Narcissism more than terrorism Meat cleaver in one hand, blood on both, the butcher explains himself for the benefit of a bystander’s smartphone – and the millions standing behind it. The grain of his voice is the giveaway. Truth will out of the mouth of the (alleged) Woolwich murderer. He may have customised Islam into a rhetorical skin – the surface account of his own horrendous actions; but the way he speaks – neither Cockney nor Nigerian but ‘multicultural London English’ – suggests that the substance of who he is and what he is doing, lies in London itself.
And what does London do nowadays? The ‘world city’ of London is a global spectacle, largely paid for by the outside world: funded by the millions of international tourists who experience the London scene in person; grant-aided by billions more who stay home to watch The London Show (Reality TV wherever and whenever you want it); zillions the world over who subscribe to pay-per-view London by entering their domestic wealth into the financial circuits routed through here.
Money that makes the world go round, itself revolves around the spectacle of London.
Young Londoners have never known anything else. They are keen – desperate, even – to be entered into this spectacle. To be featured in it if only, famously, for 15 minutes. For the most part they have nothing to circulate but themselves; and in the attempt to get a showing/gain a hearing, they are under constant pressure to raise the spectacular value of the self – their one and only commodity in the attention economy.
In Woolwich yesterday two isolated individuals responded in a manner that plumbed new depths of desperation and depravity. Not even ‘lone wolf terrorists’, they are best comprehended as pop-up narcissists. A perversely extreme manifestation, here today and gone tomorrow, of what has become London’s guiding principle and principal dependency: manifesto ergo sum; I show myself therefore I am; my existence depends on spectacle.
Not terrorism, but a terrible way of saying: LOOK AT ME!
In writing this, the author has to confront the possibility that he too has succumbed to the same addiction. Is it that I crave the controversy which could be sparked off by my analysis? Am I touting myself in the intellectual’s version of famous-for-15-minutes? Or by showing how even such depravity has something in common with the life of London, am I staying true to the maxim that nothing human is completely alien to me?
Hoping it’s the second of these…..