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459. Waiting (IV)

In the above two images, you see two signs for the British Neighbourhood Watch. The scheme encourages householders to “keep an eye” on their neighbourhood and report what they see to the police. The idea came about due to a famous case in New York, the Kitty Genovese case, where a woman was murdered in public view and nobody did anything; recently, it has been suggested that the case itself is somewhat mythological. Whether that is so or not, let us examine the mythology—the metalanguage—in these two signs.

The first sign dates from the 1980s, a period when Britain experienced her first major race riots. Relations between police and “the black community” ran pretty low. The Neighbourhood Watch sign semiotically reflects this situation: the white policeman is the tallest figure in the image—he has power; he looks down at the black man with paternal concern. For his part, the black man looks up at the policeman with respect; the policeman is literally someone a black man can look up to and admire. Their eyes do not meet because that would make the image erotic, not paternal. Semiotically, the sign wishes to convey that policemen have paternal care for black people and black people can respect policemen—the ideal situation in race relations for the regime at that time.

In the new Neighbourhood Watch sign, printed a few years ago, the sign system has changed. The white policeman is still taller than all the other figures, he still represents paternal authority; however, he now looks straight on—as does the black figure. This is because the previous sign was viewed as too symbolically paternal and patronising. Although the previous sign portrayed a beneficent relationship it was still a subordinate relationship; the policeman might care for the black man, but he was definitely his parent—and the black man his child. In contemporary state-sponsored beliefs, this is too “racist”—whereas the first sign, in featuring a black man at all at a time when blacks were a tiny proportion of the population, was itself contemporaneously “anti-racist” and would have ruffled conservatives.

What remains constant is the semiotic that underpins Western regimes: white men have authority, but we must sacrifice ourselves to care for women, children, and minorities—this is what makes us “good”. What is wrong is for us to stand for our own interests. The current sign is possibly already suspect in our regime’s belief system because it portrays a white man in authority over other groups; the next iteration will probably feature a white policewoman—to feature a black policeman, regime ideologues are aware, would semiotically destabilise the regime. “Wot? The blacks rule us?”. Unless the regime ideologues become completely deluded, they will not make such a move—to do so would destabilise the principle that morally legitimises their rule: white men have power, but they sacrifice it for others—let “the children” play. When a white woman is portrayed it is implicitly understood that her authority is underwritten by a white man—women never really exercise power.

What I have just done is to analyse the metalanguage in the images, a procedure outlined by Roland Barthes in Mythologies—a work where Barthes unpicked the metalanguage in women’s magazines and wrestling. I have then <<deconstructed>> the images, although in a novel way—from the right. Usually, deconstruction only happens from the left—to “problematise” the hidden white male power relations in our sign regime. Actually, our sign regime disprivileges white males; they must sacrifice themselves for “the children”.

Conservatives tend to be less artistic, so they reject semiotics altogether: “What do you mean it’s about white male power? It’s just a sign for the Neighbourhood Watch. Postmodern claptrap. It’s just a chuffin’ picture sure as eggs is eggs.” Ironically, our sign regime does not privilege white males at all, it radically disprivileges them; we are imprisoned in a leftist sign regime—and its direction is suicidal. Time to deconstruct what has been perverted.

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