A heart-stopping, heartbreaking, image has started appearing around south London. Small, modest, cheaply printed, fly-posted and touchingly beautiful, it shows a meandering, receding, unending queue of solemn adults, holding a miscellany of large framed portraits of their handsome, vibrant, smiling children. All of the children are dead, from gunshot wounds. The poster implores people: "Don't trigger."
The image is not just a graphic representation of the human cost of young urban Britain's love affair with guns, slapped on to the glass sides of bus shelters to edge them up. It also advertises the release of a fundraising EP, with contributions from four British urban acts, that aims to turn the tide of black-on-black gang murder that has blighted inner-city streets for the past decade.
The organisation putting the campaign together, Urban Concepts, is keen to emphasise that this campaign comes from the grass-roots and is not a media- or government-driven initiative. Since there is a great deal of distrust for both of these groups in the black community, this is no bad thing.
For many years the suspicion has been that media coverage is simplistic or dismissive because the white mainstream does not care about the killing of young black men by young black men. My worry, as I peruse the line-up of people willing to offer their musical services, is that the failure to engage is a lot closer to home.
Four groups take part in the EP, and the striking thing is that all but one of the acts have female line-ups. Fewer than half of an 18-strong band of musicians are young black men. Seven of those are members of South Souldiers, a young outfit from Lewisham, and it is right that they should be singled out. They cite influences from Tupac Shakur to P Diddy - both up to their necks in gun crime, the first as a victim, the second as a glamourising beneficiary - but these young men are making a powerful stand by aligning themselves with an unambiguous message about guns.
For while they are far from being the only young black men who are willing to condemn gun crime, the fact remains that the use of guns has become so closely bound up with masculinity that few men feel comfortable with unequivocal condemnation, outside the black community, of gang mentalities or overblown and misguided ideas about "respect".
There is almost a feeling that by admitting a measure of culpability on the part of these boys, all of the other negative issues in their lives that militate against them - drugs, poverty, historical and institutional racism - somehow get magically discounted as well. On the contrary, it is their own self-destructive behaviour in the face of such difficulties that is now one of the greatest barriers to tackling the underlying problems. Everyone can help to tackle the awful reality of gun crime. But, no matter how many layers of mitigating circumstances one wishes to unwrap and count, it is the young men involved who themselves have to think again about what it is to be a man.
* Interestingly, the most percipient portrait of masculinity in crisis I've read in a long time is published in this week's London Review of Books. Ostensibly a report from the American South on the devastation caused by Hurricane Rita, Andrew O'Hagan's 14,000-word piece follows two men, Sam and Terry, as they set out on a deluded journey to help the victims and become, in the process, all-American heroes. The most telling sentence comes as Terry asks if the party might stop for a few minutes in Atlanta. The son he hasn't seen for years has been missing school, and he wants to stop off briefly to administer a short, sharp parental shock. Amazing.
Robbie's weird world
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night wondering, as the children of Malawi die from starvation, what Live8 was for, then stop and take a pill instead. The latest GQ has the answer.
Apparently the show served as the "reintroduction into public life, after almost a year of self-imposed exile" of Robbie Williams. Thankfully, Williams found his role in the most overblown consciousness-raising exercise in history to be "a total joy", so at least it wasn't a complete waste of £25m.
The audience of two billion was not enough to get Williams the exposure he needs, though. He has also given a long interview to Britain's most self-congratulatory glossy, and appeared on the cover sandwiched between two naked women. "The Strange and Enviable life of Britain's biggest pop star," proclaims the cover-line.
What is this strange and enviable life, then? The interviewer finds that Robbie hasn't been out of his house for a month, is terrified of being alone, feels so empty he "won't rule out" Scientology, and thinks he's addicted to antidepressants. This, he says, is the happiest he's ever been. Poor lamb.
For some women, narcissism isn't enough
While GQ may be the most vapid consumer bible known to British man, women's magazines aren't always reservoirs of intellectual endeavour either. Which is why the latest offering to hit the shelves, Psychologies, is emphasising its higher purpose in order to differentiate itself in a crowded market.
Psychologies has been a big hit in cerebral France, where in no time it has established itself as the best-selling monthly magazine after national institution Marie Claire. It promises to concern itself with "what's on the inside" rather than burbling on for ever about skirt lengths. (It has no fashion.)
But it isn't different from other women's magazines at all, except for the fact that it caters to women with an even higher level of self-absorption than those of us who worship at the altar of "Britain's first weekly glossy" Grazia.
Psychologies is admirable in that it doesn't chase the formula that flogs us endless gossip. But what it flogs instead is the idea of "self-help", with every article as empty a primer in psychobabble as the most crawling of celebrity interviews.
Not that it doesn't have those. Last month we had Meg Ryan, looking as if she was standing in a wind tunnel but mentioning nothing about whether plastic surgery might have played a part in her post-40s liberation and sense of wellbeing. (The magazine appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of "surgical solutions" anyway, which will do its advertising revenue no end of good.)
This month it's Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives, explaining how "hard times made me stronger". Anyone deliberately going out in search of "hard times" on the advice of Cross might like to remember that it can be rather exhausting and dispiriting if the "hard times" never come to an end. In Psychologies, though, there's no room for ghastly stuff like that.Reuse content