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 'The real reason for all those louts on holiday'

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Join date : 2009-05-07
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PostSubject: 'The real reason for all those louts on holiday'   Sun 09 Aug 2009, 11:14 am

The real reason for all those louts on holiday

From Riga to the West End, a certain section of British society behaves appallingly because there is nothing to stop it doing so, says Janet Daley.

Written by Janet Daley. Published on the 8th of August, 2009

Source : The Telegraph

A young Greek woman has become a national heroine for allegedly setting a 20-year-old Englishman's genitals on fire. Martina Fanouraki turned herself in to the police after the incident, claiming that her actions were taken in self-defence after the Briton, Stuart Feltham, took down his trousers and began acting obscenely. In the course of this drunken performance, he is alleged to have "forcefully fondled" Miss Fanouraki, whereupon she poured sambuca over him. She is accused of deliberately setting fire to the alcohol, which she denies, while he in turn denies her charge of molestation. Whichever description of the incident is accurate has yet to be established, but her account was clearly plausible enough to her countrymen to make her a local cause célèbre.

The Greeks may have become accustomed – if not resigned, as Mr Feltham's unhappy fate will attest – to their country's role as the vomitorium of choice for young British tourists, but other European centres are fighting back. The mayor of Riga, Latvia's capital, is creating a specialist police force to set upon the armies of British stag-party revellers who treat his city's Freedom Monument (which honours those who died fighting for Latvian independence) as an open-air pissoir or a climbing frame on which to disport themselves naked.

Yes, it's holiday time again for British yobs – and the rest of us can flee to those parts of Abroad which the louts ignore, or just cringe in shame at home. Not that being at home provides any real escape. Go to the theatre and you are apparently likely to find yourself ensconced between a couple engaging in, as the euphemism has it, "inappropriate intimacy" and a gang of boisterous, inebriated chavs who will disrupt the performance and may threaten with you with assault if you upbraid them. Visit London's National Gallery and you will have to wade through the human barricade of dossers and fun-loving exhibitionists who now occupy its frontage and store their beer cans in the crevices provided by the public sculpture. Much of this activity is spillover from the pedestrianised Trafalgar Square, whose unedifying condition was bravely condemned by the National Gallery's director, Nicholas Penny. For which civic-minded intervention, he was rewarded with a bucketload of abuse that cast him as an elitist snob. Which should not surprise us – since the general view of Authority, as embodied by the police who should be monitoring behaviour in public spaces, seems to be that all of this degradation and disrespect is perfectly acceptable. Or at least, not worth getting agitated about.

Those of us who do get agitated find ourselves dwelling upon the abiding question: why? Why do the British – or, more precisely, a particular subset of the British young – behave disgustingly at every possible opportunity, as if the definition of a "good time" necessarily consisted of obscenity and pathological aggression? We have gone round in circles over this for many years now – over football hooligans and disgraceful displays on blameless Mediterranean beaches. First it was poverty and unemployment that were supposed to be the key: the social deprivation that grew out of economic hopelessness produced the get-drunk-quick-and-take-out-your-frustrations-on-the-world mentality. Then some serious attention was paid to the actual circumstances of the football fans and holiday-makers travelling abroad, and it turned out that they were neither poor nor unemployed. Indeed, most of them had the sort of jobs that would once have been described as "respectable working-class", which is scarcely surprising: how else could they have afforded the trip?

When a question seems unanswerable, it often means that it is the wrong question. So instead of asking "Why?", perhaps we should ask "Why not?" Maybe the solution lies in precisely what is not happening: the police do not crack down on the running spectacle that turns a traffic-free Trafalgar Square into an arena for unlovely gross rudeness. Civic authorities seem not to regard great national monuments or local public spaces as inherently worthy of respect, and the less disruptive sections of the community as deserving of protection from incivility and indecency. And here is the punchline: there may be no reason for (no cause of) this behaviour at all. Many young people will act this way – disgustingly, anarchically, destructively – simply because they can. Because no one ever stops them, or even suggests that there is any good reason why they should stop, contrary to the Romantic myth initiated by Rousseau that human beings will be naturally good so long as their impulses are not warped by authoritarian strictures. (This dangerous belief has been embraced with much more long-lasting enthusiasm by Britain than by the country of its inception, perhaps because France discovered that it led pretty much directly to the Terror.)

Britain's historical obsession with class probably explains why this nihilistic brand of permissiveness has maintained such a strong hold. It is bourgeois guilt that prevents those who should impose standards from acting: the socially privileged simply cower and refuse to intervene, for fear of appearing contemptuous of those less fortunate than themselves. Hence the perverse logic that condemns those who criticise or complain as "snobs" whose dislike of such behaviour must be a reflection of class hatred. Everyone – hapless Greek taverna owners, proud Latvian patriots, and the quiet residents of English market towns who might wish to make use of their own public spaces on Saturday nights – is sacrificed to appease the establishment's social sensibilities. And the terrible irony of this is that the refusal to impose standards of behaviour on people is the greatest possible sign of contempt: it suggests that you expect nothing of them, that you believe them incapable of even the most basic self-respect and that the degrading display which they are making to the world is all that they are fit for.

The Victorians famously saw it as a moral mission to rehabilitate the depraved underclass of their time by insisting that every human being was worth saving and capable of improving: they saw drunkenness and indecency as signs of national failure which it was their responsibility as social leaders to eradicate. Their temperance campaigns and their programmes for rescuing women from prostitution were based on a belief that every individual, however debased his or her present condition, was worthy of salvation (in both the religious and the social sense). Such "judgmental" attitudes would now be thought outrageously condescending. But who is the true snob: the person who expects nothing from you but bad behaviour, or the one who demands better ?
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