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The International Herald Tribune Letter from Britain: Hoodies and the loss of a culture of respect Alan Cowell International Herald Tribune FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005 LONDON In parts of Europe, the question of headgear has been a source of contention for years, related usually to matters of faith. In Britain, the headgear question is different. Simply put, it is one of respect. Respect is a curious, catchall word, encompassing the underworld respect required by Don Corleone and the street respect mimicked by Ali G, the comic creation of Sacha Baron Cohen on British television - a respect based more or less on the fear of what happens to people foolish enough to withhold it. By an older definition, respect lies at the core of civil liberties, embedded in the most basic codes religions have devised to harmonize human interaction. But this newest notion of respect in Britain is something more elusive, the perceived antidote to what the authorities call a spreading blight of antisocial behavior - thuggery, hoodlumism, unbridled drunkenness. And, at the center of this debate lies the hooded sweatshirt, a form of dress whose origins seem to owe more to Eminem videos and gangsta rap than to the economics of keeping warm on a low budget. For some in Britain, it has become the icon of failed youth. The hoody, as it is known, is worn mainly by teenagers and preteens - part fashion statement, part criminal camouflage against the ever-increasing intrusiveness of closed circuit television cameras in this most Big Brotherly of societies. It is part of belonging - the tribal mask of an underclass - and part lookalike accessory adopted by middle class people who don't want their cellphones and billfolds to attract the attentions of that same, threatening underclass. Hoods have been around for years, but the debate about their significance blossomed when the operators of a huge shopping mall in Kent announced that they would bar people wearing either hoods or baseball caps (Television comedians speculated whether this edict would extend to sisterly nuns or Cistercian brothers.) Immediately, the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, whose political reputation is founded in part on punching out an egg-throwing protester, endorsed this body blow to thuggery, citing his own discomfort at being approached by a gang of hooded youths at a highway service station. (He used his bodyguard detail as a counterintimidator). A little later, Tony Blair, the prime minister, added his voice to the debate: the banning of the hoodies was fine by him, too. In a land that has long prided itself on civil rights and inclusiveness, this seemed a departure - a stigmatization at odds with the values of an earlier generation brought up to believe in the paramountcy of tolerance. In the post 9/11 era, civil rights are already depicted as under threat from the authorities' widening powers to pry and detain in the name of counterterrorism. So who will shield the hooded individual against an array of strong measures promised by Blair to restore society's sense of respect? Hooded sweatshirts, in any event, may be no more than the new drainpipe trousers and thick-soled shoes of the 1950s, Elvis-inspired Teddy boys; the 1960s leather jackets of motorcycle rockers or the motor scooters and parkas of mods; the headbands and bangles of the hippies; the piercings and spikings of punks or any other in-your-face statement of generational defiance - usually from within the stockade of peer-group conformity. All those stereotypes, it is true, have flourished on the fringes of society. Most - maybe not the hippies - have contained more than a seed of violence. Even the most broad-minded libertarians now seem inclined to distinguish between rites of passage and a degree of misbehavior that has become scary and widespread - an epidemic that leaves town centers in thrall to brawling binge drinkers and prowling bands, with or without hoods. On many of Britain's housing projects, it is said, old people in particular do not venture forth without a frisson - or more - of fear. "There are gangs of feral youths who are under no control from adults, parents or anyone else who intimidate those who would come forward and help the police," said David Baines, a senior police officer, after a gang of youths attacked a 48-year-old man in Salford, in northern England, and left him brain-damaged on the sidewalk. "Today it is Salford, but tomorrow it will be somewhere else." The message seems to be that something deeper in society has slipped, some secret restraint at the core of the doughty, bulldog Britain has fallen away in a welter of drunkenness, knife and gun violence, uncontrollable classrooms and academic failure. The deference of the humbly duplicitous Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield is but a distant memory. "People like a society that is less deferential, they want a society free from old prejudices," Blair said recently. But, he went on: "A loss of deference is very different to a loss of respect for other people." When he unveiled his legislative program last Tuesday, it was heavy on plans for new police measures to enforce what was a termed "a culture of respect." It could be said that the promised onslaught on antisocial behavior is the intrusive nanny state taken to extremes by a government that has modeled its tone of permanent admonition on Victor Meldrew, a white-collar, retiree sitcom character who exemplifies a crusty rejection of modernity. But there is a recurrent insistence that Britain is perilously close to a morass in which the old bindings - faith, family, fear of the law - have finally crumbled. The arguments are well rehearsed: the post-Thatcherite era has built a culture of envy and exclusion; instant gratification leaves no room for respect; deference is not the hallmark of reality TV shows or ephemeral tabloid celebrity; the entire political class is too discredited to command respect. Some even maintain that, after eight years in office and an unpopular war in Iraq, Blair himself has forfeited the right to the pulpit from which he exhorts his people to display greater respect for one another. "His predicament," said Richard Sennett, a professor at the London School of Economics, "is that he has lost the respect of society." E-mail: Tomorrow: Roger Cohen writes about the state of America. IHT Copyright © 2005 The International Herald Tribune |
post #2 of 7
Streetwear forum. This fool deserves to be fired. What a cheesy article. Cheesy justification for culture of 'thuggery' (awesome term though). Cheesy reference to Ali G in cheesy attempt to seem hip. Cheese everywhere. Hoodies are highly versatile and an essential component of the fall wardrobe. They do not deserve to be lambasted for the purpose of whining about national 'values'.
post #3 of 7
hoodies is for thug
post #4 of 7
hoodies is for thug
and Brown hoodie is for thug farmer.
post #5 of 7
I get the impression that hoodies have a connotation different in the UK than in the US.
post #6 of 7
To simplify: really out of touch people have problem with article of clothing that has existed for decades. "Motorcycle rockers" indeed.
post #7 of 7
Fair enough. Streetwear it is.
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