Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Park Lane Squatters

Article in the Observer magazine at the weekend (14 March) about the people behind last month's party at a squatted mansion in London's Park Lane:

'On Thursday 11 February, 3,000 revellers descended in numbers normally only seen at festivals to a derelict Mayfair mansion in Park Lane. They had been invited by the party's organisers, CTL (it stands for whatever you want it to: "call the landlord", "come to life"), to sample the high life of decadent parties and seven-storey mansions normally reserved for the very rich. The ensuing chaos reached new heights of madness when the Metropolitan police riot squad turned up and proceeded to charge at the crowd outside before storming the building and chucking the last dregs of excited youth back on to the street' (full article here).

The sympathetic article contrasted with some of the shock horror stories in the tabloids at the time, such as the Daily Mail: 'Riot police raid £30m Mayfair squat after 2,000 people show up to Facebook party 'gone wrong'... the 'perfect tenants' decided to throw the most destructive party possible. After advertising a 'Night of Mayhem' on Facebook, hundreds of drunken revellers turned up at the address - on the corner of the appropriately named Dunraven Street'.

Taking over empty buildings in this way has a long and honorable history in London, from the 'Wild Beatnik Parties' of the 1960s, 1980s warehouse parties and the free party movement of the 1990s and beyond.

Shame though that the Observer article had to reproduce the usual stereotypes about most squatters: 'the majority of the collective is middle class and educated to high levels; they all have other places they could be. They are not the typically greasy, uneducated and unwashed junkie face of squatting. They aren't homeless either. These are young people disillusioned by the choices society asks them to make'. The whole tone seems to suggest that nice, arty middle class squatting is morally superior to people taking over empty buildings out of mere need. And just because most people putting on parties or occupying buildings for housing aren't media darlings or the sons and daughters of the chattering classes doesn't mean that they are 'greasy, uneducated and unwashed junkies'.


Anonymous said...

Well as long as they are nice publicly educated middle class boys, thats all ok then. Wouldn't want any of those nasty working class thickos, would we?

I normally love your writing but don't slag off stereotypes while perpectuating others yourself at the same time.

Transpontine said...

Not sure what you mean - I was criticising the Observer article for going on about squatters being 'uneducated and unwashed' except for their favoured 'middle class' art squatters. I wasn't suggesting that actually most squatters are middle class - I just don't think that working class squatters are greasy, smelly and thick.

Transpontine said...

... if on the other hand your point is that 'some squatters are crusty and use Class A drugs, so what?' then I would agree with you. In fact people in that category have put on some of the great parties and indeed at some points in my life many of my friends could be so described. But never 'uneducated' - that's just code for thick, everybody's been to school, and many people who haven't been to college are very educated.

Not that there's a simple relation between 'crusty' and 'class'. In my experience there are plenty of slumming it upper class crusties, and lots of proletarian dandies who wouldn't been seen dead in 'scruffy' clothes. Still less is there a straightforward relationship between class and 'junkie' - some of those middle class kids in Park Lane will end up drug casualties too...

Anyway just to recap my point in the original post in case I didn't make it clear: good on people taking over mansions, enjoy it and don't fall into the media trap of thinking you're better or more creative than other people because you went to college and/or call yourselves artists.