Reading the Riots: who’s bringing the media to account?

I’m watching a group of young people perform a play they devised about the summer riots (or disturbances, if the R word causes you some difficulty). Some of the group were ‘involved’ directly; some were not. What does bind them though is they have all been ‘involved’ with the media’s responses to the events: they have all read the headlines, all seen the TV coverage and, to a lesser or greater extent, been witness to the twitter feed which became a twitter storm in those early days of August.

In their play, the cast act out the early hours of the riots against powerpoint slides of press images, underscored by tracks by Marvin Gaye, The Jam and The Who. There are monolithic pictures of riot police and burning cars, under which the unhooded actors slouch, their social anxiety clothing their angular visages. The images show choreographic moves which would be impossible for trained contemporary dancers: high kicks through shattering glass sheets.

There’s no doubting the power of those iconic images the press managed to conjure up during those heady hours – but quite what damage those images then managed to generate is still up for discussion.

The camera can fire up so much mischief. It inflames petroleum feelings and catalyses social itches into anaphylactic shocks. Its iconicity highlights, exaggerates and essentialises in ways that were never intended. And these days, then there’s photoshop which wreaks further havoc.

I’m reminded that you have to use the arts to play back to people other stories, other interpretations which may be messier, more inconvenient and yet which give us importent alternative insights. We need artists views to counteract the juggernaut express power of the million camera gaze. You have to show something back to audiences, somehow, because someone somewhere has to bring the media themselves to account.

For more on Reading the Riots see

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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