I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to watching Channel 4’s four part drama ‘Top Boy’ this week for the insight it was likely to give me into South London drug culture. I was rather more intrigued by how the white, middle class TV reviewers for broadsheet British newspapers might handle the show. Would they really have anything useful and/or constructive to offer on a subject matter so far removed from their own comfy cubby holes on Buckingham Palace Road?
I, on the other hand, once stood near someone as they carried out a transaction for a small amount of cannabis in Mitcham, so am far more qualified to comment.
Disappointingly for my revving cynicism, it turned out that the programme was smart enough to intersperse the jostling for position for the Summerhouse estate’s top boy with the desperation for any sort of normality; to the point where even the most blinkered sections of our population might be able to grasp it.
In the UK, we really like to pretend that places like Summerhouse don’t exist. That the people who inhabit them are somehow fundamentally different from us and their compartmentalisation in the peripheral areas of London’s affluence facilitates this view. Their activities when they do stray into ‘our’ spaces tend to augment our view that they are basically animals and should be avoided at all costs. See ‘London Riots’ for more details.
This is far more comfortable than learning that kids like Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose increasingly frantic efforts to avoid the quicksand sucking his friends and acquaintances deeper into the abyss, just see him drawn in deeper still. That he stands no chance in a culture where traditional boundaries and authority figures take the form of ‘patches’ and low rung dealers dependent on the next guy up.
To accept that would mean that our version of the world, where drugs are bad and the people who shift them criminal idiots that shouldn’t be tolerated, is utter crap.
And we couldn’t have that, could we?