Woss goin' on? We're turning teenagers into yobs

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The Independent Online
YOBS used to be young people who shouted obscenities on the street, threw a few cans at football matches and annoyed the neighbours by playing their ghetto-blasters too loud. They were boys who thought they were sticking two fingers up at society, but rarely succeeded in being much more than mildly boring. Yobbism was something they would grow out of, just as soon as they found a job and moved away from the unsavoury influences of their mates in the neighbourhood.

The New Yobs are more violent than their predecessors. They kill at football matches; making a public nuisance of themselves is a job, not a hobby; and some are girls. Yobs just ain't what they used to be.

Presumably Mr Major recognises this, which is why he has chosen this moment to take action against 'yob culture'. Yet the policies of the Tory government have created exactly the right social conditions in which a yob culture flourishes; unemployment, demoralisation, poverty and, most significantly, the destruction of the means to provide an alternative culture in the arts and through education.

Yobbism is a slang spoken by those who have been denied access to the kind of language that encourages communication. Yobs are the verbally disabled, and no government has helped to bring about that immobilisation more than this one.

A policy of reductionism has swept our schools. In Wales, for instance, to achieve an A-C grade in the GCSEs, Shakespeare (the only compulsory playwright, according to the Government's current proposals) must be studied for both English and literature.

Of course, if you want to know why your wife, who seemed perfectly normal at dinner, turned psychopath and had nightmares about blood on her hands, Shakespeare is undoubtedly very useful; but the idea that the Bard, purely by virtue of being the Bard, is the main path to linguistic enlightenment is a preposterous one.

Writers who have always appealed to teenagers, such as Barry Hines, are being phased out, and 'creative writing' is now restricted to one piece of work. Heaven forbid that children should be encouraged to write about their own experiences; or that they should be given the notion that literature is something that living people can do.

The narrower the syllabuses become, the more children become deprived of their language, which comes to be regarded more as a privilege for the elite than as a right and something to be used with joy and imagination. They become increasingly dumb as the educational prison teaches them that self-expression and emotions are suspect, if not something to be sneered at, and that serious intellectual rigour is the only way forward in life.

For those who do not have the intellectual capacity to achieve this, the feelings of imprisonment and worthlessness can be devastating. Finding an alternative culture becomes the only option.

The reductionism doesn't stop at school. The coppers thrown to the arts have had the same effect, of generating the idea that culture is something to which one must aspire (once you can afford it) and that anything that reeks of emotion is inferior to the factual programming of the brain.

Dickens's Hard Times is becoming a reality - and, worse, an acceptable one: ' 'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse]' said Mr Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals.' '

Numbered little pitchers is what the government wants us to be. The result is the birth of yob television, which feeds the yob culture of which Mr Major speaks. But if you deny people access to alternatives, they will inevitably opt for the cheap, stay-at-home alternative. EastEnders, a soap heaving with double negatives, mispronounced words, dropped aitches and dialogues that stretch no further than 'Woss goin' on?' and 'We'll get it sorted', is hugely popular. So is the sitcom Birds of a Feather, where monosyllables brood in their thousands.

Lovable, uncultured yobs, who aren't averse to being on the wrong side of the law, are now ratings guarantees. They are also part of the same social desert inhabited by the yobs Mr Major is set to wipe out. But it won't happen unless his government recognises its role in creating a linguistic wasteland where both have been given the space to flourish.

Miles Kington is on holiday.

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