By Matthew Rech
Last month, Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling gave a keynote speech to an audience in Westminster on crime and broken communities. In which, he suggested that Labour, throughout their “decade of neglect”, had failed to rise to specific social challenges relating to the growing “culture of lawlessness in many parts of our country”.
Interestingly, in his speech, and in several follow-up debates, Mr Grayling has compared communities like Manchester’s Moss Side to the hit television series, The Wire. “A horrendous portrayal of the collapse of civilised life and of human despair” (Grayling), The Wire dramatises the exploits of “murderous villains, cynical politicians, and corrupt, lazy detectives” (Yates) in Baltimore, U.S.
As one might expect, opposition to Mr Grayling’s comments has been widespread. However, and going beyond Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s retort, the use of popular referents in this context is more than merely ‘glib’. Writing in Geography Compass, Francois Debrix provides a compelling insight into instances where intellectuals of statecraft often choose “to turn to popular culture to establish certain claims to knowledge among members of the public, and sometimes to convince them of the necessity of adopting particular policies as a response to such popularly envisioned geopolitical realities” (933).
The significance of “tabloid discursive truth telling” (932) lies firstly in the fact that politics is often reliant on cultural and spatial imaginaries. Secondly, and as we see with the reactions of Moss Side residents to Mr Grayling’s speech, the application of fictional interpretations of reality to real-world situations often has real political effect.