Intolerable Images: Consumer Identity, Media Spectacle and the English Riots of 2011

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Within hours of the outset of unrest in the August 2011 English Riots, the government asserted that this was the doing of “criminal gangs”, citing images on the BBC. Although this assertion was subsequently abandoned, it referred to on-going processes: a criminalization of youth in Britain. The recycled images of flames and hooded teenagers came to serve as the proof of youth “gone bad.” Yet in many ways these articulations were the realization of Guy Debord’s definition of the spectacle: the inversion of life, where images come to be the materialization of life. These images are supposed to be intolerable, and yet they stand for expectations. Thus appearance stands for reality, and accordingly to look more closely is both an exercise in futility and an act of subversion. This paper will explore both the actions supposedly captured in the images depicting the riots, and the discourses surrounding the reproduction of those images. It seeks to connect the youth politics of the everyday – especially the problems of being ignored as political subjects – to the formal political structures that rely on youth to be socially unruly on the one hand, and disciplined consumers on the other. The paper concludes with a comparative analysis of the consumer images that continue to discipline young people and also served as the model for framing the images of the unrest. The paper examines how spontaneous, uncoordinated action came to be read through mass media spectacle, promoting appearance over reality, resulting in the reproduction of intolerable images.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2012
EventAmerican Political Science Association Annual Convention - New Orleans, United States
Duration: 30 Aug 20122 Sept 2012


ConferenceAmerican Political Science Association Annual Convention
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew Orleans


  • Violence
  • Riots
  • Consumer Culture
  • Advanced Capitalism
  • Performance


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