Hello everyone, this is an essay I wrote which I thought I'd share with you, feel free to criticize etc.:
“The old man turned off the radio/ said where did all of the old songs go/ kids sure play funny music these days/ and they play it in the strangest ways/ seems to me like they’ve all gone wild/ it was peaceful back when I was a child.” Johnny Cash, What is Truth- 1971
If you were to ask most people over the age of 30 whether they agreed with those lyrics (that is they thought children were more violent than in the “good old days”) you’d probably find most of them saying yes, with more than a few grumbles of “Broken Britain” or similar language. Now it would be wrong for me to say that aspects of Britain aren’t broken but the mainstream media’s (The Daily Mail) position that young people have a complete lack of respect for everybody, that a huge amount of crimes are being committed and that there was some golden era 30 years were everything was good is demonstrably false and even worse, quite offensive.
The first problem with the term “Broken Britain” is it means virtually nothing. One indicator of a phrases meaning is who uses it, for “Broken Britain” it is the Conservative party and the right wing tabloids (The Sun, The Daily Mail etc.) although all this tells us is that the sort of people who think (against all evidence to the contrary) things were better 50 years ago, think things are worse today. Another clue to its meaning can be gleaned from that ever reliable source, Wikipedia. Under related pages for Broken Britain there is teenage pregnancy, gun and knife crime, binge and underage drinking and child neglect, that’s hardly one coherent issue. I’ve also heard it used since the riots about the materialism of young people, and the lack of respect by children for their elders and betters. Put simply “Broken Britain” is basically whining about things having changed, with the exact context depending on who says it and what the main political issue is at the moment. And of course non specific whining about a very general “problem” is something very hard to take seriously.
Now it cannot be denied that there are problems in Britain, for example life expectancy in one area of Glasgow is 54, lower than in the African country of the Gambia, there are 61 000 homeless people and 1.2 million people have at some point been addicted to drugs. Those figures, in a wealthy society such as Britain are not acceptable and it is right to raise these issues in the media or in parliament, but the sad truth is people have always died far too young, have always been homeless and have always been addicted to drugs. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and stop this happening (and we should do far more than we are) but to claim this is something new is willfully misleading. Actually if “Broken Britain” was trying to raise these issues I would support it but by barely addressing them at all (compare the focus on young people’s clothing to the focus on homelessness) and when it does cloaking them in clearly false nostalgia (there was never any homelessness in the 1960s) it trivializes actually important issues and replaces them with non issues. So basically Broken Britain is taking valuable attention away from other far more important items and focusing on completely trivial ones.
Yet another problem with the “Broken Britain” rhetoric is it demonizes many people just for who they are. For example, many young people are blamed for not being born in the 50s and any achievements they gain are dismissed as worthless compared with those of the baby boomers, with a case in point being any story about exams (Grade Inflation! Disaster! etc). Telling anyone that they are the problem is really quite offensive but even more importantly is not really useful, it does nothing to help heal whatever social problems exist and it just leads to the alienation of the demonized people (telling people that they are making life harder for you simply because of their age/ country of origin etc does not endear them to you) which will do nothing to solve our problems.
The final problem with “Broken Britain” is perhaps the biggest one, as the whole idea, that Britain is “broken” (whatever that means) has no basis in reality. Even though this term has no set definitions the fact remains that if you were to ask people what they meant by “Broken Britain” they would probably say the same thing, something along the lines of teenage pregnancy, increase in crime, alcohol and drug abuse etc, but every one of these has fallen in the last ten years. Since 1999 550 000 children have been lifted out of poverty, teenage pregnancy has fallen by 13.3% in England since 1998, the crime rate has fallen for 16 years straight and alcohol rates are lower than they were 10 years ago. There really isn’t much more to say as the stats speak for themselves.
Overall there are many clear reasons why “Broken Britain” is an offensive, meaningless and inaccurate phrase. All it does is demonize the young and the weak, based not on evidence but on a completely false idea that things have changed for the worse. But even apart from its general offensiveness and inaccuracy perhaps the worst thing about it is that it sets children against parents and creates an us versus them mentality which will do nothing to solve any social problems in the UK. As a final reminder to anyone who uses “Broken Britain” seriously and from the same song as before (What is Truth) “yeah the ones that you’re calling wild/ are gonna’ be the leaders in a little while/ this whole worlds waking to a new born day/ and I solemnly swear that it will be their way”.