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British Riots A Masterpiece

Brits are plain rude. Rude to each other, rude to tourists, and vicious to opposing soccer teams and fans. I remember when conventional wisdom had it that the British were reserved and polite and apparently born with stiff upper lips. What happened to those people?

Rudeness as a defining national characteristic is loudly on display in British newspapers, books, television and movies and therefore, it stands to reason, in daily social intercourse. British tabloids get particularly nasty about looks, weight, and clothes, hectoring royals, commoners, basically anyone well-known, in the crudest terms possible. In this country supermarket tabloids do it too, but without the same level of venom and certainly without the same reach and clout.

Watch any contemporary “Masterpiece Theatre” production, and you’ll soon notice the same condition. Eminently reasonable and basically kind Inspector Lewis is snarled at and dismissed by his boss and by everyone else -- upper crust, working-class, students, deans, shop-keepers, artists, teenagers, the elderly, probably because of his accent. Jane Tennison of “Prime Suspect” not only endured systemic off-hand verbal insults, she dished them out with relish as well. Inspector Lynley, being a member of the upper-class, was subjected to specially aggressive rudeness, from suspects, victims and from his own staff.

So it’s interesting that the UK, a country where rudeness seems to be routine, where hacking into someone’s cellphone raises almost no complaint (until it’s the cellphone of a dead child); where intrusive CCTV cameras are in your face 24/7; where attending a football match could mean your life; and where one curtsies to people one supports with one’s tax money, is currently in the midst of wild anarchy. The poignance of the New York Times story this week about Louis James, 19, of London, a hopeless young man on the dole who learned to read just three years ago doesn’t excuse the lawlessness and mayhem, but tries to make sense of riots that don’t seem to be racially motivated (this time). If it turns out to be that a root cause of this expensive self-inflicted misery is that Britain utterly forgot – wanted to forget -- about its poor and unemployed, it wouldn’t surprise me. Because it’s just so damn rude.

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