Hard to say which was in worse taste: The vulgar, amateurish puns that marked 'Youth Quake,' a story in the new Fall edition of the Times fashion magazine T, or the subject itself - a look at the March riots in London (the earlier ones over school fees, not the ones of August) from a...fashion perspective. "What do you wear when protest and mayhem rock your world?" asked the subhead.
(Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga.)
Perhaps the Times should have given the whole subject a pass in the wake of the even more violent, nihilistic London riots of August. Nonetheless, author Kabir Chibber is responsible for this Times-sponsored journalism:
Not too long ago, I saw a family of four all wearing Barbour. They were discussing a string of riots in London last spring, prompted by the new government's spending cuts. The mother, in dark green, exclaimed loudly: 'I don't understand where these people reared their ugly heads from.' The kids wore flat caps.
Did their outfits — a brand associated with the country's elite, worn up till now only with irony — signal a return to traditional Britishness? Will the ascendance of the Conservatives, not to mention the small matter of a Royal wedding, return dinner-party talk back to polo and pheasant hunting? Are overbites once again acceptable?
Not bloody likely.
The British class system, with its DNA of high culture and low vulgarity, is perhaps more mixed up than ever. The talking point among the London intellectuals who can still afford to fly to get real tans is a reality TV show that follows a cast of orangey suburbanites in the déclassé county of Essex. And while Prince William may have married a commoner without a hitch, one of his best friends, Guy Pelly, had his license to run Public reviewed; police called the hot nightclub on King's Road the posh borough's 'No. 1 crime generator.' Reports of departing customers having drunken sex on the hoods of expensive cars suggested their upper lips weren't the only things that were stiff.
Chibber took a crack at the privileged taking part in a supposed lower-class revolt, but found nothing to condemn in the vandalism.
The March riots themselves, which left a spate of broken glass and blood stains on the concrete around ritzy Mayfair, were a case study in Britain's modern culture wars. One of the uprising's most celebrated images was of a moody-looking young man with tousled hair clad in a dark coat and military boots swinging giddily from the British flag hanging at the Cenotaph war memorial. The image, which outraged the older generation, would have neatly encapsulated the anger many young people felt about the government's decision to triple the cost of higher education - had the boy not turned out to be a Cambridge student whose father is the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, worth more than $100 million.