Saturday, July 26, 2008

The last refuge of the rebel

There is a lot of talk of talk of political renewal in the air - Obamania, Scottish nationalists, Crewe and Nantwitch (what happened to Alexandria, by the way?), with everyone wetting themselves over how a 48% turnout is something to get excited about. It occurs to me that political theorists really should look more closely at the behaviour of commuters, because it is surely the only working model of anarchy in the UK (see what I did there?).

I've been thinking about this and it seems to me that the only way to explain how perfectly respectable, law-abiding people can descend to such debased levels of behaviour, is that it is a desperate attempt by disenfranchised citizens to assert some kind of independence from the law-givers of the state. We may be one nation under CCTV, meaning that we all have to mind our Ps and Qs out and about in towns and cities, but on the train, no one can hear you scream (with frustration, obviously) as some fellow commuter plants an elbow in your face as you both rush for the same seat, or cranks the Ipod up to maximum and forces the whole train to share the joy of rocking along to Aerosmith's latest release.

It isn't just a lack of courtesy, however. It is something much deeper than that, some subconscious yearning (that lurks in us all, no doubt) to break the rules, to scorn the iron fist of authority. Consider this - an (over)crowded platform shudders under the weight of the morning rush hour as a train approaches. A disembodied voice from the ether reminds everyone to stand behind the yellow line "for your own safety". Before the voice has finished speaking, half of the front rank have purposefully stepped forward, over said line. Minutes later, as the packed locomotive pulls away from the station, the driver implores all passengers to familiarise themsleves with the safety instructions. No one even glances at them, pointedly devouring every detail of the poster alongside advertising a download service for the the latest funky ringtone instead. And so it proceeds until the train reaches its final destination, when everyobdy ignores the pleas to "have your tickets ready for inspection, and heads the wrong way down a one-way staircase, or crosses the road a hundred yards from the nearest crossing, just to show that they don't always have to do what they're told.

It just goes to show that there the flame of activism still burns.

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