity friends.
Anyone for rabies?
Gary Paul Duke
1'Divine Wind' is a common translation for the word 'kamikaze'.
2 For an interesting account of the history of anti-Irish racism see Curtis L, Nothing but the Same Old Story: The Roots of Anti-Irish Racism, Information on Ireland, London 1991
3 See Farrell A, Crime, Class and Corruption, Bookmarks, London, 1995
4 Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: 'They are right to ban the burka, even if it is for the wrong reasons' in The Independent Online, Friday, 8 January 2010
5 For an interesting analysis of the debate on the banning of the hijab see 'The Hijab, Racism and the State', Boulange A, in International Socialism Journal, Issue 102, November 2004