To party or not to party? Raving in crisis

How’s the government dealing with raves popping up all over the UK? Anthony Killick reflects on the UK’s response in the covid crisis context.

Anyone following the news will have noticed that the UK government’s latest decision to ban (re-ban?) social gatherings of more than six people was preceded by a renewed effort to blame ‘young people’ for the spread of coronavirus. On September 7th, health secretary Matt Hancock tried to tell anyone who wished to attend a ‘rave party’ (every one of whom are young people, apparently) that to do so would be the same thing as murdering their grandparents. So what will happen to raves?

That was the starting gun.

In a segment aired later the same day, Channel 4 news’s Victoria MacDonald followed up a story on the closing (re-closing?) of Greek island ‘air bridges’ with a parable on how some teenagers in Borehamwood had attended a private party, “and the council have since written to their parents”.  The message is that holidaymakers returning from Greece now have to quarantine for two weeks, blame ‘young people’ (not the holidaymakers themselves, nor the airlines, nor the actions of either the British or Greek governments).

The next day, Dr Hilary from Good Morning Britain aimed to further recast the scale of coronavirus responsibility by adding that the UK had seen 32 deaths in 24 hours. “It’s higher than France”, he grimaced at 7:18am on a Tuesday morning to an audience of around 10million. “It’s not being spread in schools or in offices, but it’s certainly happening in society…we see it happening at raves and parties and police are having trouble breaking them up because it’s not been enshrined in law yet that they can intervene”.

Yes it has, but I wonder how many of the 10 million strong audience went to work with that lie as a talking point.

Yep, the hugely anticipated ‘coronavirus 2: second wave’ has finally arrived, and it has apparently been produced, directed, written, edited and scored by young people, which is surprising given that this is the group with the least amount of power to do any of these things, relatively, at least, to the government of the United Kingdom. Only an organisation steeped in this level of turpitude would have the capacity to blame a global pandemic on some teenagers going to a party in Borehamwood.

But of course, they have had help. A Daily Mail headline from August 31st announced that police had “FINALLY” ended a three day rave in Wales “that saw revellers drink, take drugs and defecate in local gardens” near the sleepy village on Banwen. This image of wanton fuckery was slightly disrupted by a frankly heart-warming video on the BBC news website of an elderly Welsh couple laughing about how they’d made the “revellers” cups of tea and filled their bottles of water. A slight, though much needed picture of community, humour and inter-generational compassion.

From #Covidiots to a July 3rd BBC ‘exposé’ on the ‘secret Covid rave scene’ (it begins with a mobile phone video of a ‘rave organiser’ wearing a gold plated Guy Fawkes face mask) the media story is one of an underground network of nihilistic, misguided, or flat out moronic ‘young people’ whose actions are impeding the efforts of the rest of us to get ‘back to normal’, or better still, to ‘come back better’. ‘Normal’ here meaning the full restoration of economic activity, capital flows, basically buying stuff. ‘Better’ here meaning a desired increase in growth or GDP. Young people going to a rave in some woods near Fazakerly contributes almost nothing to these economic aims. In this sense they are ‘economically inactive’. This, really, is where their blame for facilitating a global pandemic lies.

This method of discursively closing down ‘economically useless spaces’ is nothing new, and Covid-19 has only offered a new spin on coverage that has framed raves as sites of criminality since the early 1980s. By proxy, recreational drug use (except alcohol) has always been framed as something that is detrimental to the wider public health. What is different about the current situation is, as Matt Hancock would argue, the direct and potentially fatal effect that those attending raves are having on their neighbours, friends, and relatives (grandparents in particular). And yet the same could be said of those who choose to go to pubs, get on planes or enter a busy shopping centre.

One of the scary things about a virus is that it has no agency. Everyone has the potential to spread it. Young people (I would say, more accurately if I must, rave-goers) have been singled out for participating in an activity that is supposedly more dangerous than any other due to it being ‘less controlled’ (therefore, supposedly, fewer hygiene and social distancing measures are in place). Conversely any police officer will tell you that trying to control the 200,000-500,000+ people who enter a major city on any given weekend is an act of near futility even before considering how to control a virus. Yet this activity is encouraged. It is economically important, yet obviously a massive public health risk on numerous levels.

In the current context, demonising one form of activity over another is simply an attempt to lay blame for a global pandemic at the feet of those who had no hand in bringing it about – this, at a time when community cohesion may serve to ameliorate an increasing sense of isolation among people and their families. The elderly Welsh couple of Banwen recognised that we are all entitled to our catharsis, our vice, whether it’s raving, pub-going, shopping. We have no right to demand that young people drop theirs. Instead, we can demand a more concerted effort on the part of those elected officials with real political power, and tell them to stop placing blame on people in our communities.

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