As the pointer on the yearly wheel of bullshit settles once again on Valentine’s Day, it seems worth commenting on a society confused about Love.
Nearly a year ago a large number of people, mostly young, broke off from a heartbreakingly futile TUC march and occupied Oxford Circus. I took this picture on my phone. Why we were there and what happened next has been written about exhaustively and doesn’t need going over again here. What I’d like to write about is an atmosphere. Not one of aggression and intimidation, as judges, media, and politicians would have you believe, but one characterised instead by the marked absence of the violence that normally lurks at the heart of our daily lives.
Here we all were on the busiest shopping street in Europe, right in the middle, literally, of ‘the Market,’ but everything had changed. For once, nobody was trying to sell us anything (in fact we were categorically not allowed in any of the shops), nobody was telling anyone where they should be, or what they should be doing. Business as usual was on pause. The relentless grinding wheel of subjection, exploitation, boredom and alienation was suspended.
Oxford Circus is usually a hostile place, not a place meant for stopping and looking around but a place for passing through quickly, credit card in one clenched fist and shopping bags in the other. It’s a place which is, perhaps above all others, geared towards the mechanical extraction of profit from a cowed and servile humanity. It’s a place of Hate. It’s a place where bewildered tourists, abject wage slaves and parasites great and small go about their various business, where the message coming in from all sides is the same message we’re so used to these days that we barely notice anymore how hostile it is: SPEND YOUR MONEY AND THEN FUCK OFF. That’s what Topshop is saying to you, valued customer, with every atom of its being, every square foot of its architecture and every gorgeous airbrushed munchkin pouting down at you from its advertising hoardings.
But on March 26th 2011 for once it was Topshop that was afraid, and outside its gates, poetically flanked by Niketown and McDonalds, London’s heart of darkness for once beat with amity, camaraderie and a profound collective energy that served absolutely no commercial purpose whatsoever. People smiled and relaxed, they stopped, they shared. Strangers met and got to know one another, there was laughter, there was mirth, mischief and hijinx, jests and foolery. Nobody was trying to make money out of anybody. If business as usual on the high street amounts to a thinly veiled Hobbesian nightmare of fear and loathing then this was the polar opposite. This was Love, capital L, and for a few happy hours, before the forces off normality finally got their shit together and came down like a ton of baton wielding bricks, the rat-race was on hold. Traffic lights became spectator seats, shop windows became canvases, music played where music was never meant to be heard. This was refreshing, and also – for some people on the old end of the ‘young’ spectrum – eerily familiar. This was an atmosphere I hadn’t experienced since the tail end of the last century: this was a Rave.
I’m not trying to trivialise a political event by comparing March 26th to a rave. Although it doesn’t get talked about much these days the rave scene was political too. The sudden emergence of ecstasy, the love drug, along with an unprecedentedly inclusive subculture based on mutual joy, freedom and togetherness was deeply destabilising to the class ridden, prudish, parsimonious British establishment of the early 90s. Love proved to be an enemy of the State par excellence. Ravers were rebels, outlaws, and they were changing the world. Free parties are anathema to Capitalism: thousands of people, all of them enjoying themselves so much, and nobody paying? Nobody profiting? Boom! Capitalism’s head explodes. But of course Love got stomped on pretty fast back then, just like it is being now. A Tory government introduced a series of laws clamping down on unauthorised gatherings and the courts made examples of individuals by imposing harsh custodial sentences for petty, victimless offences. Deja-vu, anyone?
But while the bravest of the Oxford Circus lovers now languish at Her Majesty’s pleasure, much as the ringleaders of the rave scene did before them, what’s left to satiate our lonely hearts? People can’t live without love, and in what Baudrillard once called ‘the desert of social relations’, in an atomised society where competition rules and a brutal crypto-fascist ideology of winners and losers permeates all aspects of life, the powers that be know that at least some version of the collective bonhomie we felt that heady afternoon in March will be required to stop everyone from going completely mental.
The answer is state-sanctioned pseudo-love, the recourse of totalitarian regimes from times immemorial, a fake sense of belonging engendered through nonsense like love of the nation, love of the flag, love of the leader, love of abstracted symbols of power, the prowess of our athletes, the courage of our brave boys overseas. . . This is the sickly surrogate love we will be offered, as society is dismantled around us and we’re cast onto the rocks.
So in 2012, as they try to label you some kind of degenerate sociopathic killjoy for entertaining even the suspicion that the Olympics are for wankers and that people who go out waving flags for the Diamond Jubilee are fucking idiots, remember that you’re not alone. And remember that pseudo-love isn’t real love. It’s a synthetic love, built on a foundation of fear. It’s a love that numbs and blinds, that serves only as an attempt to occlude the horror that lies beneath it, the servile worship of power and craving to be dominated of those who are terrified of facing a reality they no longer have the strength to comprehend or control – the fawning love of slaves for their master.