(some of this will be familiar to people who've read this
)'Villages, unlike towns, have always been ruled by conformism, isolation, petty surveillance, boredom, and repetitive malicious gossip about the same families. Which is a precise enough description of the global spectacle’s present vulgarity.'
Guy Debord on Marshall McLuhan, from Comments on the Society of the Spectacle
A couple of weeks ago a London listings rag had a cover story on Urban Vilages. It's a little preposterous now to think that Time Out
was once considered some sort of hotbed of radical soixante-huitard insurrectionism, but it does pay occasional lip service to its roots, most obviously in the tedious class-warrior posturing of Michael Hodges, a columnist so irritating he actually makes one yearn for Robert Elms. Incessant point-scoring is made in his columns usually at the expense of, in Jack Straw style, 'Hampstead liberals' and generally anyone too much of a milquetoast to throw themselves into London's maelstrom without sufficent cocksmanship. Now without wanting to add any grist to the dark satanic mill of those estate agents who call Peckham 'Bellenden Village', this is an increasingly familiar and annoying plaint.
Part of what makes London such a pain in the arse to live in, and the most obvious consequence of its peculiarly inept version of US capital, is the progressive upping of rents when a place becomes in some way 'hot', when a 'vibrant' area is made unaffordable for those who actually create said 'vibrancy'. Admittedly this comes in part from personal bitterness at paying 80 quid a week to live in a room above a pizza shop, but I digress. Now the people (much like myself) who live in multiracial bits of inner London tend to have the temerity to fetishise what is (once you strip away the picturesque detailing) poverty, squalor and chaos in terms of buzzing, humming, teeming (pick your animalistic metaphor), and sneer at anyone who just can't take the pace
. Oddly, cheap(ish) holidays in other people's misery seem to be considered noble today.
So Hodges spends lots of time sneering at anyone not London enough, usually those involved in something with the suffix 'village'
. Now places like Blackheath or Hampstead may be hotbeds of the irredeemably smug and offensively twee, but the suggestion seems to be that the London bourgeois should throw away their prejudices and move next door to council estates, ignoring the fact that this is exactly what they're doing
The attempts at creating a non-London within London, whether in Thamesmead, the Barbican or even Greenwich Millenium Village propose, in their rather botched way, that this is a city that can be something other than an overgrown plutocratic mess. The latter, built on what is essentially a toxic wasteland and imposing on it a rationalist mesh of aluminum and pine, as if it was a suburb of Malmo, is a great deal more morally defensible than moving somewhere where you can smugly reflect that black-on-black crime doesn't affect you, while pricing those whose markets are so quaint out of the area. Now that everything is a village, with all the insularity and segregation that entails, these ex nihilo
places seem like the true international zones. People on the Left are afraid of these places (partly due to a total abandonment of utopianism in favour of 'resistance'), usually holding the strange belief that the outgrowths of untrammelled capitalism are actually those chimerical 'communities'. London is utterly ripe for class warfare, with the rich often living on the same streets as the poor. Isn't the talk of community a mask for fear of what this community might one day do if it became a collectivity?