TELEVISION / Estate of the realm: Thomas Sutcliffe follows the documentary tourists in Moss Side

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S BEEN much concern about imitative behaviour recently, so where, on the day after a middle-aged man, in broad daylight and in the presence of television cameras, shamelessly removed hundreds of pounds from ordinary families, do we look for the origins of the brutal crimes of Moss Side? Perhaps we should, in emulation of those who blame television fiction for the ills of society, examine the language used by the drug-dealers and gang members. They have taken to describing their crimes as 'taxing' - though in Moss Side you 'tax' a pub not by putting an extra one-and-a- half pence on a pint but by sticking a gun underneath the publican's nose and emptying his till. Clearly, by the logic of those who fear the influence of television, inflammatory broadcasts of Budget speeches should be halted immediately.

Dispatches (C4), a slightly anthropological film about the estate betrayed at points the innocence of the media tourist. Travelling through the area at night the headlights picked out empty streets and the reporter announced that 'after dark people stay indoors'. You could say pretty much the same of any residential district in England, of course, but that was presumably overlooked in the editing suite. The set-up itself, staring out through wound-up windows as someone with local knowledge drives the car, is already a cliche of coverage of American no-go zones, and is overdue for retirement; it suggests an apprehensive trip through a safari park rather than a proper attempt to convey the life of the streets.

Presumably the camera crew feared a lightning imposition of VAT on pavement use, because it would be foolish to deny that life on Moss Side is pretty brutal. Market forces exert a powerful seduction for the unscrupulous and a grim pressure on the honest. In an area where unemployment among young black males is 85 per cent, a 14 year old can earn upwards of pounds 500 a week. The money comes from addicts like Robert and Donna, who estimated their joint costs at between pounds 550 and pounds 700 a week. Robert and Donna looked fairly well groomed as addicts go and didn't seem to be suffering unduly from the stress of matching income to expenditure. 'I steal it', Robert explained simply when asked how he raised the money, before adding a real junkie's lie: 'Not off other people, mostly off shops'. Try telling that to people who can't shop locally because traders have been robbed out of existence or who live behind bars for fear of thieves. For them, the stark economics of drugs mean no market, plenty of force.

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