More to come soon…
More to come soon…
A screenshot of a GPS-tracked drift through the Olympic Park, Stratford - the beginning of an exploratory counter-mapping project.
I have an article in the latest issue of the British Journal of Criminology about the subfield of geography known as “critical cartography” and its implications for criminology and crime mapping. Click here to read it.
In The Great Shark Hunt, Hunter S Thompson recalls Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as “a failed experiment” in gonzo journalism. Thompson originally intended to record every detail of his now notorious Las Vegas excursion as it happened, and then publish the results unedited.
Thompson was a undoubtedly a purist in this regard, but what is gonzo journalism anyway? It disregards almost all journalistic conventions: it is written without claims to objectivity, incorporates a first person narrative and combines fiction and non-fiction licentiously in order to achieve the desired effect (whatever that may be). In addition to Thompson’s hallmark stream-of-consciousness style, other gonzo techniques include hyperbole, exaggeration, snippets of dialogue and outright plagiarism.
Gonzo bears certain similarities to certain strains of (auto)ethnographic writing - I’m thinking in particular of the brilliant work of Jeff Ferrell on graffiti writers and “scrounging”, and more recently, Bradley Garrett’s book on urban exploration. With this in mind I began toying with the idea of a gonzo criminology some time ago.
When I was asked to write a piece on shoplifting by Hurt You Bad magazine for their now-shelved second issue, I decided to employ my own take on a “gonzo criminological style”: semi-fictional - after all, “fiction is often the best fact” - non-academic, yet theoretically informed, amongst other things. So consider what follows a failed experiment in gonzo criminology…
The spirit of each historical epoch is embodied in its architectural monuments. If the Colosseum symbolises the imperial power of ancient Rome, and the pyramids of the Giza necropolis bare testament to archaic notions of social hierarchy, then the symbolising edifice of the 21st Century is the shopping centre. The future ruins of London: derelict hypermarkets, decaying storefronts and desolate multi-storey carparks. Billboards slump dejectedly, polyethylene bags tumble through deserted shopping precincts, and splintering skyscrapers pockmark a dead sky.
We live in a distorted consumer theocracy. Prostrate in submission before a pantheon of new gods, superstores are our temples and shopping lists our breviaries. From cradle to coffin we are consumed by desire. Indoctrinated from birth, children now recognise brand logos before their own names.
“When I die / bury me inside the Gucci store”.
Life and death in a consumer culture. Shops and shopping take on a truly metaphysical significance as our choice of sneakers, jeans, headphones, coffeehouse chain, cigarettes, cologne, mobile phone, alcohol, jewellery, make-up, car – the list goes on and on – is seen to communicate the very essence of our being.
“I shop therefore I am”: selfhood off-the-shelf.
We are all composite characters. Drudging through endless strip-lit shopping aisles, our existential freedom is reduced to wondering what kind iPhone case defines us as an individual. Market researchers ask inner-city teens, “If Nike was a person, what type of person would it be?”
We are caught in a paradox: without these adornments we feel somehow naked, incomplete; yet with them, we are trapped. Because, like all religions, the new faith is founded on false hope. The covenant, the promise of a way out of this perpetual meaninglessness, can never be realised. Any fleeting satisfaction only breeds further desire in a relentless cycle of compulsory obsolescence, alienation and self-hatred. Inwardly, we look for a way out.
Shoplifting appears – at a superficial level, at least – to short-circuit this logic. The idea of getting something for nothing, the irresistible opportunity to turn the tables on the admen, the PR specialists, a whole industry conspiring to make us feel ugly and dissatisfied. Outwitting the army of shop assistants, security guards, store detectives, CCTV monitors; evading the cameras, the mirrors, the locks, the alarms, the cops; making that final leap of faith, crossing the threshold, tunnel-visioned, as time itself seems to slow down, teetering, breathless, on the edge of apprehension, arrest or worse. Control and composure, exit and escape; and then that visceral vivid rush, stealing away into the city streets and the fugitive anonymity of the crowd. All of this elevates mindless compulsion to an art form.
The ultimate retail experience: aggravated shopping.
For all but the most calculating career crooks, shoplifting leaves rationality at the door; price tags become meaningless, getting busted – in that moment – seems impossible. The work-sleep-shop-repeat prison becomes a hedonistic dreamworld, a playground-paradise. Yet, at the same time, there is something inherently iconoclastic in the act of stealing in a society which derives its central values from the institution of private property. Denying commodities their retail value exposes them for what they ultimately really are: worthless.
But more than the superfluous £300 jeans, the champagne, the aftershave – the recurring designer dreams, the fragments of a life not allotted to us – shoplifting promises the opportunity to steal something back. Our youth, our bodies, our friendships, our moments of joy have been flattened into advertisements for products that impoverish our lives; repackaged, shrink-wrapped and sold back to us as safe and sterile, saccharine-sweet “lifestyle” brands.
Yet the precise politics of theft – when, if ever, they even enter into the equation – are confused and uncertain: more self-justificatory than emancipatory praxis. In the heat of the moment, the latent compulsion to consume overrides any conscious decision to break or obey the law. And ultimately, almost anything can be justified, rationalised, neutralised according to the twisted logic of a postmodern moral nihilism, so why even bother thinking it through?
'A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window' - Brian Massumi (often misattributed to Gilles Deleuze)
I’ve been returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus a lot recently. The book is intriguing, not least because it is written in a non-linear fashion. The authors encourage readers to approach the book as they would listen to a record, moving between its “plateaus” as they please.
Particularly appealing is Deleuze and Guattari’s oddball lexicon of metaphors and images-to-think-with: “nomads”, “war machines”, “bodies without organs” and “rhizomes” rove across and burrow through the text’s 700 odd pages. Rather than orthodox conceptual models and restrictive definitions, what what we are offered is a series of approximations, characteristics and analogies. Deleuze and Guattari envisaged A Thousand Plateaus as an “open system” or a “tool box”, intending their “dynamisms” to be used in ways other than those for which they had been created. As Brian Massumi writes in the book’s foreword, ‘The authors steal from other disciplines with glee, but they are more than happy to return the favor’.