The recent riots in London got me thinking about what it means to be connected to a community.
Until recently Americans didn’t think of “riots” when the thought of “London” – we generally thought of sketch comedy. The most violent London could get, we assumed, would involve a Python reunion. Terry Jones and Michael Palin would wheel out Graham Chapman’s coffin and hurl it at Eric Idle in drag, only to be arrested by John Cleese in a policeman’s uniform.
“Do you have a license for that dead comedian?” He’d ask. “You’ve got to have a license! We can’t just have any old person jumping to the head of the line to dig up W.S. Gilbert’s corpse and fling it at French tourists! There’s a waiting list! It’ll take you six months to get to the front of the line for Gilbert, eight months for Benny Hill, and Peter Sellers’ skull is on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, although we can get you his right arm in about 12 – 15 months. Pity, though: Yes, I know his left arm was the funny one. Is that … is that Lenny Bruce’s testicle? That’s a foreign import, that is! Right! You’re going appear before judge, you are!”
Then maybe they’d do the “Dead Parrot Sketch,” because people can’t get enough of that one. It’s funny, you see, because the parrot’s dead.
Well, so much for that. London has joined the ranks of cities no longer on the list of “it can’t happen here.” It appears that, when you pry open the lid, an awful lot of people in an awful lot of places have no civic ties strong enough to say “I’m not going to put a brick through that window,” or “I’m not going to tell my friend not to light that car on fire.”
It’s terrifying to realize just how common this is becoming. Most of us feel increasingly isolated from the political process and atomized out of civic life: we have Twitter, but don’t know our neighbors. We voted for Obama, but there’s still no sense of shared sacrifice. We bowl alone.
I’ve been contrasting this with the passionate sense of engagement people have for Burning Man … and wondering what we did so right. “Civic Responsibility” isn’t just one of the 10 principles – it’s a fact of life in Black Rock City. Read more »