New Internationalist

Suave criminal

issue

So there you are, settled on the sofa with the dinner you’ve lovingly prepared for yourself and your delightful companion. Maybe a glass of wine or three lined up, ready to watch a movie that will bond you together in a couple of hours of fun, frolics and romance. You kick off the DVD and suddenly it’s all, ‘YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A HANDBAG!!! YOU WOULDN’T STEAL A CAR!!!!’ bellowed at you over a crashing guitar track of the kind they blast at internees at Abu Ghraib.

My recent Battlestar Galactica binge was seriously marred by a scary lardarse blacksmith from hell, thumping out a warning NOT TO STEAL THIS MOVIE!!! And you can’t even skip past it as it locks you into a nightmare vision of Western society on steroids where everyone is out to screw everyone else. That can’t half sour an evening.

Why are we all being criminalized? From media reports you’d think we were the most educationally-backward, pissed, pregnant, clap-ridden nation of crooks and delinquents in Europe. (Er … we are? Oh, DAMMIT!)

How many TV ads have you seen accusing you of TV licence fraud? Drink too much and the sinister bartender takes you through your alternative future as a jobless, homeless felon. Seen the one where some poor white woman with a Croydon facelift sneaks a man into her (council) home when she’s on the dole? You’re encouraged to grass her up becoz we ‘ate benefit cheats. RIGHT? It’s getting like the Stasi in East Germany, but with the comedy plus of knowing that James Purnell, Minister With Portfolio For Hounding The Poor, has recently been outed as something of a champion public-purse scrounger himself.

The message is you can’t trust anyone. My bus stop displays an alarming paranoid poster straight out of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian vision, Brazil. ‘If you see or hear anything suspicious…’ Really? Anything?

Funny how the Government and its proxies are assailing us with a wall of accusations. Anyone might suspect it was a distraction from what they get up to, designed to stop us asking: who’s the bigger criminal? The Bank Robber or the Banker? Who’s the bigger benefit cheat? Someone barely able to feed themselves on £60 a week or an MP suavely fiddling thousands? Who should end up in prison? A woman in debt or the man who started a war, killed a million and walked off with millions?

Anna Chen is a writer, performer and broadcaster. www.annachen.co.uk

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