Of hoods - and the causes of hoods

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The Independent Online

So that proves it then. The number of shoppers at the Bluewater centre in Kent has risen by 22 per cent since it banned gangs of youths wearing hoods and baseball caps. Eliminate the hoodies, and you eliminate fear. Tony Blair and John Prescott were right to back the Bluewater ban after all. Er, not quite. Maybe that is not what it proves at all. Maybe all it shows is that shoppers share the same prejudices as the Bluewater managers and our Prime Minister and his deputy. And that they are all wrong.

So that proves it then. The number of shoppers at the Bluewater centre in Kent has risen by 22 per cent since it banned gangs of youths wearing hoods and baseball caps. Eliminate the hoodies, and you eliminate fear. Tony Blair and John Prescott were right to back the Bluewater ban after all. Er, not quite. Maybe that is not what it proves at all. Maybe all it shows is that shoppers share the same prejudices as the Bluewater managers and our Prime Minister and his deputy. And that they are all wrong.

Clothing has always been more than mere apparel. What we choose to wear makes a statement, sometimes of individuality, more usually of conformity to whichever of the many tribes, clans or classes we choose to belong. And age has long been a factor here. Teddy boys, mods and rockers, punks, hip-hop gangstas have all used clothing as a badge of teenage rite of passage. The whole point of it is that adults don't like it.

Nor do they like - reasonably enough - young people who hang around street corners spitting, swearing, urinating, dropping litter and generally lurking in a fashion that intimidates other members of the community. The mistake is to associate the clothing with the behaviour, as though there is a causal link. It is a mistake that adults have made with most of the teenage groups mentioned above. Pubs and other establishments have long refused entrance to individuals wearing certain items of clothing. But what has lifted the current wave of hoodie hysteria to the level of a moral panic is the way that sections of the press have rolled all manner of dark events into one ball of fear, suggesting that hordes of feral children are menacing the entire country.

Where antisocial behaviour is a problem, what is required is the improved application of existing measures: getting the police to enforce the laws that already exist, pressing for improvements in schools and widening the availability of activities for youths within the community. For the Government to join in a "zero tolerance" policy on certain types of clothing smacks of empty populism. Tough on hoods, and tough on the causes of hoods. It is the politics of desperation.

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