Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Joys of Gowdom

(First published in Christchurch Press)

A while back I wrote a piece in which I suggested that older NZ should look to itself for an explanation for the behaviour of anti-social young people.

From my vantage point of Gowdom (the state of being a grumpy old woman) I have decided that that there is a broad phenotype - the Git - a grievously irritating tosser, which has two sub-types – the Oaf (obnoxious, antisocial fool) and the Oik (over-indulged kid).

Sometimes you can get an oafish oik or an oikish oaf – but the distinction is purely academic when your life is being disrupted by their antics.

Interestingly, in 21st century New Zealand, if you are mentally ill and become belligerent, you may be shot dead by the police or die as a result of being pepper sprayed. If you are Maori nationalists you may encounter the armed might of the paramilitary police. If you have a domestic in the wrong part of town, armed police may try to shoot your dog. If you are a member of a family identified by the police as 'criminal', you may be subjected to calculated police harassment. If you are students caught up in the annual festival of fools, you may be charged with riot.

But, let a huge mob of Gits pour diesel on the road, throw bottles at the police, race their cars in city streets, behave in ways which endanger, disturb, frighten and intimidate residents and visitors alike – and they are 'allowed to disperse'. No arrests are made, all the police do is confiscate 50 cars. Someone decided 'not to inflame the situation' but to follow up on some offenders at home.

This won't be in riot gear with battering rams, helmets and automatic weapons – no, no – an unarmed police officer will knock politely on the door and suggest that little Jarvis or Jade not behave as antisocially in future. Maybe a few with outstanding fines will be arrested – but mostly they'll get away with it.

So what's the difference here? Did the police take a this approach because they identify with many of these young people? Perish the thought.

How is it that these Oiks and Oafs can hold a whole city to ransom and get away with it? Why didn't the paramilitary wing swing into action and seize a few miscreants at gunpoint? Why didn't they set up armed road blocks, confiscate car keys and make the occupants walk home?

Of course it's still possible to behave oafishly and oikily on foot – but these are people most of whom, when deprived of their metal carapaces, are exposed as weak and vulnerable little things. Their belligerence will reduce in direct proportion to the distance their soft little bodies have to walk.

These 'car enthusiasts' don't frighten or intimidate me. I worked for years in areas of London that would scare these brats into peeing their pants. No, they embarrass me. They're like a bunch of over- indulged toddlers who've learned how to get their own way by wailing. Grown larger in size, they amplify their noise potential by driving around in souped-up cars with neuron-zapping sound systems and huge exhaust pipes (compensation for a lack of something) – still behaving like toddlers but manipulating the entire community.

This is a disturbing generation. A high proportion of it is scarily self-absorbed, ill-informed and insular. Faced with arguably greater threats to their own and their children's survival than any previous generation in the history of human kind - they find fulfilment in fiddling with cars, trying to defy gravity with their trousers and creating a carbon footprint in direct inverse proportion to their social worth.

They are aping the worst aspects of a culture which, more than any other, has set the world on a path of hedonism and self-destruction. There is so much that is great about the USA – but they choose to identify with its ugliest face.

And of course this occurred in the weekend of Earth Hour. While the good citizens of Christchurch were exhorted to 'switch off' for the planet, the Gits switched on their cars to burn oil, make noise and pollute the atmosphere.

They offend me. The fact that they are treated differently by the law offends me. They offend me because they are a very public symbol of an increasingly selfish, stratified and greedy society. They are the sort of people that the paean to rampant consumerism - the advertisement for the Wednesday lottery - is aimed at.

In the UK now, kids of the inner city slums ape American gang culture and shoot each other over drugs or just because they feel like it, while the kids of the suburbs congregate and numb their brains by 'drifting' and doing 'burn outs'. There's a certain grim irony in the terms they use to describe their play. The car is central to both – burn outs on bikes, cycle-by shootings - don't have quite the same street cred or gangster cachet.

So, I call upon all Gows and Goms to put quill to parchment and demand action. My suggestion is make Gits suffer the dangers and abuses of outrageous drivers by requiring them to walk or cycle to school or work. Parents should exercise their parental responsibilities by confiscating cell phones and credit cards, cutting hoods off sweat shirts and insisting on trousers and caps being worn correctly.

As to a suitable punishment for offenders - how about dressing them in orange boiler suits and making them scrub the roads clean of diesel and burnt rubber?

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