Boat Race 'grudge guerilla' and the new threat from the net
Published in: Daily Mail
The triumphant grin said it all. When Trenton Oldfield was pulled out of the Thames and arrested after he deliberately swam into the path of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in order to halt it, he knew he had achieved his aim.
Though the race was re-started, it was nevertheless fatally disrupted, the wrong boat probably won and Oldfield became an instant ‘celebrity’ with the media giving acres of publicity to his grievance.
And what exactly was that grievance? In the words of his online manifesto, it was that ‘elitism leads to tyranny’.
You really do have to laugh. This Australian anti-elitist was privately educated at the elitist Sydney Church of England Grammar School, went on to study at the elitist London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the elitist Royal Society of Arts.
Clearly, Oldfield should be mounting a demonstration against himself.
The further irony is that at the LSE Oldfield studied something called ‘contemporary urbanism’ — sociological jargon for the study of modern cities.
According to the LSE’s website, the contemporary urbanism course teaches the need to recognise and build upon the ‘cultural diversity’ of cities and requires students to be ‘sensitive to social and cultural difference’.
Well, we can all see how Oldfield displays his sensitivity to social difference — by trying to harm those whose social status he doesn’t like.
His website entry should surely have been entitled ‘anti-elitism leads to imbecility’. Equating the excellence and superiority of Oxford and Cambridge with tyranny is not just stupid, but positively odious when one considers real tyranny in countries such as Syria or North Korea.
In any event, elitism is merely another way of saying that some achievements are considered superior to others. The great question is which achievements should be given priority.
Those like Oldfield who practise class war believe no achievements should be afforded superior status. To the Oldfields of this world, the great crime committed by Oxford and Cambridge is simply to be excellent.
Instead of elevating standards and thus encouraging aspiration, everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator. And when applied to people, anti-elitism simply means hatred of the better-off, under the rubric of ‘equality’.
This is the sacred dogma of all three political parties, along with the Church of England and the rest of the intellectual establishment (aka the ‘elites’).
With this politics of resentment fanning the flames of public anger against toffs, titans of industry and tax returns, it is hardly a great surprise that some egalitarian exhibitionist chooses to swim towards the blades of the Oxford and Cambridge boats.
But if anti-elitism itself is as idiotic as it is unpleasant, Oldfield has surely given anti-elitists a bad name. For his self-professed protest credo ranges along a scale from stupidity to gobbledygook.
He declared that what he did was ‘an act of civil disobedience, a methodology of refusing and resistance’. Well, leaving aside the illiteracy, there was nothing civil or disobedient about it. It was an act of sabotage against a sporting event.
And as for ‘resistance’, exactly what was he resisting?
Well, let’s see. He says he chose that spot of the Thames for his protest because it was where a number of ‘elitist’ establishments were situated, such as Fulham Palace, the historic home of the Bishops of London; Chiswick House, a stately home run by English Heritage for the delight of the general public; St Paul’s public school; and the home of the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose crime was to have been educated at an independent school — just like Oldfield!
As if this wasn’t incoherent enough, he says he objects to ‘shiny buildings’ and wants to ‘remove every fence from around every park’.
In a video, he descended into outright gibberish, ranting about ‘this kind of drug-fuelled post criticality’ and his ‘burning frustration that the status quo was a kind of cannibalistic Neo-Liberalism’.
This is all as ludicrous as it is obnoxious. What is really troubling, however, is the way in which the new technology of the internet and social media can turn such a supremely foolish student of contemporary barbarism into an actual threat to public order and safety.
Ensuring that his stunt would achieve its desired effect, Oldfield posted his ramblings on the internet before his swim in the Thames.
This was but the latest example of how social media facilitates those dying to have a cause (sometimes all too literally) with which to write themselves into a page of history.
The internet and social media have the potential to transform every crank, narcissist and bully into an instant celebrity.
They provide a platform for any rabble-rouser to incite untold numbers of followers to abusive, disruptive or violent activity. There are innumerable examples of remarks posted on Facebook or Twitter that have ignited instant firestorms of hatred, bullying and death threats.
Videos posted on YouTube and the Spiff TV website, made by rival gangs in Central London, have been used to incite violence between such gangs.
We saw how social media turned the anti-capitalist Occupy movement into a global phenomenon and how the instant messaging service BlackBerry Messenger, along with Twitter and Facebook, played a critical role in instigating, organising and co-ordinating last summer’s urban riots.
Once such disorder is underway, moreover, live internet blogging sites allow thousands of followers to gain access to information that can help direct and co-ordinate the trouble.
The ease with which Trenton Oldfield pulled off his stunt is, not surprisingly, causing fresh alarm to those in charge of the horrendous problem of security for the London Olympics — not least because he belongs to a group of activists who have already breached security at the Olympics site.
For the Boat Race produced the new phenomenon of the ‘grudge guerilla’ — the lone protester who causes havoc and worse.
While organised disturbances are difficult enough to police, the prospect of a lone terrorist is an added nightmare. Apart from raising this alarming terrorist prospect, however Oldfield’s watery sabotage shows once again that, just as with Occupy, the anti-globalisation disturbances and other anti-capitalist protests, anti-elitism really is an elite activity.
For it is striking how many well-off and well-educated young people are intent on smashing up the capitalist society that has given them so much.
We saw this when the drunken Cambridge University student Charlie Gilmour — son of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour — was jailed for swinging from the Cenotaph during a student fees protest.
Or when Laura Johnson, the troubled millionaire’s daughter and university undergraduate, was convicted of burglary and handling stolen goods after she drove gang members round London in a seven-hour looting spree during last summer’s urban riots.
Some of these elite trouble-makers are among the increasing casualties of fractured or abusive family relationships.
Even so, both they and their families surely provide a baleful image of our age of spoiled hyper-individualism, which tells everyone there should be no constraints on behaviour.
Put that together with an education system that has brainwashed generations in the dogma of equality and you have a pool of smouldering resentment that social media can all too easily ignite.
Trenton Oldfield did more than capsize the Boat Race. He showed how technology is throwing up a new menace — the trouble-maker who swims under the radar and then makes a lethal and global splash.