Saturday, December 13, 2008

London Gang Culture on Newsnight: Know The Levels

On Newsnight on Thursday there was a report into gang culture in London. I don’t want to get into all the issues I have with the media’s extraordinary coverage of this subject over the summer, because we’ll be here all night. There is just one issue for now: one segment, 34 minutes into the episode that you can watch here, featuring an interview with a young gang member from Walthamstow. BBC reporter Angus Stickler’s apparent misunderstanding of the word ‘ratings’ led to what I suspect might be a truly Chris Morris-esque bit of storytelling.

I am no expert in gang crime, not a bit of it. And I’m not going to go into the worthy (and less worthy) bits of reporting in this Newsnight piece, and some of the horrible things that do happen, infrequently, to young people on London’s streets. What I do know is that in this parlance, if you’re “getting ratings”, that means you’re getting an entirely abstract type of respect from your peers. Abstract. Not marks out of ten, not grades on a report card. I’m absolutely willing to be proven wrong on this, but I just wonder whether this is a teenager’s fiction, given credence by news media who are all too keen to believe his hype-talk. See what you think:

Angus Stickler: “When you first joined the gang I presume you were at the bottom level? You work your way up?”

Teenage Gang Member: “Yeah you work your way up. What you do, and how you are… the more stuff you do, the more ratings you get.”

AS: “More.. ratings? So you’re actually rated? What rating did you have?”

TGM: (slight pause) “Like, level five I would say.”

AS: “You actually have different levels?”

TGM: “Yeah different levels.”

AS: “And you were level five – out of what?”

TGM: “Out of ten.”

AS: “So you were middle ranking?”

TGM: “Middle ranking yeah.”

AS: “What did you have to do to get to level five?”

TGM: “Prove that I can do a lot of stuff.. do whatever, when it comes to it.”

AS: “Stab people?”

TGM: “Yeah.”

It seems intuitive that where they exist in a coherent form, street gangs are likely to be somewhat hierarchical. But the semantics above deserve closer attention: the BBC journalist is the first person to introduce the word “level” to the conversation, which is picked up a few lines later by the teenager. The idea of stratified, numbered levels suits Stickler’s theory: the introduction to the segment begins with a voice-over assertion that "the Walthamstow gang is organised". My question is, where is this notion of organisation coming from?


Blogger John said...

Honestly, I doubt Gerry Conlon was subjected to as many leading questions as that. What a joke.

Merry Winter Festival Dan. Here's hoping I see you at least once in the next five years!

9:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

john!! come to afc wimbledon with me one day. it can't be further for you than it is for me (from dalston!). and yes, political correctness gone mad season's greetings to you too hehe - merry christmas :)

1:48 PM  
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