About a month ago I spontaneously joined a group of friends going for a trip to see a Brazil-Scotland football game in London. Little did I know that I would find myself in the middle of the largest public protest since 2003- the demonstration against public spending cuts. There were 84 injured and over 200 arrested.
Seeing London, a city usually hosting boring tours, in such a mess was nearly entertaining. There were people climbing the Piccadilly monument, yelling through a megaphone, and putting piles of trash on fire at the Oxford Circus. A group of trouble makers hiding their faces clashed with police officers on Trafalgar Square, throwing bottles and bricks at them.
My gut recognized disaster when I caught a glimpse of a bottle with a piece of cloth in it, stuck suspiciously in somebody’s pocket. A red flag with clearly communist symbols appeared above the crowd’s heads. I run around with my camera immortalizing these bizarre scenes … but as soon as I got tired and headed to the bar instead.
It was exactly the indifference of bystanders (me including) that struck me most. People around sure did take many pictures but showed little surprise. While showing some tourists the way, policemen maintained friendly faces as if they hadn’t just been in the middle of this massive demonstration.
I couldn’t help but notice the grotesque combination of an angry crowd with Scottish soccer fans in blue kilts and ornamental hats calmly walking through the city. I also gave a head-to-toes evaluation to the girls in short dresses and high heels chatting outside of a club, ice cubes tinkling in their fancy glasses. The Saturday night fever was clearly hotter than the protestant’s anger.
It seems as if demonstrations run off us like water off a duck’s back. Mass media repeatedly expose us to scenes of protesting crowds, be it in London, The Hague or even Cairo, turning them into more familiar images. Will we soon be anesthetized?