Arts Council England calls last summer's riots 'playful and pervasive'

Arts Council England calls last summer's riots 'playful and pervasive'


norman lebrecht

February 09, 2012

It has been such a long time since the cultural irrelevance known as ACE last fluttered an eyelid that I was half-hoping it had been declared defunct.

Sadly not. Attention is drawn to a new ACE website, titled SOTA2012, for State of The Arts, something to do with an upcoming conference.

In it, variously officially approved ‘curators’  blog their views.

One post, by ‘SOTA12 co-curator Hannah Nicklin’ is headlined: The UK Riots were a flashmob

She proceeds to explain: ‘The UK riots of the summer of 2011 are definitively a flashmob; flashmobs are not explicitly a game but certainly a first-person playful and pervasive form.’

Playful and pervasive. Go tell that to thousands who lost their businesses, homes and jobs. Further comment is superfluous.

This is state-funded idiocy. The Arts Council should take it down right away.

Better still, the Arts Council should be taken down. It has long outlived its chartered purpose.

A reminder of what these idle idiots are playing with:


  • Michael Smith says:

    Not just businesses, homes and jobs lost. Tell it to those who knew Richard Mannington Bowes, who was beaten to death by rioters just round the corner from my home in Ealing.

  • Ziggy says:

    Disgraceful comments – and I’ve said as much. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an arty response..

  • Hi there, Norman, thanks for engaging with my post on the SOTA blog – first off I should point out that it states clearly ont he site that the opinions there represented are by submission from the public, and therefore don’t represent the views of the arts council – we will only moderate against foul or derogatory language (though it’s fine for contextual emphasis), and libellous remarks. It is intentionally an open space for ideas and thoughts from the whole of the arts community and beyond.

    Secondly, I can’t help but feel this is a flagrant misreading of the actual point of the post – first off, games and flashmobs are set up as two examples here, conflated only in the aspect of their being first-person cultural forms.

    My use of the riots here is not to make any kind of judgment on them as right/wrong/otherwise, but rather to point out that the cultural platforms that agency and true interactivity raises – i.e. ones on which communication and action truly goes both ways, is generative – are inherently resistant to colonisation by private interests; Tmobile ads or JJB trashing, BBM used by business people or by mates organising a smashing; control can be anyone’s.

    Also, at no point do I describe the riots as ‘playful’; though flashmobs are certainly often a playful form, and there’s no reason that play can’t be destructive; think cat ‘playing with its food’, war games, and onwards.

    You’re understandably responding to a hot issue with heat, here, but I don’t think you can query the actual point I make – which is first about games, and then about flashmobs; that they resist colinisation by any one type of interest (capitalist and rioter as two extremes), nor that the riots themselves *are* definitively a flashmob.

    I apologise if you felt the comparison gauche but the definition certainly applies, I think, because of the ‘or’s, I think you could certainly term the riots as ‘spontaneous and unusual activity, organised primarily using social networks/mobile phone tech’. I choose this example not to be inflammatory, but rather to illustrate how very differently these spaces can be used, how potent they are, and how they are a place resistant to control. For good or bad, I believe this to be the case.

    Finally, if you’d like to construct a counter argument to these points, we’d be very glad to host the response?

    Thanks again.

    • Dear Hannah

      Like Mark, I find your argument obtuse, unrealistic and inappropriate – the more so since it appears on a site improperly funded by public money for a minuscule readership. Might I ask if, as co-curator, you receive payment for being involved in this otiose site?



  • Mark Pemberton says:

    I pride myself on being a fairly intelligent person, but I have to admit I struggled my way through Hannah’s response. It’s the third and sixth paragraphs that confuse me. If the riots, like flashmobs, were organised using ‘social networks/mobile phone techs’, then surely that interactivity has indeed been “colonised by private interests”, since it is private interests that developed the social network/mobile phone technology? And the licence to pillage ‘free stuff’ that the riots generated is also indicative of colonisation by private interests, in that young people’s choices have been increasingly colonised by aspirational brands.

    The reason I suspect that the blog post has stirred things up (and I note that Hannah does admit in her response to a comment to “courting controversy a little”) is the use of the word “definitively”. When Hannah says “the riots were definitively a flashmob” and then that flashmobs are “playful”, then it does read as if she is saying that the riots were playful. Which is where the trouble starts.

    I have already suggested in the comments that out of deference to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where there were no riots, “UK” be changed to “England”. Which actually makes the piece more relevant to a live blog and conference taking place in England, and funded by Arts Council England.

  • Hi Mark, feel free to address your post to me, I’m glad to engage.

    First off I think there’s a definition confusion here, which in my haste I think I neglected to make clear: here when I talk about ‘private’ interests it is as the opposite of ‘public’ e.g.; a t mobile flashmob, or a barclays ‘game’ of your bank, are private interests using interactive space/ideas, whereas the riots organised over BBM, or a snowball flashmob are events organised by public interests (not, I hasted to add, ‘in’ the public interest).

    Also, by ‘definitively’ I mean – if you are to compare how much of the rioting was ‘organised’ to the definition of a flashmob, they’re one and the same.

    When I refer to ‘playful, interactive’ forms – games are the former, interactive is flashmob.

    Play, I’ll add, however, does not mean in anyway ‘less important’ or ‘insignificant’; it can mean fun, it can mean chaos. And while I don’t suggest this is an OK thing, there’s no doubt that the rioters themselves were having fun – though again this is not a definition of play – rather than is ‘things set apart from ordinary life’

    If you’re interested in a definition of play, Roger Callois is good place to start:

    “Caillois defines play as activities with the characteristics of being “free”, “separate”, “uncertain”, “unproductive”, rule-bound, and/or “make-believe”, and constructs his classification of games into four main categories: agôn (competition), alea (chance), mimicry (simulation), and ilinx (vertigo), which are further refined by a game’s leaning towards paidia (chaos) or ludus (order). ” (quoting an MIT lecture note)

    I also am aware that talking in academic or reflective terms about something that effected people’s lives so closely and fundamentally can be seen as insensitive, but I do think that in order to deal with this kind of action, reflection is at some point necessary. Indeed, one of the jobs of art *is* to reflect

    The final point of the post that you focussed on one part of, however, wasn’t to draw conclusion about the content of either games or flashmobs, gamification, or the riots, but rather to suggest that both private and public interests are making use of these cultural platforms: interactive ones such as the web, mobile phone platforms, they are potent and unpredictable spaces, and the arts should be there, challenging and questioning what this means, as well as inhabiting them in their own right.

    Finally, I apologise to those who continue to be offended by the comparison, I don’t retract it, but of course understand how others might feel different, I hope you understand that I do not do so without an understanding of that.

  • Peter says:

    Mr Pemberton is generous indeed, bothering to engage with a conference that has no speakers from any of the “local” orchestras – Halle, BBC Phil, Manchester Camerata – or, indeed, from any orchestras at all! Lots of other art forms represented though…